“If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan,” said President Obama last night in a speech at West Point, “I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.”
But he does think so: Afghanistan is “the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda,” he said. “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.” Therefore “we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region,” which means 30,000 more U.S. troops in “the first part of 2010.” He assured his listeners that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”
It is Obama’s hope that by breaking the Taliban, America will “create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.” He said the “the days of providing a blank check” to the Afghan government “are over,” and told the Afghan people that “we have no interest in occupying your country.”
Obama claimed that in the formerly recalcitrant Pakistan “public opinion has turned” toward support of anti-Taliban efforts, and now “there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.” The President “committed to a partnership with Pakistan,” and promised “America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent.”
He denied that “Afghanistan is another Vietnam.” For one thing, America is “joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action,” and for another, “we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency.” Obama also cited “an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies” if America abandons the country.
On the other hand, he also rejected an “open-ended escalation… because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.” In a time of “economic crisis… we simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars.”
He also stressed the need for diplomacy, nuclear weapons control, “the strength of our values,” etc.