Problems With the Timetable for Withdrawal

Pundits find flaws in President Obama's plan to begin pulling out troops in July 2011

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Perhaps the most-discussed part of President Obama's plan for the war in Afghanistan, which he unveiled last night in a speech at West Point, is the timetable for eventual withdrawal. Here what Obama said:

But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We'll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government -- and, more importantly, to the Afghan people -- that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.

Troops will begin to leave in July 2011, but the pace of draw-down and how long it takes to pull them all out remain open-ended. Will it work?

  • Obama's Only Mistake The Washington Post's David Ignatius praises Obama's strategy, but takes exception to the timetable. "Obama thinks that setting deadlines will force the Afghans to get their act together at last. That strikes me as the most dubious premise of his strategy. He is telling his adversary that he will start leaving on a certain date, and telling his ally to be ready to take over then, or else. That's the weak link in an otherwise admirable decision -- the idea that we strengthen our hand by announcing in advance that we plan to fold it."
  • Leverage on Karzai--And on Us Politico's Mike Allen explains the political use of timetables. "What everyone's missing about the time constraint (what we call the July 2011 target to begin withdrawing -- 'ahead of the 2012 elections,' as The Wall Street Journal snippily put it on the front page this morning) is that it's leverage on Karzai. And it's leverage, frankly, on ourselves and on the bureaucracy of the government," he writes. "The biggest worry is that this becomes a political football."
  • I'll Believe It When I See It The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan fears we'll be there far beyond July 2011. "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."
  • No One Buys It, Including Karzai Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch warns, "I believe that Obama and his team really want things to work out this way, and have carefully thought through how to work it. But when things don't go their way, will they really follow through on their promises to draw down? Few people believe that. And if they don't believe it, then the mechanism of pressure doesn't operate."
  • Don't Set Firm Timeline Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf writes in the Wall Street Journal, "The exit strategy from Afghanistan must not and cannot be time related. It has to ask, 'What effect do we want to create on the ground?' We must eliminate al Qaeda, dominate the Taliban militarily, and establish a representative, legitimate government in Afghanistan," he writes. "Pakistan and Afghanistan were shortsightedly abandoned to their fate by the West in 1989, in spite of the fact that they were the ones who won a victory for the Free World against the Soviet Union. This abandonment lead to a sense of betrayal amongst the people of the region. For the sake of regional and world peace, let us not repeat the same mistake."
  • Obama's Mixed Messages Politics Daily's David Corn laments, "Obama's Afghanistan message continues to be mixed." He explains that Obama promised withdrawal in his speech, but also suggested that troops will remain as long as it takes to hand over leadership to Afghans. "It's a bit of a muddle. Moreover, the transfer that is at the core of Obama's policy depends on the government of President Hamid Karzai. Obama is betting a lot on an entity that has so far proved to be inept and corrupt."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.