President Obama: No Troop Reduction in Afghanistan
And no large troop increase immediately, either:
WASHINGTON — President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general.
Meeting with leaders from both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to “dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,” as White House officials later described his remarks.
But as the war approached its eight-year anniversary on Wednesday, the session underscored the perilous crosscurrents awaiting Mr. Obama. While some Democrats said they would support whatever he decided, others challenged him about sending more troops. And Republicans pressed him to order the escalation without delay, leading to a pointed exchange between the president and Senator John McCain of Arizona, his Republican opponent from last year’s election.
Mr. McCain told the president that “time is not on our side.” He added, “This should not be a leisurely process,” according to several people in the room.
A few minutes later, Mr. Obama replied, “John, I can assure you this won’t be leisurely,” according to several attendees. “No one feels more urgency to get this right than I do.”
The president is right: the range of options is larger than either doubling down or withdrawing. However, the point is not entirely a strawman argument, either. His military advisors have provided their considered opinion that, if a strategy of counter-insurgency is to be pursued, they cannot be succcessful without a considerably larger contingent of U. S. forces. A decision whether explicitly or by default not to increase the number of our troops in Afghanistan is arguably a decision to follow a strategy other than counter-insurgency. Deciding to pursue counter-insurgency without the resources to do so would be very imprudent and IMO this president has not exhibited that sort of imprudence to date.
Withdrawal from Afghanistan seems to have been ruled out for now. That will undoubtedly provoke complaints from within the president’s own base which he apparently has decided he can accept at this point. Whether he will pursue the strategy his generals have publicly advocated remains to be seen.