Foreign Policy

Should We Stay or Should We Go? Obama's Clear Answer: Yes


Last week President Obama announced what was widely understood as a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He said his plan to send 30,000 more U.S. troops, plus several thousand more from other countries, should not be interpreted to mean that he wants to prolong the war. To the contrary, he said, "these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011." But over the weekend, the president's underlings were keen to reassure those alarmed by the not-so-imminent American departure that the departure date he presented with great fanfare does not really mean anything:

We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times," said Gen. James L. Jones, the president's national security adviser, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union." "We're going to be in the region for a long time."…

"There isn't a deadline," [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "What we have is a specific date on which we will begin transferring responsibility for security district by district, province by province in Afghanistan, to the Afghans."

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Gates said that under the plan, 100,000 American troops would be in Afghanistan in July 2011, and "some handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time."

Per Obama's defense secretary, then, after 18 months the U.S. will begin to withdraw "some small number" of troops from Afghanistan, assuming that everything is going according to plan—i.e., that a corrupt and incompetent Afghan government has miraculously become clean and able.

Eight years ago, a large majority of Americans supported the forcible toppling of the Al Qaeda–friendly Taliban regime as a justified response to 9/11. It seems fair to say that if they had known U.S. troops would still be fighting in Afghanistan a decade later, they would have been less enthusiastic. Instead of retaliation aimed at disrupting and deterring support for anti-American terrorism, the goal quickly became creating durable peace and stability by building a strong central government where none has ever existed. Instead of reconsidering that goal, Obama has reaffirmed it and given it a realist gloss, declaring that "the security of the United States and the safety of the American people [are] at stake in Afghanistan." Although he said he decided against an "open-ended escalation of our war effort" that "would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade," viewing a peaceful and stable Afghanistan as essential to "the safety of the American people" assures that "we're going to be in the region for a long time."


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  1. The Internet is the instructional forum and communications channel for violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It was through use of that tool that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. And this danger will only grow if cyberspace slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in this digital realm.

  2. Don’t blame me; I voted for Joe Strummer.

  3. “””We have strategic interests in South Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times,.””””‘

    If we don’t stay there then the commies will win and all of South Asia will fall like dominoes, oops sorry, I mean terrorists

  4. Should I stay or should I go?
    If I stay there will be trouble;
    If I go there will be double.
    So you gotta let me know:
    Should I come in or should I blow?

  5. “the security of the United States and the safety of the American people [are] at stake in Afghanistan.”

    Not if we withdraw ALL our forces from ALL overseas deployments.

  6. What? No jokes about it being on Combat Rock?

  7. As we all try to sift through the conflicting messages and figure out what Obama is really going to do, let’s remember that actions speak louder than words.

    Those troops are going to Afghanistan. It only took a few days for everybody to realize that the vague promise of beginning to withdraw them in 18 months was all bullshit.

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