Obama’s Afghan Deadline: Is it Real?
Last fall, a commenter at Dave Schuler’s Glittering Eye blog made an observation to the effect that Barack Obama’s progressive supporters were enthusiastic about him because they believed everything he said whereas the so-called Obamacons assumed he was lying on the matters with which they disagreed. (The original was pithier but, alas, I failed to find it.)
As I explain in great detail in my New Atlanticist piece, “Afghanistan Deadline: What Happens in July 2011?” the opposite is now happening with regard to the president’s promise to begin withdrawal in Afghanistan in eighteen months: “Opposition Republicans took the president at his word and warned about signaling weakness, whereas critics in his own party saw the deadline as a cynical gesture to buy time. ”
After days of the White House and SECDEF Gates seemingly contradicting each other, it’s still not clear who’s right. Naturally, that doesn’t stop me from speculating:
So, what to make of all this? Is the administration deliberately trying to sew doubt on the issue, consoling hawks that the deadline is just a planning tool while giving hope to doves that the end is in sight? Was it, as analyst Steve Hynd put it, “simply PR statements intended to soften public perceptions of an occupation without end. That is, they were lies”?
My view is somewhat more charitable than that. I tend to agree with George Washington University’s Marc Lynch,
I haven’t heard anybody yet say that they believed that Obama would really start drawing down in June 2011, no matter what he says. And yet the strategy depends upon that commitment being credible, because that is what is supposed to generate the urgency for local actors to change. I believe that Obama and his team really want things to work out this way, and have carefully thought through how to work it. But when things don’t go their way, will they really follow through on their promises to draw down? Few people believe that. And if they don’t believe it, then the mechanism of pressure doesn’t operate.
Beyond that, I agree with my colleague, Harlan Ullman, that the speech and the deadline “bought some breathing room for the administration with an increasingly dubious public” and think that was the point.
What do you think?