President Obama will attempt to persuade the American public this week that more time, troops and money will accomplish what eight years of effort and every outside power in history have failed to achieve - a measure of military success in Afghanistan.
The details and justification for Mr. Obama’s new war policy will be the focus of a major address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., on Tuesday.
It comes after months of study and preparation, and is widely viewed by foreign-policy specialists as the most consequential decision of his short tenure, carrying with it the potential for enormous costs both in human lives and increasingly scarce financial resources.
“The significance of the decision cannot be understated,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who assisted Gen. David H. Petraeus with strategic planning for the U.S. war effort in Iraq and now teaches military history at Ohio State University.
“The president’s decision, coming after so many weeks of study and commentary, will set the strategic direction of the conflict in Afghanistan,” Mr. Mansoor said.
The strategic direction of the eight-year conflict has been the focus of an intensive internal debate at the White House that began over the summer and has since consumed ninelengthy meetings in the Situation Room. There, Mr. Obama has allowed his top generals, his senior foreign-policy advisers, his national-security team and his political aides to debate whether the country should invest more resources in the hopes of bringing security and stability to a lawless place, or whether the military should begin a drawdown that would leave a more limited and surgical force in place to suppress al Qaeda.
The nation’s top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, presented the president and his team with a range of options that included troop commitments reported to have ranged from 10,000 to 40,000 on top of the 68,000 already there. But resource commitments were only part of the equation.
There was the larger question of what the U.S. wanted to accomplish in Afghanistan, and whether those goals are essential to American security, or even achievable.
Nathaniel C. Fick, a Marine veteran who heads the Center for a New American Security, said the president appears to be prepared to endorse Gen. McChrystal’s plan for a broad counterinsurgency strategy aimed at stabilizing populated areas in Afghanistan, and eventually training a home-grown force to maintain that security. That effort is likely to take 30,000 to 35,000 additional American troops, and a further 5,000 troops from NATO allies.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed Wednesday that several NATO countries will send the additional 5,000 troops.
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Mr. Obama began a disciplined rollout of the details of his plan, with targeted leaks, quiet conversations with congressional leaders and foreign allies, and statements designed to prepare the public for this week’s formal war speech.
On Tuesday, 12 hours after concluding his final war council session, Mr. Obama told reporters gathered at a brief press conference that he considered his review to have been “comprehensive and extremely useful.”
He repeated his contention that the American goal was not to build Afghanistan into a modern, well-functioning state - something that most experts think is well beyond the capability of any outside force. Instead, he said, it will be to turn the largely lawless and hardscrabble corner of the globe into a place that is sufficiently stable so al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot operate effectively.
“We are going to dismantle and degrade their capabilities and ultimately dismantle and destroy their networks. And Afghanistan’s stability is important to that process,” the president said.
Mr. Obama will have to persuade not only the American people that it is the right course, but also members of his own party who are not convinced the nation can afford to keep the war going. He faces challenges on both fronts.View Entire Story
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