Tuesday’s speech given by President Obama to the United States Military Academy marked a politically risky move. His month long deliberation about granting General Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40 thousand more troops in Afghanistan was finalized with the announcement of sending 30,000 men and women into the region as early as December.
While it should not be a “Sarah Palin for Vice President” surprise, because he ran his presidential campaign on the premise that the Iraq War was of choice and the war in Afghanistan of necessity, it still caught me off-guard. And while it is hard to disagree with a decision that has taken President Obama months of contemplation to weigh the best options, it is precisely what has dumbfounded me about his decision.
We have been a step behind every conflict in the Middle East since 9/11. It began with the invasion in Afghanistan, the right move at the time, but then we shifted our attention to Iraq, a misguided and detrimental decision by the previous administration. The battle in Afghanistan became an afterthought to Iraq at a time when it was critical that all of our attention be spent there.
Now, at a time we are escalating again in Afghanistan, the war is moving to Pakistan.
What disturbs me, on top of the escalation of war and the lives that it will surely cost, are the serious crises we face domestically.
Obama came into the White House with the promise of enacting progressive social reforms that this country so desperately needs – health care reform and serious environmental action – now we are further engaged in a trillion dollar war mere months after the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
What does it say about our country that within a month we can start deploying young men and women into harm’s way, and yet it takes a year to get a debatable bill on health care that with its approval will take another three years to enact? Our defense budget is two times more than any other country on the planet so at least its consistent with our priorities.
The commitment of more troops to Afghanistan did come with an exit plan, the withdrawal of troops in 2011, and for that, Obama has given the public some sense of a timeline. The 2011 date should actually give the United States confidence in the decision. One year after the troops are scheduled to come home, the presidential campaign and subsequent election will be in full gear. If President Obama is confident enough in his proposed timeline that he is willing to risk his re-election chances, it might be a good sign.
Politically, the liberal base of the party is not happy with the recent decision, to piggy-back on their anger about real health care reform. The ever present Republican opposition is largely on board with his decision but dismiss his timetable for withdrawal.
This leaves Obama in the middle of two sides yelling into each ear.
Escalating the war wasn’t a popular decision, and instances like those leave the door open for criticism for a long time. But now Obama has put his name on the line, and only time will tell if he acted correctly.
That time might be 2012.
Kevin Garrity, a senior journalism major, is managing editor of the Campus Times. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.