President Barack Obama announced a slight change in our Afghanistan policy on television last night.
[S]tarting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point. After this initial reduction, our troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead. Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
He asserted that the U.S. undertakes this drawdown “from a position of strength,” as the Al Qaeda terrorist network is now “under more pressure than at any time since 9/11.” He said the U.S. can achieve its goal to allow “no safe-haven” from which terorists “can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies.” Obama also linked his gradual drawdown to boosting the U.S. economy:
Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. […]
America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
We’d have more resources to invest in the U.S. economy if we were bringing more troops home sooner. By the end of next summer our troop presence in Afghanistan will still be larger than it was when Obama became president. He ordered at least 21,000 additional U.S. troops to that war zone before the surge of 30,000 troops he announced at West Point in December 2009. Recent polling suggests a majority of Americans support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan at a faster pace.
We’d also be better positioned to “focus on nation building” at home if the president had not agreed to extend all the Bush tax cuts and bought into the austerity politics that makes another federal stimulus package unthinkable.
After the jump I’ve posted the full text of Obama’s televised remarks, along with comments released by Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Leonard Boswell (D, IA-03). Boswell praised Obama’s plan “to significantly reduce troops by the end of the year” as “an important first step in lessening our military presence and financial obligations in Afghanistan.” In contrast, Harkin said U.S. troops should be brought home from Afghanistan at a faster pace, saying, “We cannot justify the continued loss of life” and “can’t sustain the nearly $10 billion we are spending each month in Afghanistan this year.” Harkin questioned our presence in Afghanistan following the killing of Osama bin Laden. He was among 27 U.S. senators (24 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent) who wrote to Obama earlier this month urging “a shift in strategy and the beginning of a sizable and sustained reduction of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011.”
I will update this post if other members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation comment on Obama’s speech. Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) is the only Iowan on the House Armed Services Committee. Last month Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01) called for “immediate withdrawal of our combat troops from Afghanistan,” bringing them home by the end of this year.
In related news, the U.S. Senate on June 21 unanimously confirmed Leon Panetta as the new Secretary of Defense. Greg Jaffe reported on outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ reaction to Obama’s speech last night:
“I support the President’s decision because it provides our commanders with enough resources, time and, perhaps most importantly, flexibility to bring the surge to a successful conclusion.” It’s clear that Gates would have preferred the surge troops stay in place through the end of 2012. But his statement suggests he still believes that the military will have enough forces to continue with the current counterinsurgency strategy.
UPDATE: Braley’s statement is now also below. He doesn’t agree with Obama’s plan and wants troops to come home sooner.
LATE UPDATE: Loebsack’s statement is now below.Continue Reading...