The anticipation of what President Obama’s speech on Afghanistan tonight will entail has led to some think tankers to suggest that the media reports aren’t even looking in the right places. Troop withdrawal is one question, but evaluations of what’s happening on the ground and what the president will do once the announcement is made are much more significant.
CSIS scholar Anthony Cordesman, who recently returned from Afghanistan, filed a report this week saying that although much progress has been made, there’s even more work to be done--including defining what the grand strategy is.
Writing at the National Interest, Cato’s Chris Preble cautions that one should wait to hear what the president has to say tonight, but he doesn’t have the highest expectations.
But we should not allow this speculation over troop numbers to distract us from the bigger picture. Even if by the end of 2012 the size of the U.S. military presence is reduced by 30,000 (and I’m not holding my breath), that would still leave more than twice as many troops as were there in January 2009 when Obama took office.
But in the event that the U.S. is perceived to leave a security void, is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization going to fill it?
Brian Katulis and Caroline Wadhams write at the Center for American Progress that troop levels “only scratch the surface” of the serious questions of what needs to be done in Afghanistan. Instead, they say, Obama should (but probably won’t) be talking about relations with Pakistan, the broader region and the political and economic development within Afghanistan.
And Brookings fellow Michael O’Hanlon says the drawdown could either be accelerated because the enemy has been weakened or justify a slower drawdown because the strategy is working and “therefore stick it out.”