But the president's eye is set on numbers that have little to do with
battlefield strategy and everything to do with his re-election hopes.
- Fifty-six percent of Americans say U.S. troops should be brought
home as soon as possible, up from 40 percent a year ago (Pew Research
- Fewer than a quarter of people see signs of improvement in the
economy and two-thirds say the country is on the wrong track. A clear
majority of Americans say their children are destined to a lower
standard of living (Bloomberg News National Poll).
- The United States has spent $1.3 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan in
the past decade. Afghanistan alone is costing about $120 billion this
"Now," Obama said, "we must invest in America's greatest resource--our
people." He called for more spending on infrastructure and new energies
and urged Americans to "recapture the common purpose that we shared at
the beginning of this time of war.''
White House operatives went to great lengths to show Obama shifting
focus from wars abroad to domestic issues at home. Their
public-relations plan called for, among other things, leaking word that
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, recommended a
more limited withdrawal.
The usually leak-averse White House also made sure reporters were
told that both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, two hawks in the Obama cabinet, had accepted Obama's
decision--but only reluctantly.
The message as framed by the Obama political team: He knows it's the
economy, stupid; he'll focus on it like a laser beam, even if it means
"defying" his commanders and Cabinet.
In doing so, Obama laid out a "more centered course" in U.S. foreign
policy. Without calling it a new doctrine, Obama said the United States
must be "as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are
"When threatened, we must respond with force--but when that force can
be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas," Obama said. He
cited Libya as an example of the United States leading a coalition whose
aim is to help a nation win freedom.
Obama does not need to worry as much as past Democratic presidents
about being labeled soft on national security--not after giving the order
that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden. No, his biggest
concern is being labeled tone deaf on joblessness and debt.
He saw the writing on the wall when a growing number of lawmakers,
Democrats and Republicans alike, clamored for a drawdown in Afghanistan.
The shift was most pronounced among the candidates seeking the GOP
presidential nomination. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who entered the
race on Tuesday, hammered Obama not from the right, but from the left.
"I think there is room to draw down more," Huntsman told ABC.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was
even more pointed about Obama's choice--more war or steps toward peace?
"We must choose," Manchin said in a warning shot issued before Obama's
address, "and I choose America."
In the end, Obama chose the clearest course to re-election.