Update 1: The most recent Gallup poll shows support for Obama's handling of Afghanistan at 35%, and it's really not surprising. Tonight is the third strategy address the President has made (the first was when he was a candidate). Each time, he has: 1. blamed Bush (fair enough the first time or so, but old once you've been in charge for awhile) and 2. tried for something new, claiming it was a restatement of the same strategy. Tonight, he spent the first eleven minutes giving a short synopsis of the history of our involvement since September 11, 2001, the obligatory swipe at the Bush Administration, and a defense of the time the review took (stating that the troop request was not slated until 2010). Obama stated twice that he believes our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that new attacks are being plotted from the border region with Pakistan. He then went on to state that we must strengthen Afghanistan and Pakistan, and prevent Pakistan's fall.
He gave three ways to pursue the new strategy in just 18 months: 1. break the hold of the Taliban in certain regions; secure civilian population centers; increase training of Afghan forces. He believes that we'll be able to then begin withdrawal in July 2011 (this is a purely bogus date - if he truly intends to withdraw 'responsibly,' and only if the on-ground conditions are 'right,' he can not promise this date). 2. Improved civilian and political centers by combating corruption and helping with agricultural development. 3. We will act in Afghanistan with the knowledge that we must prevent the spread of the Taliban further into Pakistan. (One wonders how we do this without moving into Pakistan - something we would need far more than 100K troops for). "We can not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intention is clear." (Sounds a great deal like the Bush doctrine of preemption, laid out at West Point in 2002, to me).
He did give a decent explanation of why he doesn't want to commit to a long-term, nation-building program, leaning on the 'it's not in our national interests' argument, but it's hard to see how that fits in with his statements a few minutes earlier that we owe it to the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan to secure them from the Taliban. He then sequed into a statement that an open-ended troop commitment would be too difficult economically (true enough), and that he wants to 'build' our nation (how?). He is clearly committed to extending the idea of a war strategy into all kinds of areas (getting rid of nuclear weapons, setting an example by stopping torture, etc.). Much of these areas have little to do with his Afghanistan policy, and did not add to the speech; rather they detracted from the details of the strategy (of which there was none given barring the troop number and the July 2011 date).
As all now know, the President will be addressing the nation shortly on his new - new strategy on Afghanistan. The President plans to announce that he will be sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan on an accelerated deployment schedule beginning this month, bringing the total US commitment to just over 100,000 troops. Somehow, he also intends to squeeze blood from a stone, and get the Europeans, who have steadfastly refused his requests to date (barring the additional 500 approved by the UK this week), to make up some of the difference between the 30,000 and the 44,000 requested by Gen. McChrystal. The NPR live blog from West Point can be followed here, and live streaming is here. HuffPo states that while the President won't pick a particular exit date, he plans to state the commitment will not be 'open-ended.' In the press conference with Gibbs today, vague statements about a draw-down within three years ("well before the end" of the President's "first term") were made.