Obama’s Afghan Date: The 2011 Exit Pledge

Focus is off troop numbers and on pullout date

By DANIEL MACHT
|  Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009  |  Updated 7:45 AM CDT
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Obama's Littlest Constituents

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President Obama says the U.S. will begin waving goodbye to its Afghan commitment in 2011.

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President Obama told the nation he will send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, but promised to start bringing them home in 18 months.

It turns out that after months of wrangling over troop numbers pols and pundits now argue a date, not a number, holds the key to the war’s outcome, and maybe even Obama's political future. 

  • “A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region – all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war,” Sen. John McCain wrote in a post-speech statement trumpeted across the conservative blogosphere.
     
  • Indeed, talk radio host and Fox News commenter Kevin McCullough distilled the meme with this headline: “Obama to Terrorists: You Win in 2011.”
     
  • Not exactly, writes David Kurtz, editor for Talkingpointsmemo.com. “This was, of course, a Republican mantra throughout Bush's second term in resisting Democratic efforts to end the Iraq War. But what they don't seem to remember is that even Bush himself came around by mid-2008 to setting a timeline for withdrawal.”
     
  • “I’ll believe it when I see it,” blogs The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson of Obama's timetable. “Obama is the first Democratic president in forty years to call for a significant deployment of American troops in the national security interest of his country. This is very big news,” he writes. “If this is what he needs to mollify his political supporters, let him talk and talk and talk.”
  • Obama's line in the sand could have very real electoral consequences at home, NBC’s Chuck Todd suggests on his Twitter feed. “By setting 2011 as timetable for real progress, he's allowing the American people to hold him accountable in 2012,” he tweeted.
     
  • Political stat guru Nate Silver at 538.com confesses he has no idea if the "politically risky" move will be successful. But he doesn't count Obama out. “Of course it may be precisely because the withdraw timetable is so risky politically that it is in fact credible; a credible withdraw deadline is almost certainly better than a non-credible one, but whether or not it's better than not setting a deadline at all, I don't know,” he writes.
     
  • Richard N. Hass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations sums up the timetable disconnect. Even as the president makes the case that U.S. interests in Afghanistan are “worth sacrificing for,” he writes, Obama “places a ceiling on what the United States is prepared to do and for how long. Therein lies the dilemma, and like all dilemmas, it can only be managed, not resolved.”

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