Obama's tricky message on Afghanistan
In declaring Tuesday that he would “finish the job” in Afghanistan, President Obama used a phrase clearly meant to imply that even as he deploys an additional 30,000 or so troops, he has finally figured out how to bring the eight-year-long conflict to an end.There is nothing contradictory about adding troops to speed a victory. That is how most wars are won. That is how we defeated al Qaeda in Iraq. By increasing the force to space ratio we can make it more difficult for the enemy to move to contact and retreat from contact. That is how you defeat an insurgency.
But offering that reassuring if somewhat contradictory signal — that by adding troops he can speed the United States toward an exit — is just the first of a set of tricky messages Mr. Obama will have to deliver as he rolls out his strategy publicly.
Over the next week, he will deliver multiple messages to multiple audiences: voters at home, allies, the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the extremists who are the enemy. And as Mr. Obama’s own aides concede, the messages directed at some may undercut the messages sent to others.
He must convince Democrats, especially the antiwar base that helped elect him, and the slim majority of the country that tells pollsters the conflict is no longer worth the sacrifice, that in sending more troops he is not escalating the war L.B.J.-style. In fact, some of those involved in the deliberations on an Afghanistan strategy say Mr. Obama will argue that providing the additional numbers is the fastest way to assure that the United States will be able to “finish the job,” because it will speed the training of the Afghan national army.
That would be a difficult task even if Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s strategic assessments and troop requests had not been paraded across front pages, including his contention that the task will require 40,000 or more troops if Mr. Obama wants to create true security in the country’s major population centers.
The suggestion that adding troops is contradictory reminds me of the NY Times Butterworth syndrome where the writer seemed puzzled by the reduction in crime with an increasing prison population. Liberalism can be a curious thing.