President Obama spent a long time in the kitchen to serve up a plate of leftovers. The president stated that there were “three core elements” to his strategy: “a military effort to create the conditions for a transition, a civilian surge that reinforces positive action and an effective partnership with Pakistan.” These core elements were part of the Obama strategy announced in March 2009, and were also pillars of the successive Bush administration policies. They would be no-brainer aspects of any Afghan strategy. How they are implemented will prove whether the president can successfully be a war leader, but Mr.Obama could have begun this process last March when he announced basically the same thing, though in much greater detail.
The only new element in the strategy is the 18-month timeline for beginning the process of withdrawal. The timeline is arbitrary, and at least implicitly conditional on making progress in Afghanistan, but the president did not offer much in the way of details as to how progress will be made, and has dropped his previous insistence on well-defined metrics. He briefly noted the challenges facing the Afghan government, but simply said they would be held accountable, whatever that means. And did not offer any details about how the Taliban who threaten the regime will be defeated. He said the 30,000 troops are the “resources that we need to seize the initiative,” but did not explain how the initiative will be seized, how the troops will be used, or what constitutes victory.
The speech was twice as long as it needed to be and contained a lot of extraneous material. Perhaps it was meant to inspire, but the delivery was flat. Judging by the footage of sleeping Cadets and weak applause I don’t think he reached his audience. It is hard to understand why this speech took weeks, even months to be written. And one is left wondering how long it will be until he decides to revise his war strategy yet again.