Can Obama's Strategy Succeed in Afghanistan?

Opinion is split on whether the plan is "courageous and correct," or a troubling parallel of Vietnam

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President Obama laid out his strategy for the war in Afghanistan last night in a speech at West Point. The immediate reaction was sour across the board, with conservatives and liberals alike furious that Obama had either committed too much to the war or not enough. But now that pundits have taken a few hours to reflect on the administration's strategy and seriously consider whether or not it will work, the consensus is gone and opinion is much more split. Here are the strongest cases for whether Obama's strategy is likely to fail or succeed and why.

  • Too Much For Too Little The New York Times's Thomas Friedman worries. "I'd prefer a minimalist approach, working with tribal leaders the way we did to overthrow the Taliban regime in the first place. Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan," he writes. "To now make Afghanistan part of the 'war on terrorism' -- i.e., another nation-building project -- is not crazy. It is just too expensive, when balanced against our needs for nation-building in America, so that we will have the strength to play our broader global role."
  • Rightfully Burdens Afghans The Washington Post's David Ignatius praises the plan. "Obama has made the right decision: The only viable 'exit strategy' from Afghanistan is one that starts with a bang -- by adding 30,000 more U.S. troops to secure the major population centers, so that control can be transferred to the Afghan army and police. This transfer process, starting in July 2011, is the heart of his strategy," he writes. "He has defined success downward, by focusing on the ability to transfer control to the Afghans."
  • 'Correct and Courageous' The Washington Post supports it as well. "Mr. Obama's troop decision is both correct and courageous: correct because it is the only way to prevent a defeat that would endanger this country and its vital interests; and courageous because he is embarking on a difficult and costly mission that is opposed by a large part of his own party." They write that Obama "described powerfully the threat posed by 'violent extremism,' and said, 'it will be an enduring test of our free society and our leadership in the world.' With obvious reluctance but with clear-headedness, Mr. Obama has taken a major step toward meeting that test. "
  • Better Than Bush's Plan The New York Times offers measured support. "Americans have reason to be pessimistic, if not despairing, about the war in Afghanistan," they write. But, "Over all, we found the president's military arguments persuasive." They explain, "For far too long -- mostly, but not only, under President George W. Bush -- Afghanistan policy has had little direction and no accountability. Mr. Obama started to address those problems at West Point, although the country needs to hear more about how he intends to pay for the war and how he will decide when Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own."
  • 'Echoes of Vietnam' The New Republic's John Judis sounds the alarm. "I don't oppose what Barack Obama plans to do in Afghanistan. I don't know enough, and from what I know, I don't have an alternative to propose," he writes. "What bothers me is the echo of Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. Of course, there are differences--and Obama tried to cite them in his speech--but the similarities are disturbing." Judis meditates on the early Vietcong's resemblance to the Taliban, "neo-colonialism," and the popularity of the two wars at home and with out allies. He finds little to be optimistic about.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.