At 8pm ET, the President will speak from the White House on the future of Afghanistan policy and the war.
We know the top line news coming out of this speech – the President will remove 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and another 23,000 by next September, meaning that all of the surge troops from December 2009’s escalation will be out by September 2012. This still means that twice as many troops will be in Afghanistan, around 68,000, by that time, compared to the 32,800 in the country at the time of Obama’s inauguration.
What we don’t know fully is about the strategy, and what, if any of it, will change. We don’t know how much the President will emphasize reconciliation talks between the Karzai government and Pakistan. We don’t know if the counter-insurgency mission will predominate, or if it will be overshadowed by a more limited counter-terrorism mission. We don’t know about the future of the Afghan security forces, and whether they can even be sustained without massive US support.
Most important, we don’t really have a compelling rationale for the war, especially after the death of Osama bin Laden and the admission that there are no transnational terrorists in Afghanistan. I maintain that the goal here is permanent bases, from which to launch counter-terrorism attacks of a covert nature across the region. We’ll see if the President addresses the long-term agreement his Administration is negotiating with the Afghan government.
In addition, the Congressional reaction will be in a way more interesting than the speech. Congress has grown more restless on the war, with almost the entire Democratic Party and an increasing number of Republicans turning against it. 10,000 troops this year was not necessarily seen as a “sizable and sustained drawdown,” so the reaction of those most committed to ending the war will be crucial.