Friday, June 17, 2011

the politics of Afghanistan troop withdrawals

The Wall Street Journal says that "the military" wants to delay significant U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, notwithstanding presidential promises to begin them starting in July. No surprises here. The December 2009 decision to surge troops was a compromise. Withdrawals were to start next month, but the pace would be "conditions based." That kept the politicians like the Vice President happy, and the military leaders reassured.

It shouldn't be hard to fashion a renewed compromise, since it's just a numbers game. Do we want 3,000 to come home next month, and another 5-8,000 by the end of the year, as the military reportedly proposes. Or do we want a higher initial figure and vague words about the pace of withdrawals during 2012? It's all manageable.

What's new is the growing political pressure from Republicans to pull out faster. That was the theme of the GOP presidential contenders' debate and is evident in growing criticism in Congress. The politicians are all reading the opinion polls. I think "the military" will recognize this fact and accommodate the President with symbolic evidence of speedier withdrawals even if it gets private assurances of subsequent reviews.

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