Assuming President Obama pulls 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2012, that’s a reversal of the surge he reluctantly gave the generals in 2009. It’s all in Bob Woodward’s book, Obama’s Wars. That leaves 76,000, and Obama wants to pull all combat troops by 2014, which is the same year Afghans elect a new president after Karzai, and the same year all the NATO troops will be gone. So the plan is to draw down U.S. troops from combat roles while installing a new government that has space for the Taliban in a power-sharing arrangement to be stable by 2014. That would save $50 billion per year. If, and it’s a huge forgotten if, he withdraws his 47,000 troops from Iraq by this December, that’s another $50 billion saved.
Obama could plausibly run on a platform of responsibly withdrawing from two quagmires while still fighting al Qaeda and terrorism in 2012.
Many progressives and peace activists will not like this, or will go along only reluctantly. But it probably assures him some moderate and independent voters who hate the war costs.
He could be driven towards a more rapid withdrawal if the Republicans unexpectedly push him from that direction. Huntsman, Paul, Romney already are, and 47% of Republicans are anti-war now.
Obama’s strategy could potentially implode since it is based on the Karzai government surviving and its armed forces getting up to speed. Comparisons with Iraq are false, because in Iraq there was a strong Shiite majority who could be installed in power, with plenty of troops, against the minority Sunni. In Afghanistan, the numbers are reversed, and while the Taliban are unpopular there is no evidence that a government/army composed of northern tribes can hold power. It’s either a power-sharing arrangement with massive outside support, or return towards sectarian civil war. Bluntly, the Karzai regime and army are like Humpty-Dumpty.
Finally, there is Pakistan, where the drones and special forces are escalating along with alienating the population. And there’s Yemen, Libya, the long war against terrorism. If there is an analogy, it’s the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Central America, all fought against the backdrop of the Cold War against the international communist conspiracy, which turned out to be a false construct. There are progressive forces in America who can effectively oppose a hot war with ground troops, but if the underlying rationale is not challenged, new hot wars will replace the dying ones.