June 23rd, 2011
02:19 PM ET

Obama drawdown too slow

Editor's Note: Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is his contribution to CFR.org's Expert Roundup.

By Richard Haass

Reactions to President Obama's Afghan speech last night are all over the lot. This should not surprise.

The words emphasize the commitment over the next three and a half years to sharply scale back the level of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, but in the short run, there will be more continuity than change in U.S. policy.

Even after another fifteen months, U.S. force levels will be close to seventy thousand, approximately two times what they were when the president assumed office.

This pace of drawdown is unnecessarily slow.

The United States could and should reduce American troop levels in Afghanistan to, say, twenty-five thousand by 2012 and not wait to do so until the end of 2014. This number would be enough to carry out counterterrorist operations and advise and train local and national Afghan military and police. A greater U.S. military effort would not produce results that would endure or that would be commensurate with the investment, given internal Afghan divisions and the reality that Pakistan will likely continue to provide a sanctuary to the Taliban.

The United States would also be wise to step up its diplomacy, both with the Taliban (to make clear the price it would pay if it were to reestablish ties with terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda) and with regional states, many of whom have a stake in a more stable Afghanistan. Prospects for diplomacy would be improved by emphasizing less those American soldiers to be removed than by underscoring U.S. readiness to maintain a residual force (on the order of ten thousand to twenty-five thousand troops) in Afghanistan for years to come.

The president announced that "it is time to focus on nation-building at home." He is right. This is a strategic investment in our future competitiveness and capacity to lead; it is not isolationist. America must reduce its fiscal deficit, modernize its infrastructure, and improve its schools. The problem is that the latest wrinkle to Afghan policy will postpone the country's ability to do just that.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Richard Haass. For more, click here.

Post by:
Topics: Afghanistan • President Obama

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    I think Obama has struck a balance with the drawdown of the troops. There were people like Mike Mullen who would prefer the troops to stay on for a while, and others like Richard Haass who believe, the troops should have been taken out long ago or completely and right away.
    In an unstable country like Afghanistan it's always difficult to predict the future and it was difficult for Obama to predict the situation in Afghanistan in 2009, when he announced the withdrawal of troops.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
    • Daliyah

      Everything you are saying is so very true. And withdrawing from Afghanistan would help the alliance the US and Afghanistan have because the Afghan citizens want the US out because all the US is doing is taking over thier country. We have helped Afghanistan become remarkably more stable than what they were from the start, which the Afghans appreciate but now it is time that we let Afghanistan stand on thier own two feet and give the Afghan people the control they want over thier own country.

      June 24, 2011 at 9:13 am | Reply
  2. Aaron

    From what I ready, the largest expenditures of the Federal Government are not from the war, but are from right here in the states. The entitlement programs need to be reformed and the government is too bloated with needless spending.

    June 23, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      Define some of that "needless spending." And don't waste our time with some obscure government grant for "frog jumping research at XYZ university" you heard about that sounds outrageous but which is just a drop in the ocean of a multi-trillion dollar budget. Give us some REAL examples.

      June 23, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Reply
      • Examples

        Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. I want to retire some day so I started planning for it myself. I needed to secure health care for myself and my family so I handled it. I started in my teens before I graduated high school and I'm still working on it now. I don't want to pay for these things for others who don't feel like handling it themselves. There are some who aren't able to do this and those people deserve help but fifty percent of this country does not pay income tax. Sales, SS and FICA taxes are not income tax so don't throw that tired response back at me.

        June 23, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
      • Nate (Seattle, WA)

        Actually, people who have less money than you aren't just lacking for a nest egg because they "didn't feel like" saving. There's a lot of people who simply don't have the kind of income to have anything left over, after expenses. And, as you apply point out, even people who recently didn't owe federal income tax (thanks to irresponsible tax cuts by politicians that teabaggers like you probably vote for in droves) still pay social security taxes. That means they've paid into the system, Einstein. Thus, when they're old, they get to collect. What about that is difficult for your pea brain to understand?

        As for Medicare/Medicaid, every modern industrialized nation provides basic health care for their citizens. We were the last ones to join the party. I can assure you that they still don't get the best care if they're on Medicaid, so you and your cold lump of coal for a heart can take solace knowing that your tightwad conservative cronies are still keeping the poor pretty darn sick.

        Is that argument making you tired, you soulless vulture?

        June 24, 2011 at 6:27 am |
      • oldmanron1

        I believe that We could to a better job. We need to remove the health care units in Europe. We should be direct our efforts toward the VA in the states.

        June 27, 2011 at 6:01 am |
    • Greg

      Just remember that social security and medicare are paid for by the American worker. So when you say its our "biggest expense" and if you are lumping those two in, then you need to think about the full context of what you are saying. Everyone whom works pays into SS and medicare.

      June 23, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Reply
    • Old Fool

      Actually, by not having those of us not fighting the war pay for it Bush stuck his hand in your pocket and mine and started the whole "interest mill" that is debt rolling. He learned it from Ronald Reagan. He liked that idea so much in Afghanistan that he did it again, this time in Iraq. The interest mill churns, and the debt grows. Then he gave tax cuts to 500,000 of his closest friends and loyal supporters and let their heirs keep lots and lots of unearned dollars. Then he showed his kind side and granted an outrageously designed drug plan for seniors. I dont know who it is benefitting but it doesnt help my 83 year old mother so much. You can stamp it all Made in China. And the interest mill churns. You gave him the keys and he robbed you blind. Then you gave him the keys again and look what he did. And now that they took everything from your left pocket, they want to take it from your right pocket. Chances are you will let them. Barnum had it wrong. There is not a sucker born every minute. In America today there is one born every nanosecond. They like it so much they even get born again.

      June 23, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
    • Terence

      Cost of Afganistan $443 Billion
      Cost of Iraq $780 Billion
      Not including costs of treating injured veterans or suffering PTSD. Add to that the cost to the economy from the loss of functioning workers. By the end, the costs of these 2 wars could climb to as much as $3 Trillion.

      June 24, 2011 at 7:29 am | Reply
  3. A James

    I wonder how it feels to be a Republican in a national office and be able to say any idiotic thing I want without thinking about and have people believe me. They can't make up their minds, too slow or too fast. How about this: No matter what the President says he's wrong. Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like a game you play in grade school?

    June 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  4. robS

    Too Slow! Let's just leave asap. The determining factor should be how long it takes to pack and ship our troops and equipment home. We've done our job, Bin Laden is dead. That was the goal way back when. The ME will be the ME no matter what, let's not waste anymore time over there. Matters not whether we leave today, tomorrow, or next century. They will never change. We killed their King Osama Bin Laden, now let's get out of that backward backwash of a region.

    June 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  5. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    We leave. They continue to be morons. So let's leave.

    June 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  6. J Martin

    Here is a novel thought, how about everyone stop playing stupid games (politicians), looking out for their own persnal interests and start doing what is right for this country. We went into Afghanastan to eliminate the Al Queada threat. For the most part the threat in Afghanastan is over. The problem is the threat has moved to countries like Pakistan. So do we pull out of Afghanastan and let the insuregents move back or do we stay and hope that Pakistan helps with the problem. I seldom agree with Presedent Obama on issues but on this one I think he is right. We need to start focusing our resources to combat a non conventional war. We need more CIA and Special Operations units on the ground, but at the same time we need to stop giving iformation to countries that we know will endanger our secret operations.

    June 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  7. Blogson

    Even if/after the withdrawal the U.S. will have more troops in Afghanistan than when Obama was elected. But his announced withdrawal will partially satisfy people who voted for him on the basis of his promise to end U.S. troop involvement while partially placating the defense industry lobbyists whose companies have made quite a lot of money because of the war. But the majority of ordinary Afghans, who in repeated polls have wanted the U.S./NATO out, likely will not be satisfied.

    June 23, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  8. Robert - Atlanta

    If Democrats (Obama) lose again it’s because they didn’t do enough! Did not create jobs – too little too late, failed to bring the troops home, health care reform was not enough – no right to buy into Medicare or public option, no infrastructure repair or public works programs, and failed to make immigration and gay issues a civil rights issue.

    June 23, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Reply
    • Laurentino

      How can you prove this post if you even cant courtsnct a concrete evidence of its existence?

      February 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  9. David B.

    I agree wth Mr. Haass. It's time to get out, and sooner rather than later. We have no business remaining in Afghanistan. It is a sham, and a waste of $billions and American lives. We need to get our own house in order.

    June 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  10. NS

    take out the troops from afghanistan and put them in pakistan

    June 23, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Reply
    • NS NOT

      That wil be another 3+ trillion dollar or more but with worse results.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Reply
  11. fernace

    This is not just about us & what we want anymore, not after 10yrs. of occupation.There is a new fragile infrastructure in Afghanistan that is dependent on us now. To just pull out because we've met our goals is cold & selfish. Afghanis are people too, & aside from helping them get on with the biz of running their country, we have to make relatively sure things don't just fall apart the moment we're gone. Bush could've had us out of these wars long before he left(we never needed to invade Iraq). When asked how long til we disengage, he said at least 10yrs. Cheney said 100yrs, but we took it as a joke at the time. We are leaving, finally, can't we just be glad about that?!?

    June 23, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Reply
    • Captain Caveman

      We withdrew from Afghanistan and abandoned our support for Pakistan when the Soviets left in 1990 and the abandonment of this region left a vacuum that was filled by the Taliban in Afghanistan and left a lingering and justified distrust and hatred of Americans in Pakistan. Without a long term commitment to the region, we will continue to suffer from terrorist attacks from this breeding ground for Muslim fundimentalists.

      June 24, 2011 at 12:27 am | Reply
    • todd

      The military experts said 15 years, which is close to what the President is aiming for. The romans, experts at putting down rebellions and insurgents, also planned for 15 years for any given location. Given the terrain, our troops have done well, especially since they were given proper troop levels in the mini-surge. You are quite right to be greatful about the withdrawal. Funny how similar President Bush and President Obama sound (okay, Obama is far more articulate) when talking about staying the course and making sure the investment we have made pays off.

      June 24, 2011 at 7:24 am | Reply
  12. Terry Brookman

    You got to see what that moron Obama has us involved in with Libya http://www.federaljack.com/

    June 24, 2011 at 1:48 am | Reply
  13. todd

    I don't particularly like the President, but he is taking the brave and right course with the troop levels. It is easy to do what is popular, but it is the president's job to decide what will be our best bet for the long term. While I don't like the direction he has taken here at home, I have been impressed with his foreign policy recently in the middle east.

    June 24, 2011 at 7:16 am | Reply
  14. Alan MacDonald

    Toward the end of his speech tonight, Obama obviously felt the need to pathetically claim, "We stand not for empire" - which is clearly an admission that he feels a need to emphasize and, without the slightest proof, reinforce this ridiculous claim that the US is not acting as a global Empire.

    As Shakespeare famously wrote of the human nature of the guilty "(S)he protesteth too much".

    So tonight, the ever smooth Obama, seems clearly to be protesting too much about an issue that a fast increasing number of Americans beyond Chomsky, Bacevich, Berman, Parenti, Kolko, Chalmers Johnson, Korten, Hedges, Harvey, Hardt, Wolin, Zinn, et al have known for years. That our former country is now the seminal part of a disguised global corporate/financial/militarist Empire, which hides behind the facade of its bought and paid for Two-Party "Vichy" sham of democratic government.

    Which means that today even the faux-Emperor himself seems to know that he has no clothes on, and that the global Empire that he fronts for is today becoming very naked to very many people here and abroad.

    So, tonight's speech by faux-Emperor/president, Obama, was very good news for all of us who know that our former and now captive country "stands precisely for Empire" - although "we" certainly do not!

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine

    Liberty & democracy

    New America People's Party 2012

    June 24, 2011 at 8:25 am | Reply
  15. JOE

    So did you read the CNN article that says a recent CNN poll said most Americans would rather vote against Obama in 2012? They must be joking right? I believe that if I want a laught I could always tuned into Commedy Central. And have you ever seen one of these illusive and revolving polls or be invited to participate in one? I guess not because the reality is that these so-called polls do not exist whatsoever and the mainstream media, particularly CNN, MSNBC, FOX and the likes of the Wall Street Journal, all Republican owned and operated news media create these bogus polls to manipulate, exploit and mislead the American people. And could you imagine that most Americans would really be opposed to the president who approved the mission to kill OBL, the mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil? Could you imagine most Americans opposed to the president for trying to fix and reverse eight years of turmoil created by the GOP? Now, as far as the Afghan war is concerned, if the GOP and their base wish for this war to continue, they could always send their sons and daughters over there to finish the war the GOP abandoned and prolonged to wage their illegitimate Iraqi war.

    June 24, 2011 at 8:36 am | Reply
    • gfggfgsnissf

      yes and it will happen, this presidency has destroyed the economy

      June 24, 2011 at 9:08 am | Reply
  16. stealdamoney

    This is all such BULLSHYTT! The US is now run by the most corrupt administration since Al Capone ran the mafia. The Chicage black flappy eared dude is at the top of the scrap heap!!!

    June 24, 2011 at 9:06 am | Reply
    • mike proctor

      This Presiident has done more for this country than any other President in modern time and to have such a ractist remark thrown at him in this manner is totally out of line. What you need to do is to educate yourself on how to be a true American and hope and pray to God that there are not many of your kind left in this world.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:23 am | Reply
      • rahmin

        You've irprnteeted and translated Slim Shady the way Jerry Farwell translated the bible. You my friend are the messiah.

        February 12, 2012 at 3:02 am |
  17. Barking Alien

    Obama will be criticized either way. It will be too fast for some and not fast enough for others. All he can do is wind down these ridiculous wars in the best way possible. We have squandered trillions of dollars with little to show for it. He did not start these wars but he will be responsible for finishing them. The GOP were the ones rushing to war, now they are all suddenly isolationists calling for troop withdrawl. They can't have it both boths. More schizophrenic actions from the right wing nuts.

    June 24, 2011 at 9:34 am | Reply
  18. anarchteacher

    Obama, in his speech on Afghanistan, never mentioned the most important factor in our continued presence in that "graveyard of empires" - The Narcosaurus.

    It is something never openly discussed in Wall Street bank board rooms, the CFR's Harold APratt AHouse headquarters, or the network news rooms of the mainstream media.

    Certainly never before the American people.

    But it is one of the central driving factors of our imperial foreign policy with the Third World, and has been for decades.

    Last week we observed the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Richard Nixon's War on Drugs upon the American people.

    When will we observe the commencement of the covert War for Drugs, which has lasted over sixty years, and whose massive institutional corruption, money-laundering, and military interventions have fueled the military-industrial complex and the National Security State?


    June 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  19. Nuhad

    How can aynone, after the examples he had shown us, put any type of faith in this """ PRESIDENT """????????

    February 12, 2012 at 12:02 am | Reply

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