Last week, President Obama put the Afghanistan war effort in the broader context of America’s role in the world. This vision represents widely accepted mainstream views on national security and foreign policy and has proven effective. Meanwhile, as the 2012 presidential primary season begins, conservative candidates continue to try and one-up one another on who is either the strongest isolationist or the greatest war hawk. Today’s foreign policy speech by Tim Pawlenty further demonstrates the divide. These two extremes within the conservative movement have been rejected by the public who seek a results-oriented approach, not distractions and posturing.
President Obama is currently conducting a review of America’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan. He will announce the size of the July 2011 drawdown in the coming days. National security experts, public opinion leaders as well as a growing number in Congress and the public all support a substantial troop drawdown starting next month. Their reasons for supporting a substantial reduction vary, as do specific recommendations on the number of troops that should be withdrawn. But a consensus has formed around the conclusion that a substantial drawdown would help align American interests with our commitment in Afghanistan and push Afghans to take responsibility for their own safety and governance. In that context, the National Security Network has put together a special report outlining that consensus. Below are excerpted quotes demonstrating that consensus. The full report can be found here.
A Rolling Stone profile of NATO-ISAF Commander General Stanley McChrystal, which contained derisive critiques of senior Obama administration officials by both the general and his aides, has touched off a furious controversy. McChrystal, after delivering a written apology, has been summoned to appear in person before the President to explain his comments. Regardless of the outcome of that meeting, it is clear from McChrystal's own written statement that the comments in the piece reflected "poor judgment and should never have happened." Additionally, up to this point, McChrystal has offered unequivocal support for the Administration's Afghanistan strategy and the process that informed its development. Specifically, in December, he stated that, "The Afghanistan-Pakistan review led by the President has provided me with a clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task." While some may be tempted to seize on this incident as evidence that the Obama Administration is not in sync with the military, statements from McChrystal, General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, and Secretary Gates all confirm the Pentagon's full support for the administration's strategy in Afghanistan and the White House's leadership in its creation.
The depth of the challenge the United States faces in Afghanistan is becoming starkly clear. Negative developments in Marjah, grumblings from the Karzai government, the postponement of a major operation in Kandahar, and disappointing results in security forces training and the ‘civilian surge' must be serious points of concern for the Administration. A raft of critical media reports, and the flurry of questions showered on government officials appearing before the Senate this week illustrate the concern dramatically.
This week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in the U.S. meeting with President Obama and other Administration officials, in a visit that is expected to "look to the future, not the past." The Afghan President and his cabinet will meet with their American counterparts to discuss governance, security, economics, as well as the vision for a long-term U.S.-Afghan relationship. Beyond the media attention paid to the personal relationship between Obama and Karzai, the Afghan President's visit comes after reports indicating that the U.S. is encountering mounting challenges to key aspects of its strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan.
Not even a year in office, President Obama has put forth a comprehensive foreign policy that pursues a strategy of principled and pragmatic engagement. While both the left and right have found areas to criticize, this approach has both enhanced America’s ability to work with our allies overseas as well as protect Americans at home. And while he has achieved several important accomplishments over the past 10 months, it is Obama’s vision for the future and America’s place in the world that will determine his success in office. It is this vision—the promise of building on our best traditions while elevating American leadership—that was laid out in clear terms this morning during Obama’s Nobel Peace prize ceremony address.