Obama's Afghanistan Speech

INN's political analyst says Barack Obama's speech on Afghanistan moved back the goal posts to justify an American retreat

Dr. Amiel Ungar , | updated: 10:28 AM

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of 33,000 American troops by next summer in an address to the American people. Below in bold are selected quotations from the president's address, followed by an interpretation of the subtext .

Obama: When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on Al-Qaida; reverse the Taliban's momentum; and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to drawdown our forces this July.

Interpretation: Don't believe anybody who says that this is a response to the political polls and the need to reassure my dovish political base. I announced what I was doing last year, I made a pledge and I have kept it.

Obama: 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.

Interpretation: Our commitment is no longer open-ended. Afghani soldiers will now be taking the brunt of the casualties. If the Karzai government cannot get its act together that is their problem not ours. They will carry the onus of defeat.

Obama: We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al-Qaida is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of al-Qaida's leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that al-Qaida had ever known.

Interpretation: Again don't forget that it was  Barack Obama and not George W. who got Osama bin Laden. We are not retreating with our tails between our legs but essentially victorious. This paragraph and the next mention Al Qaeda no less than nine times with zero mention of the Taliban that gets a brief mention two paragraphs down. In other words, the sole index for victory or defeat is how much we have hurt Al Qaeda.

Obama: In Afghanistan, we've inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds. Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country. Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we have already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people. In the face of violence and intimidation, Afghans are fighting and dying for their country, establishing local police forces, opening markets and schools, creating new opportunities for women and girls, and trying to turn the page on decades of war.

Interpretation:  The idea that US allies also increased their commitments runs directly counter to to the address by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that accused America's NATO allies of failing to meet their minimal commitments. This paragraph also runs counter to the attempt at portraying the war in Afghanistan as a war for protecting American security rather than nation building. Perhaps Obama was forced into this wording because otherwise his decision to intervene in Libya, prompted by humanitarian considerations, would have appeared suspect as Qadafi posed no threat to US security.

Obama: So as we strengthen the Afghan government and security forces, America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. Our position on these talks is clear: They must be led by the Afghan government, and those who want to be a part of a peaceful Afghanistan must break from al-Qaeda, abandon violence and abide by the Afghan Constitution. But, in part because of our military effort, we have reason to believe that progress can be made.

The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al-Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies. We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.

Interpretation: Don't be misled by my previous paragraph; we are not here for nation building, we are here to fight Al Qaeda and as long as the Taliban abandon violence and become strict constitutionalists everything will be fine. One might even assume that the Taliban adhere to the Afghan Constitution if it is based on Islamic Sharia law.

Obama: As they do, we must learn their lessons. Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America's engagement around the world. Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face. Others would have America overextend ourselves, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America's singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.

Interpretation: This is vintage Barack Obama – portraying himself as a centrist, eschewing the dangerous extremes. It is also a shot at the Republican Party that has been all over the board in its reactions to the address: From John Huntsman who claims that the withdrawal is not extensive enough to Tim Pawlenty who finds it reckless. Obama, like Goldilocks, has found something just right.

Obama: 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.

Interpretation: I hear you the people of America and feel your pain and my administration is focused first and foremost on getting America back to work and out of its economic mess before 2012.