In deciding to pull all of the 30,000 troops from the surge out of Afghanistan, six weeks before Election Day 2012, but only 10,000 by year's end, President Obama has satisfied neither the generals nor the doves.
He has, however, well served his political interests.
A larger drawdown would have risked the gains made in Kandahar and Helmand and invited a revolt of the generals, some of whom might resign and denounce Obama for denying them the forces to prevail.
Sen. John McCain, citing some generals, is already saying that, with fewer troops and more missions per unit, U.S. casualties will rise.
A smaller drawdown would have enraged the left, whose support is indispensable to Obama's winning a second term.
So, our president did what comes naturally: cut the baby in half.
Strategically, removal of 30,000 troops in 15 months means that Obama has given up all hope of victory over the Taliban. Gen. MacArthur's dictum -- "In war, there is no substitute for victory" -- is inoperative in yet another American war.
Obama's strategic goal now is the avoidance of defeat, until the election of 2012 is behind him. And by retaining 70,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan during the fighting season and political season of 2012, he has an insurance policy against a Taliban Tet-style offensive or major U.S. military reversal as voters begin to fill out absentee ballots.
In the post-speech analysis, there was much chatter about a "political solution" -- a peace conference including Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran that would bring the moderate Taliban and Karzai government together to iron out their differences.
This is self-delusion, born of hope not rational analysis.
Have we not been here before? With Mao's Communists and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists being pushed toward a coalition by Gen. George Marshall in the late 1940s. With the Viet Cong and North and South Vietnamese making peace in Southeast Asia in 1973.
Like the old communists, the Taliban are all-or-nothing people.
They have a vision, an agenda grounded in religious faith about how a society should be structured, about how men and women should live. They fought their way to absolute power in the 1990s. And they have shown themselves more willing to die for their beliefs and leaders than the Afghan National Army,
This is not to denigrate the brave Afghan soldiers who have bled and died. But the Taliban have not needed U.S. training, U.S. arms, U.S. air and fire support or U.S. paychecks to go into battle. All the suicide bombers who give up their lives are -- Taliban.
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