Wednesday December 2, 2009
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I watched President Obama's speech at West Point and thought it was a pretty good political speech.
That's not entirely correct. I thought it was a very good political speech.
On behalf of everyone, I bristled at the knee jerk "blame it on Bush" section of the speech. And I'm still trying to understand how, if it will take six months to get 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and you have already declared they're coming back out 18 months from now, how much they can accomplish in the 12 months you have allotted.
But, overall, I thought the content was good and the delivery was polished.
Remember, Obama has to protect himself from his own left. House Democrats have all but declared war on Obama's War [the Washington Post's phrase, not mine], Michael Moore took out a full page ad in advance of the speech to announce his opposition, and the MoveOn.org and Pink Slip organizations are threatening to … be really, really, angry.
Obama did what he could to mollify those groups by blaming Bush - always a safe bet when trying to curry favor from the Left - and by declaring there would be a time limit on the new deployment and they would be withdrawn starting in July 2011 - just as the 2012 re-election campaign would be getting underway.
I know Obama hedged his bet by saying that the timing of the withdrawal would ultimately be decided by "taking into account conditions on the ground," which was the rhetorical equivalent of the sticker on a new car - say a MullFord - which, having listed the required EPA information, tells you that your mileage may vary.
An additional 30,000 troops will bring the total of American forces to near 100,000. It is unclear to me how many NATO troops are in Afghanistan.
According to the NATO web site:
Since NATO took command of ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) in 2003, the Alliance has gradually expanded the reach of its mission, originally limited to Kabul, to cover Afghanistan's whole territory. The number of ISAF troops has grown accordingly from the initial 5,000 to around 50.000 troops coming from 42 countries, including all 28 NATO members.
But if the U.S. already has 60,000 troops and is one of the 28 NATO members then the other 41 countries must have negative 10,000 troops, which I think may be incorrect.
Shortly after the President finished, my phone rang. It was Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt (Ret.) calling to ask me what part of speech the word "successfully" was in this sentence:
"I will end the war successfully."
"Successfully," I said, "modifies the word 'end' which is a verb. Hence 'successfully' is an adverb."
This military man immediately understood that the President's goal is not to succeed in Afghanistan, but to end the war in Afghanistan.
"Pretty smart," I said. Kimmitt is a graduate of West Point and has an MBA from Harvard. I, as you know, took something over seven years to get a bachelor's degree from Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio 45750.
"Imagine," General Kimmitt said, "if FDR had done a fireside chat during World War II and told the American people he was going to end the war in Europe rather than saying he was going to defeat the Nazis."
There is precious little to recommend Afghanistan. For every ten kilometers you go outside of a major city, you go back in time 50 years. It is a desperately poor, illiterate, arid country run by tribal warlords and corrupt public officials.
Why do we care about Afghanistan? Because, if the Taliban takes back control of the country then Al Qaeda will once again use Afghanistan as Band Camp for terrorists.
Thus, the Obama strategy is dependent upon the Karzai government about which the NY Times' Dexter Filkins wrote:
But that is the heart of the problem: in laying down the gauntlet for the Afghans, Mr. Obama is setting criteria for success that he and his field commanders may be able to influence, but which ultimately they will not be able to control.
So, there you have the two views of President Obama's speech. From a political standpoint it was very good. From a military standpoint it was very weak.
Barack Obama has been fixated on being known as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt of the 21st century. This speech will do nothing to help him get there.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the text of the speech, the Dexter Filkins analysis, the Washington Post fact checking, and the NATO web page.
Also, a Mullfoto of the Northeast gate to the White House taken at noon yesterday and the Catchy Caption of the Day which is the front page of yesterdays "Washington Express" which is the Washington Post free edition.
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