Theme of Obama's Afghanistan Speech: End This War

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In an address to the nation, President Obama announced a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said 10,000 U.S. troops will return home beginning next month, another 23,000 by the end of the summer next year, and the steady withdrawal of U.S. troops as Afghanistan gains control of its internal security by 2014.

In part the President said, "We have learned anew the profound cost of war – a cost that has been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1,500 who have done so in Afghanistan – men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended. Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the field of battle, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home."

"Though we have known disagreement and division, we are bound together by the creed that is written into our founding documents, and a conviction that the United States of America is a country that can achieve whatever it sets out to accomplish. Now, let us finish the work at hand. Let us responsibly end these wars, and reclaim the American Dream that is at the center of our story," he said.

Senior administration officials earlier in the day explained the President's decision to accelerate the planned troop withdrawal timeline resulted from "a position of success" in Afghanistan. Goals for improving Afghan-controlled internal security, serious defeats of Al Qaeda leadership and forces, and the reduced influence of the Taliban in key areas, especially in the south of the country, have been met.

Eighteen months after a troop "surge" of more than 30,000 troops, successes in Afghanistan allow for implementing a timeline for withdrawal, they said. Afghanistan is no longer a "safe haven" for Al Qaeda, a fact that made it possible for that terrorist organization to launch attacks around the world just a few years ago, they said.

"We're not trying to make Afghanistan a perfect place," he said. "We're not trying to pacify the entire country of Afghanistan. We're not trying to engage in a military campaign that destroys every last vestige of the Taliban." The administration's goal all along has been to defeat Al Qaeda, prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for that group, and create a space in which an Afghan government would be viable.

"We're simply trying to support a government that can stand on its own and defend itself from extremist elements," he said. "And we're pursuing a political settlement that could potentially split the Taliban from Al Qaeda as well."

In addition, the administration says the international community has committed to boosting its support of security forces and resources to aid Afghanistan.

Senior administration officials explained that counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations succeeded in eliminating Al Qaeda fighter embedded in Taliban fighting units. Troop withdrawal won't negatively impact the success of these anti-terrorist efforts.

Afghan security forces number 100,000, and a training infrastructure now run by Afghans has been put in place, they pointed out.

The troop withdrawals announced by the President are only the initial numbers, a senior official added. Troop withdrawal will continue as the transition to Afghan control of the country's security needs is completed in 2014.

"We haven't seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan in the past seven or eight years," another senior administration official said.

Military successes have also been paired with political success, the officials said. He also cited joint operations with Pakistani intelligence as contributing to successes in defeating Al Qaeda's leadership, blocking the flow of "Al Qaeda-types" into the country, and near complete elimination of their training and other activities there.

"We've developed a very sophisticated blend of military and civilian tools to have had this affect," another official explained. Here the reference was to the policy of arming and paying local leaders to patrol and police their communities in order to prevent Taliban or Al Qaeda forces hostile to the U.S., NATO, or the Kabul government from gaining control or influence, a tactic put into place by Gen. Petraeus in Iraq.

"When we came into office, the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, in part because there had been a shift in focus in the previous several years to Iraq," one senior administration official said.

According to the senior administration officials, after Bush launched the invasion of Iraq and moved U.S. resources there, the Taliban and Al Qaeda increasingly took control of larger and larger areas of Afghanistan.

According to media reports, Bush repeatedly said that he was not very concerned about Al Qaeda's leader Osama bin Laden.

When President Obama took office, some 180,000 U.S. troops occupied Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Today that number stands at over 130,000, according to White House sources. After the drawdown scheduled for next summer, that number will be under 100,000 a senior administration official said.

President Obama responded to widespread anti-Iraq war sentiments which had called for a timeline for troop withdrawal from that country. In July 2010, the combat mission in Iraq was ended and final troop drawdowns will be finalized at the end of this year.

After the "surge" troops return home from Afghanistan next summer, draw downs will continue until 2014, though senior officials wouldn't' give a detailed schedule.

Most of the troops are expected to return to home bases in the U.S. and Europe.

"It is time to mark the fact that we substantially wound down the war in Iraq, removing 100,000 troops, going forward with our efforts to end the war there," a senior official said. "And now we're beginning to reduce our troops in Afghanistan and to pursue our plan to wind down this war."

He added that the administration remains "on the offensive" against Al Qaeda where it may appear in other parts of the world. Unlike the Bush administration, "we're not at war against a tactic; we're at war with a specific group of people," he said.

During the deliberations on the decision, senior officials said that the entire national security team in the White House, along with Afghanistan commander Gen. David Petraeus, agreed with the final decision.

The administration officials denied the influence of public opinion on the deliberations, despite increasingly negative attitudes in the American public about a continued role in Afghanistan. The latest public opinion polls show that more than half of Americans want to remove U.S. troops as quickly as possible.

Progress in Afghanistan on the goals laid out by the President as well as the costs to taxpayers are the main considerations, the senior official explained. "He is certainly aware that the American public, after nearly a decade of war, is focused on making sure that we are pursuing a responsible end to these wars."

"It's an important moment for him to say to the American people, we're winding down the war in Iraq. We've removed 100,000 troops there. We'll continue to remove our troops over the course of the year who remain in Iraq. And now we've peaked in Afghanistan, and are beginning to come down there as well."

Observers of the speech generally welcomed the announcement. Robert Borosage of Campaign for America's Future said, "We went into Afghanistan to track down those who launched the 9/11 attacks on America. With Osama bin Laden dead, and Al Qaeda smashed, that mission has been accomplished." He urged national attention on the economic crisis in the U.S.

A statement from the Center for American Progress described the announcement as a "step in the right direction" though one that could have been "more aggressive in terms of troop reduction." Overall, however, the statement endorsed the President's plan, noting the military and political successes.

On Twitter, comments varied. Former Clinton advisor Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) praised the announcement and tweeted,

He was more definite about where the goalposts should be. I like the firmness of setting objectives -- even if we change dates, let's end it.

A @PeaceAction tweet urged supporters to:

send a message: Mr Prez, u have missed opportunity to end human & economic costs of war that demands diplo solution.

Senior Research Fellow at the American task Force on Palestine Hussein Ibish (@Ibishblog) tweeted,

Again, if you want the Afghan war to end, you MUST welcome this speech. Any other reaction would be incoherent, contrarian for own sake.

A @WinWithoutWar tweet read,

@WhiteHouse announcement means very little change through this and next fighting season. #JulyDrawdown

Republican critics of the President rejected the troop withdrawal. Channelling George W. Bush, Republican Presidential frontrunner Michele Bachman wrote in a statement: "I firmly believe that we are at a point where we've got to stay the course, and we've got to finish the job."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Republican presidential candidate who once said we could "muddle through" in Afghanistan and that capturing Osama bin Laden wasn't a major goal, also criticized the President for not staying the course.

Photo by swanksalot/cc by 2.0/Flickr

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  • @Les Interesting comment. Seems like you're living in the past with the "Duclos" comment. Are you suggesting that some new Stalin needs to rise up? That's the implication there. It's fantasy and silly--that's what's embarrassing. I suspect you didn't actually read the article, which is an accurate assessment of the President's push to end the wars.

    Posted by Joel Wendland, 06/30/2011 10:12pm (6 years ago)

  • It's embarrassing to see the editor of PA literally gush over President Obama's speech. How far can we move away from traditional socialist, anti-imperialist and antiwar positions before a modern day Jacques Duclos speaks up? It may be worse than that - Earl Browder might blush at our embrace of a President who has us engaged American forces simultaneously in four wars of plunder. Let's defend the President against the right - not defend illegal and immoral wars.

    Posted by Les Bayless, 06/30/2011 7:23pm (6 years ago)

  • It fascinates me how the GOP will be against Obama no matter what he says and does. The interesting part is that MUCH OF THE LEFT is indistingishable from the Tea Party positions- they, too, hate Obama. The president is far from perfect, but you have to be nuts not to welcome a troop withdrawal, partial as it is. The right cannot do without the center, but neither can the left. Much of the revolutionary strugge is trying to win the center over to your side. By abdicating the center, the left becomes indistinguishable from the right and is reduced to impotent sloganeering.

    Posted by ANTONIO BERNAL, 06/26/2011 2:16pm (6 years ago)

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