President Obama is balancing his Afghan policy on the edge of a razor between what the U.S. military thinks it needs and what Obama's political base (along with a growing number of Republicans) thinks it wants.
In his brief remarks on Wednesday night, the President, according to the NY Times coverage: "announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 'surge' of forces would leave by next summer, amounting to about a third of the 100,000 troops now in the country. He said the drawdown would continue 'at a steady pace' until the United States handed over security to the Afghan authorities in 2014."
His plan appears to have pleased almost no one except, if some reports are to be believed, the Taliban who have begun measuring for drapes in Kabul for when they return to power.
I think we've been through this before, but in Arabic one of the ways to make a noun plural is to add the letters "an" (as translated into English).
Talib, in Arabic, is a student and particularly a student of Islam. TalibAN, then, are studentS.
In usage, the Taliban of Pakistan and Afghanistan are a fundamentalist Islamic movement following a strict interpretation of Sharia as described in the Koran.
I don't know anything about military tactics or strategy especially when it comes to Afghanistan. Which is to say, I don't know any more than most Members of Congress.
Afghanistan has been a raspberry seed in the tooth of humanity for thousands of years. It's only real claim to fame is that people bent on conquering the world had to go through Afghanistan to get just about anywhere else in the region.
For many of them, as long as they were there anyway, they turned a rest stop on the interstate highway of world domination into a kingdom. Alexander the Great, for instance, did it in about 330 BC after he had conquered Persia.
The political realities for the President (and the GOP challengers) is this: Americans are very, very weary of waging war. Six thousand Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands have been injured. We appear to have met the general goals: A form of democratic government in Iraq; Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for establishing terrorist training camps.
Add to that our continuing involvement in Libya; the Predator attacks in Yemen and the looming entanglements in Syria and perhaps Iran and there are too many service members costing too much money in too many places which are too far away for purposes which are too vague.
I understand the position of those who warn of the dangers of American isolationism, but there is a huge difference between being an isolationist and demanding we back away from being the first (and often the only) nation standing against bad actors.
We have about 80,000 military personnel in Europe, more than 65 years after the end of World War II in Europe; 30,000 troops in South Korea 60 years after that U.N. authorized police action ended; 32,000 in Japan; more than 80,000 in Iraq and, some 100,000 in Afghanistan.
We can't -- and shouldn't -- close every military installation outside of U.S. territory but part of the benefit of moving troops home is weaning the rest of the world off the theory which has held in too many capitals around the world for the last 100 years: The Americans will keep us safe.
Is the President's timetable for Afghanistan the correct one? I don't know, but I do know he has taken a major step toward reducing our military footprint there, and perhaps that will lead to other drawdowns around the world.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the CIA World Factbook entry on Afghanistan and Wikipedia's history of Afghanistan. Also a link to the NY Times coverage of the President's speech. Also a Mullfoto of Bono from Wednesday night's U2 concert in Baltimore and a Catchy Caption of the Day.