President Barack Obama’s recent decision to increase U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan has resulted in some interesting coalitions. Democrats are split with all sorts of opinions. Some people inside and outside of the Democratic Party have abandoned all hope they had in Obama, claiming he is no different from Bush. Another group has been assuaged by his speech, giving him some breathing room to finish up in Afghanistan.
Conservatives are divided on the issue as well. Part of them agree that the U.S. should send the additional troops and leave victorious. Even Karl Rove offered President Obama a certain amount of praise, saying his speech “deserves to be cheered.” And there are all sorts of critiques in between, some less informed than others. All in all, he has somehow accomplished becoming the first liberal socialist far-right warmonger in U.S. presidential history.
This was undoubtedly a tough decision to make and the president made it clear it was not easy for him. There was inherently a lot of risk involved in this decision. If Obama was concerned purely about elections and politics, then he probably would have made plans to immediately exit Afghanistan since a majority of his party (and America) is skeptical of the war.
The July 2011 timetable for withdrawal is more of a goal than a sure exit date. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said we will not leave until the Afghans are ready to take over their own security. If the strategy fails and U.S. troops are required to remain in the country longer, Obama surely will suffer political losses. If the strategy succeeds, he will undoubtedly win back some doubters and former supporters, but not all of them.
Obama and his administration made a comprehensive analysis of the situation. He consulted with experts looking at the reality of the situation on the ground and listened to wide-ranging and differing opinions, a scenario far from the “groupthink” of the Bush administration. He reached a decision after months of consideration. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the conclusion, at least his decision process was thorough. He addressed the concerns of both Americans and Afghans, rather than trying to coerce or scare them into following him.
Having had a few days to let President Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan sink in, I’m still not convinced it was the right decision. Nor am I convinced that pulling out the troops as soon as possible would have been the right decision either. I’m not exactly sure what the best decision would be. The conclusion I have reached, however, is that this is a very complex issue and I appreciate the president treating it as such, rather than making a knee-jerk decision or just “following his gut.”
Randal Serr is a liberal political columnist for Rhombus. He is currently pursuing a graduate degree in public policy at the University of Utah.