President Obama is rolling the dice on Afghanistan. He’s betting that Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy has built enough of the institutions of freedom -- including an army -- to resist the fanatical forces of repression.
Last night, he said he plans to withdraw 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan this year, and another 23,000 by next summer, leaving 68,000 American GIs there in the fall of 2012.
Though many military experts are skeptical, the withdrawal schedule might work. It could inspire the Afghan government to improve and expand its army more quickly, and it could dampen terrorist fervor by demonstrating American resolve to let the Afghans choose their own way.
On the other hand, the troop drawdown may come too soon. Maybe Afghanistan isn't ready.
Obama's call. The president has little political pressure to hurry our troops home, except when it comes to the far-left fringe of the Democratic Party. Isolationism abounds on left and right, but it isn’t a cause that motivates large numbers of voters. So in the end, the pace of reducing our involvement in Afghanistan -- and by the way, Iraq -- is up to Obama himself.
Here is what Obama said last night:
In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire, but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.
Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. …
America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
$1 trillion investment. Indeed, we have spent about $1 trillion on the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan in those 10 years. In that same decade, the federal government’s debt rose $9 trillion.
Twenty years from now, which will we say was the better investment? The $8 trillion we borrowed for unsustainable domestic programs? Or the $1 trillion or so we borrowed for freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I don't think we'll forgive ourselves for the $8 trillion in debt. The $1 trillion for Iraq and Aghanistan will pay off in lives and liberty, but only if we don't pull the plug before the two new democracies are running on their own power.