He’s back! President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last night could well mark the moment that he got his presidency back, and smooth his path towards a second term.
For weeks he has been dogged by a comment from an aide, reported in the New Yorker, that he was “leading from behind.” With the administration’s slow response to the Arab spring, and by stepping back from a lead role in the Libya bombings, it looked like caution was the hallmark of the Obama “doctrine”.
But last night Obama demonstrated a boldness that has been lacking in his foreign policy choices. He revisited his 2009 speech at West Point, when he first announced the Afghanistan “surge”, and reminded us that above all he is a pragmatist: “We must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.”
So saying, he put the military in their place by deciding on a swifter withdrawal of the 30,000 “surge” troops than his generals had recommended. The Afghanistan commander, General David Petraeus, was overruled. But he will still have 70,000 American troops in place once the additional soldiers dispatched last year have returned home.
This is not about winning a war, but winning an election. By announcing the surge forces’ retreat before next summer’s fighting season, Obama will please those in his party who had been urging an early pull-out. He will have public opinion behind him, which will be welcome after the killing of Osama bin Laden only provided a temporary bounce in his approval ratings.
The thrust of his argument was this: “it is time to focus on nation building at home.” Obama knows that the economy holds the key to a second term. After spending $1 trillion on a foreign war since 9/11, it is time to use those dollars to help the American taxpayer.Tagged in: Afghanistan, barack obama, election, president
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