President Obama doesn't win wars, but he does declare an end to them. On the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death, Obama gave a surprise speech from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan Tuesday night in which he made the case for a timeline for pulling out of the Afghan war. "My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war," Obama said. "Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over." The Afghan war, he said, will be over -- for us, at least -- soon.
Though Obama's been criticized for being a little too self-congratulatory on the anniversary of bin Laden's death, he didn't do a lot of fist pumping in his speech. That was true visually -- he spoke in front of MRAPS draped with a single American flag -- and in his tone. "Despite initial success, for a number of reasons, this war has taken longer than most anticipated," Obama said. But in the last three years, the U.S. has regained momentum, and "The goal that I set – to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach." The U.S. will have no permanent bases in Afghanistan, and American troops won't be patrolling cities and mountains. Most important, Afghanistan will not be a little America in Central Asia. Obama said, "Our goal is not to build a country in America’s image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars, and many more American lives."
Obama detailed how he thinks the end of the war will play out after signing an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Tuesday:
Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.
Second, we are training Afghan Security Forces to get the job done. Those forces have surged, and will peak at 352,000 this year. The Afghans will sustain that level for three years, and then reduce the size of their military.
In his speech marking the end of the Iraq war in December, Obama didn't talk about "winning." Instead, he pointed to the heroism of American soldiers, and said, "In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.