Across Spectrum, Few Praise Obama's Afghanistan Speech

In Congress and among pundits, both liberals and conservatives found little to like in President Obama's remarks

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President Obama's speech Tuesday night at West Point on his administration's strategy in Afghanistan promised 30,000 additional troops but a draw-down by July 2011. (Full transcript here.) He frequently cited American national security as his motivation and emphasized that the U.S. and NATO mission would be finite and make transferring authority to the Afghan military a top priority. He also defended extensively from criticisms of his strategy launched from the left and the right.

The immediate reaction to the speech demonstrated just how politically trick Obama's mission in Afghanistan will be. Across the political spectrum, he received little in the way of full support, instead earning vicious attacks from conservatives furious at his inclusion of a timetable and liberals horrified at his decision to send more troops. As Obama said at a lunch yesterday with reporters, he is "painfully aware" just how "politically unpopular" this is.

  • Ditch The Timetable  Senator John McCain condemns "the President’s decision to set an arbitrary date to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan. A date for withdrawal sends exactly the wrong message to both our friends and our enemies – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region – all of whom currently doubt whether America is committed to winning this war. A withdrawal date only emboldens Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, while dispiriting our Afghan partners and making it less likely that they will risk their lives to take our side in this fight."
  • Congressional Dems Wary  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder rounds up statements from seven key congressional Democrats. Only one, Rep. Patrick Murphy, explicitly supports the leader of his party, while two staunchly oppose the Afghan strategy. The rest either offered mixed opinion or a series of pointed questions that don't exactly convey support.
  • Practice What You Preach  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer is horrified at Obama's claim that "we must promote our values by living them at home." Serwer shot, "With warrantless wiretaps, diminished due process, and indefinite detention. Obama used to be able to square the circle btw America's acts of oppression and its freedom-seeking instincts: No More. The part in Obama's prepared remarks about human rights is just upsetting. Because I can remember when I thought he was serious."
  • Withdrawal by 2012? Doubtful  The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan isn't optimistic. "I do not share his confidence in American military and civilian power to turn the roiling region of Afghanistan and Pakistan into something less threatening. I see no reason after the last eight years to see how this can happen, even with these new resources. But if you rule out withdrawal right away, then this seems to me to be about the smartest strategy ahead. But I see absolutely no reason to believe that it will mean withdrawal of any significant amount in Obama's first term."
  • Rightly Fulfilling Campaign Promises  Teresa Kopec pushes back against liberals fuming at Obama. "Did you not listen during the campaign? Pretty sick of left rewriting history. He said he was going to focus on Afghanistan & he is. All my lefty friends complaining ab[ou]t  Afghanistan should have voted for Ron Paul. Obama said he was going to focus on Afghanistan & he is. I'm not saying you can't disagree w/policy, but Obama laid out his plans for Afghanistan last year. Did you think he was a liar? I just don't see any disconnect between campaign promises & this so object to the 'his heart isn't in it' Buchanan meme."
  • Antiwar Organizing Now  David Sirota calls for revolt on the left. "What percentage of those kids in the audience will die because of this decision?" He asks, "Where's the antiwar movement and the marches and the organizing and the protesting? Where's all those well-funded groups that protested George W. Bush's war policy? Or was all that really just about hating George Bush and embracing blind Partisan War Syndrome?"
  • Unconvincing Speech  The New York Times's Charles M. Blow isn't sold. "Obama speech: What a rambling mess. Prosaic platitudes/patriotism. Why more troops? Who's the enemy? Where's the exit? Get us outta there! Afghanistan is a pile of rocks over a pool of quick sand. I need to know why we're doing this ... in simple language. Didn't get it. That speech could have been 5 minutes long. Sometimes less is more."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.