President Obama began his speech with a statement enunciating the dangers in the world. Thereafter, the President spoke to the details of our experience with the surge, its success and future plans for withdrawal of the United States and the Allies. Excerpts are set forth in boldface type. 1)
For this reason, in one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve made as President, I ordered an additional 30,000 American troops into Afghanistan. When I announced this surge at West Point, we set clear objectives: to refocus on Al Qaeda, to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, and train Afghan security forces to defend their own country. I also made it clear that our commitment would not be open-ended, and that we would begin to draw down our forces this July.
Critique: President Obama began by discussing the dangers in the world and the justification of the surge of American troops into Afghanistan. Essentially, much of the most difficult work has been accomplished and the task of extricating ourselves from Afghanistan is just beginning. Both political spectra are weighing in on our commitment. One side would like to employ a very cautious approach in drawing down troops and support personnel. The other side would like to leave right now and utilize the budgetary resources for critical needs at home.
As a result, starting next month, we will be able to remove 10,000 of our troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and we will bring home a total of 33,000 troops by next summer, fully recovering the surge I announced at West Point.
We’re starting this drawdown from a position of strength. Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11. Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of Al Qaeda’s leadership.
The information that we recovered from bin Laden’s compound shows al Qaeda under enormous strain. Bin Laden expressed concern that Al Qaeda had been unable to effectively replace senior terrorists that had been killed, and that Al Qaeda has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam -- thereby draining more widespread support. Al Qaeda remains dangerous, and we must be vigilant against attacks. But we have put Al Qaeda on a path to defeat, and we will not relent until the job is done.
Critique: We're leaving Afghanistan but work remains to be done. We cannot have a perfect democracy in Afghanistan but a real process of self-determination is what the United States seeks to encourage. As we draw down, we must do so in a way that preserves the advantage we have in marginalizing the influence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and its neighboring States.
In Afghanistan, we’ve inflicted serious losses on the Taliban and taken a number of its strongholds. Along with our surge, our allies also increased their commitments, which helped stabilize more of the country. Afghan security forces have grown by over 100,000 troops, and in some provinces and municipalities we’ve already begun to transition responsibility for security to the Afghan people.
Critique: The Taliban have been marginalized but are they ready to negotiate? Our Secretary Robert Gates believes that the Taliban may not be ready to negotiate until later this year. Ostensibly, they are coming around to the idea of negotiation; however, the leadership just isn't there yet.
From a negotiation standpoint, the Taliban must begin to believe that added conflict will gain little and the costs could be ruinous. On the other hand, real negotiations can set in motion economic progress to uplift the Afghan people and provide for a meaningful self-determination regionally. Tribal governance is not necessarily receptive to the idea of collective cooperation. i.e.
Tribes tend to come together in times of danger and challenge and to split into bands during times of relative respite. The bands allow survival in harsh economic environments. Smaller units are more mobile, more easily fed, and can run themselves with less infrastructure. Those clan memberships meanwhile provide the continuity of definition, the meaningfulness of tribal membership. One important thing about shared clan membership is that it guarantees hospitality among bands.
On the other hand, tribes are seldom friendly to their neighbors. Their histories are usually a continuous story of conflict one tribe against another. While outside invasion may bring tribes into temporary truce and even concerted action, that is not their normal situation. And individuals are not free to take a wider view when their personal identities are tied up in clan membership.
When developed countries try to impose nationhood on tribal areas, there is often an initial sense of nationality based on opposition to the colonialists. However, there is no reason to believe such nationalism will continue. 2)
And next May, in Chicago, we will host a summit with our NATO allies and partners to shape the next phase of this transition.
Critique: The next phase involves coordinating the exit of the United States and NATO recognizing the limitations of our efforts given the history of tribal governance. The best that can be hoped for is to arrive at a general consensus of tribal goals which permit self-determination and some economic progress without outside interference.
The West can offer new technologies like solar energy, desalination, a brand new infrastructure, cloud computing, brand new accounting systems, the Uniform Commercial Code and many other instrumentalities to uplift the Afghan people permanently.