Obama's speech on the Afghanistan war: Draining a political mess of his own making
Here's some important new information that President Obama should certainly leave out of his big Afghanistan speech Wednesday evening:
Only 12% of people in our most important regional ally, Pakistan, now have a positive view of the United States. And only 8% express confidence in the American leader to do the right thing, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.
This could have something to do with deadly U.S. drone raids on Pakistan and the assassination of Osama bin Laden there in a commando incursion; a whopping 14% of Pakistanis think the latter was a good thing.
Obama's speech from the White House this evening will be his third major address on Afghanistan, now ...
Obama's latest speech will be directed solely at Americans, who have begun registering impatience with the war, especially since Obama joined another one in Libya in March that he said would last days, not weeks, and has now gone on for months.
The president is in a mess of his own making. He built his initial national political persona on ...
... opposition to Bush's Iraq war because, the former U.S. senator argued, it distracted America from the far more important conflict against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and terrorism in Afghanistan, which was the haven for Al Qaeda's 9/11 training.
Bush's Iraq surge worked, however, enabling Obama to proclaim victory and transfer those troops. This, in turn, enabled Vice President Joe Biden, the candidate who wanted to slice Iraq into three parts, to go on cable TV and with no sense of irony call Iraq one of Obama's "great achievements."
That left the Afghanistan war, 10 years old this fall, where Al Qaeda forces were making gains against the invisible central government. When Obama became commander-in-chief, the United States had 32,000 troops there. Today it has 100,000.
Since 2001, 1,632 Americans have died there, 696 of them (43%) during the 882 days of Obama's presidency.
At West Point in his Afghanistan surge speech, sending in 30,000 more pairs of U.S. boots, Obama spoke 4,582 words. He said "Al Qaeda" 22 times and "Taliban" 12 times. He said the word "victory" zero times.
Set aside losing, Americans even hate not winning. Stalemates don't sell in American politics, one of Obama's growing problems with whatever he's calling the non-hostile, kinetic, friendly bomb-dropping action on Libya.
He claimed -- belatedly, nine days after the first impression of rash action had set in -- that it was in America's interest to prevent threatened civilian killings there by Col. Kadafi, who has been Libya's despot without U.S. intervention since Obama was a third-grader.
How then to explain complete U.S. inaction over actual civilian killings by dictators elsewhere, including 1,000-plus in Syria recently?
More important from a politics point of view, Obama's needless defiance of Congress (and some of his own lawyers) in refusing to seek aut horization for military action within 90 days under the 1973 War Powers Act, is finally forging Washington bipartisanship.
But it's against the man who promised it.
And all this just 503 days out from a presidential election.
Trying to satisfy many political sides in his last surge speech, Obama adamantly ordered in 30,000 more troops -- and in the same speech then promised they'd be coming home by July 2011. That was to signal his party's left that this was a temporary militancy.
It was also a signal to Al Qaeda fighters of how long they had to hang on -- and to our Afghan collaborators of how long we'd be around to protect them from the bad guys waiting in those nearby hills.
Wow, is it almost July 2011 already? So, Wednesday night Obama will announce how many American troops will start leaving in 10 days. Key word there: Start. Technically, one planeload would be a start.
Initial word was 5,000, possibly in the first month. Sinking poll numbers for both Obama and the war, however, suggest the president will go higher, much higher. Strategic leaks by aides this week say the drawdown could be as large as 33,000 by election day next year. Something that size would likely disconcert allies.
But that is a politically tidy total exactly equal to the last inbound surge. It's also larger than some military experts believe is wise, if you don't want to discard a developing win given what Gen. David Petraeus has called the "fragile" progress there.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Tuesday the president had to factor growing public and congressional war fatigue into his drawdown decision. Speaking of war, Gates reportedly opposed the attack on Libya. Perhaps now the tight-lipped loyalist to a Republican and a Democratic president also thinks the size of withdrawal is excessive. His retirement takes effect the day before the drawdown starts. Maybe coincidence.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photos: (top) The body of Sgt. Edward F. Dixon of Missouri arrives home from Afghanistan on Tuesday. Credit: Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press
(middle) American gunners in Afghanistan on Tuesday. Credit: Ted Aljibe / AFP /Getty Images
(bottom) U.S. troops on patrol. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times