In his speech last night in the East Room, Obama tacitly declared a solution to this problem of means and ends. The ends won. Vice-President Biden’s view won. That’s what matters, more than the timing and the troop numbers. Regardless of the health or sickness of Afghan institutions, we will no longer use counterinsurgency to achieve the goals of counterterrorism. The troop drawdown this year and next signals not so much that “the tide of war is receding,” but that America will no longer fight a particular kind of war—soldiers on wary foot patrol in dense neighborhoods and villages, junior officers taking off their helmets and sitting down over tea with local elders to talk about roads and jobs, generals and diplomats alternately coaxing and browbeating their counterparts about troop training and corruption. We’ve been fighting this kind of war somewhere or other for almost a decade, and Americans, who prefer our wars big on weaponry, short, and decisive, are tired of it, and so, no doubt, is President Obama, as well as many of his Republican opponents and members of Congress. The aggressive campaign against the Taliban over the past year, and the killing of Osama bin Laden last month, provided the natural turning point. After the brilliant raid in Abbotabad, it was inevitable that this announcement would come, and that the President would say, as he did last night, “America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” And, he might have added, killing militants in Pakistan with drone strikes and the occasional raid.
- $33 billion in cuts in the latest, tentative budget proposal source
» Still not a sure thing: Joe Biden, who has been negotiating a budget with the Republicans, says that he and Republicans are now “working off the same number” in their talks. However, John Boehner’s spokesman made it clear that “there is no deal until everything is settled.” If this budget passes, the cuts will fall drastically short of the $100 billion Republicans pledged to cut during last November’s elections. If it doesn’t, a government shutdown will become a near-certainty.
Vice President Biden noted that the current U.S. commitment of 63,000 troops to Afghanistan is the result of a vigorous internal policy debate and would not be sustainable politically for more than two years without visible signs of progress. After two years, the extraordinary cost of maintaining a robust military presence in Afghanistan would make additional commitment increasingly difficult. After Afghan elections the Administration intends to review the situation again. Currently there is little capacity for the Afghan government to execute many of the functions of government. In many areas of the country, local officials have close to no knowledge of how to govern or even basic knowledge of payroll or budget. Part of the reason the Taliban is strengthening is since the Taliban has the local capacity to settle basic disputes quickly while central government courts can take six to eight months to process a case.
The idea of a strong rule of law under a centralized Karzai government was not realistic. New policy towards the Taliban should reflect the reality of the Afghan government’s lack of capacity. Our policy should first aim to stabilize the urban areas and surrounding rural communities and then seek to exploit divisions within the Taliban, co-opting moderate elements rather than simply defeating militarily all elements of the Taliban.
Buried in his interview with Deborah Solomon, this nugget:
Is it fair to describe you as the first left winger to express anger as a television host? Fury used to be the province of right wingers, until that day in 2006 when you delivered a tirade against Donald Rumsfeld.
I once had a conversation with the man who is now the vice president when he was still in the Senate, who asked me for advice about how to turn anger into righteous inspiration.
Joe Biden took you to lunch to ask you for tips on getting angry?
He said, ‘‘I just come across like I’m angry and out of control, and you seem to focus it and make it look useful and expressive.’’
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