The Politics of Obama’s Troop Level Decision

Yesterday, the New York Times published an excellent article by correspondent David Sanger in which he analyzes the political implications of President Obama’s impending decision about troop levels in Afghanistan.  He observes that the president will try to satisfy many different parties, including Democrats, Republicans, NATO allies, Pakistan, the Afghan government and the American people, when he addresses the nation on Tuesday.  It has been reported that President Obama will announce his intention to deploy roughly 30,000 additional soldiers and Marines to fight the Taliban.

The president’s attempt to signal his resolve to continue the war until the mission has been completed while conveying that America’s troop commitment is not open-ended will be a difficult task, and in trying to satisfy everybody he may fail to satisfy anybody. 

Democrats will be disappointed by his decision to escalate the conflict, and Republicans will likely criticize him for not sending at least 40,000 more troops, which Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has requested.  Without setting a deadline for withdrawal, most NATO countries will not be inclinded to send more forces because of the unpopularity of the war in Europe.  By declaring that America’s will not maintain a permanent presence in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis will fear the consequences of an American pullout and continue to hedge their bets by maintaining ties with the Taliban in case the militants regain power after the US leaves.  Saying that Afghan President Hamid Karzai must curb corruption in order to insure continuing American support could alienate the leader without motivating him to act because the threat is not credible.  How the American people will be influenced by the president’s speech is uncertain; a slim majority oppose continuing the war, but calls to “support the troops” and help them complete their mission have an emotional resonance.

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