President Obama’s decision to increase our presence in Afghanistan and provide sufficient resources for a counterinsurgency operation seems like a good one. But there are analysts more qualified than I am to comment on the specific military aspects of the decision. I think it’s also interesting to consider the politics of the move. It seems to me to acomplish several things. One is that it is an example of him following through on a campaign promise, to withdraw from Iraq and step up efforts in Afghanistan. Many aspects of his speech today were reflected during the campaign. Back in August 2007, he said, infamously, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” Today, he said:
Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.
So, he deserves credit for being consistent about something that at the time was seen as a throwaway line designed to sound tough after he made his comment about meeting with unconditionally with the leaders of hostile regimes within the first year of his administration.
I do think that Obama is being genuine in persuing his policy in Afghanistan, but I also think today’s rollout was meant to serve an additional purpose — to defang any opponents who will accuse him of taking his eye off the War on Terror (aka “Overseas Contingency Operations“) while focusing on the economy.
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