The Washington Post

What Obama didn’t say about leaving Afghanistan

He touched all the right bases — at times with specificity, at times with platitudes — but there was no sense, for me, that anything had fundamentally changed.

It was informative to learn that 10,000 U.S. troops will come home from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 or so by the summer or fall of 2012. I am sure this announcement gives comfort and joy to the families of those young men and women who, fairly soon, will be homeward bound.

But that means nearly 70,000 troops will remain beyond next year — nearly twice as many as were in the country when Obama took office.

By 2014, the president said, more troops will have come home and the Afghan government will have taken responsibility for the country’s security. I heard the president say that this transition will be complete by then — but I didn’t hear him say that our withdrawal will necessarily be complete. “The light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance,” he said, without explaining whether a long-term or permanent U.S. military presence is part of his vision.

“Now we must invest in America’s greatest resource — our people,” Obama said. That sounds great, until you realize that we’re still spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan.

I doubt the speech will please either hawks or doves. From his frankly uninspiring, let’s-all-eat-our-peas delivery, I have to doubt whether the president even pleased himself.

Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture, contributes to the PostPartisan blog, and hosts a weekly online chat with readers. In a three-decade career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper’s Style section.


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