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Obama pledges to avoid repeat of Vietnam
President Obama on Tuesday night declared that the Afghanistan war will not become a second Vietnam, and he pledged to start winding down the U.S. incursion in 2011, after his accelerated strategy to defeat terrorist groups and erect a functioning government takes hold.
Facing what was arguably the most perilous decision of his presidency, Mr. Obama deployed his most potent political weapon — his oratorical skill — in appealing to a war-weary American public for support of his plan to add 30,000 more troops to the battle.
“I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mr. Obama said in a 30-minute, prime-time, televised address, delivered before 4,250 Army cadets on the campus of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
“This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”
Using vivid language to recall the horrors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that first triggered the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, Mr. Obama said his new strategy will be built around a single, clear premise: to deny al Qaeda and other extremist groups the ability to nest in the lawless mountains and barren flatlands of Central Asia.
“This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat,” he said. “In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda.”
The mission Mr. Obama set forth involves sending the additional U.S. troops over the next six months to secure Afghan population centers, train the Afghan security forces and wage a counterinsurgency strategy that aims to persuade the Afghan people to reject any efforts by the Taliban to return to power there.
The expanded force, when buttressed by an expanded international commitment, will involve more than 100,000 troops. Mr. Obama said they will work under the pressure of a limited window for success, and he promised to begin transferring forces out of Afghanistan in July 2011 - just as the 2012 election season gets under way.
It is, in large measure, the strategy originally advocated by the top U.S. commander in the field, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and many analysts have argued that it represents the best approach from among the many unpalatable options confronting Mr. Obama.
Still, the president faced a skeptical public Tuesday night. Public polling shows that support for Mr. Obama’s handling of the war has dropped to new lows.
In the speech, which the president delivered in a room filled with a stoic, gray-jacketed cadets, the president addressed emerging points of concerns about his strategy.
He challenged the notion that he would err by setting an 18-month timeline to begin a withdrawal, saying the deadline would put pressure on Afghans to take control of their country. He said that adding to the number of troops is not, as some have argued, a fruitless mission and that the status quo could not hold. He said he is not leading the country into a rerun of the Vietnam War.
“This argument depends upon a false reading of history,” he said.
Unlike Vietnam, he noted, U.S. forces are joined by those from 43 other nations. Unlike Vietnam, he said, the U.S. is not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. “And most importantly,” he said, “unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border.”
By Tom Fitton
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