Politicians are aplenty, Statesmen are few, But mastermind politicians who are revered as statesmen - they come once in a millennium. And Barack Obama has proved to be one of those masterminds.
In a recent address, President Obama, against the expectations of many Senators, and to the displeasure of most of his staff (and most of the Democratic Party), announced that the first troops would start returning home by 18 months. This went against the common notions that such specific timelines are not usually provided for any military operation of this kind, especially when dealing with the problem of civil war, insurgency and terrorism all at once.
The exact words of the man himself were as follows:
"After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home," and he later added, "We will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
This was a statement that Obama had made during his campaign, about a withdrawal of troops and bringing them back. So finally Obama gave the Americans what they wanted to hear, or did he?
The timing of this statement is very crucial. Obama's public ranking has been falling steadily and people were apprehensive of the fact that he did not even take a step towards what he promised about the war. Obama sought to allay those fears by making a seemingly sound statement about the withdrawal, something that was given in consultation with the Pentagon. But then, the Democrats were visibly pissed off with the statement, so were the Republicans. (Wow! They seem to be united on most of the issues that matter a lot to the public). So the statement was framed in a way as to appease to both sides.
Mike Mullen(Chairman of Joint Chief of Staffs) said "Obama's 2011 target would be a "transition" date to begin shifting war-fighting and policing responsibilities to the Afghan government. But it would not necessarily be a date for withdrawal. July 2011 is a day we start transitioning i.e. transferring responsibility and transitioning. It's not a date that we're leaving," Mullen said. "And the president also said that it will be based on conditions on the ground." Need anything more to be said?
But why 18 months? Why not two years? Why didn't he say "5 years" or "5 months"? 18 months from now would be May 2011. That would be the approximate starting period for the nominations from the Republican side. The possible candidates will start to make their tours around the country, giving speeches and collecting campaign donations. But what if the troops do start coming back by then? What if, just imagine this, a batch of 30-40 troops return home. A sight such as this is enough to convince the people of Obama's promises. After 8 years of so-called misrule by President Bush, Obama would indeed seem as a saviour. And he would cement his place in the minds of the public. Even if no troops do not come for another year, or just small batches of troops start coming back, it would seem like a big deal, as it would be near to the dates that Obama promised.
But there seems to be some support for this statement made by Obama, as a new message is being sent to the Afghan Govt. that if they cannot clean up their own home, then the Americans won't do it for them. Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense, said that the decision of withdrawal "will be based on conditions on the ground. But by the same token, we want to communicate to the Afghans that this is not an open-ended commitment." Even Hillary Clinton affirmed this saying that there would be a surge in American civilian staff in the region, who will be focused on diplomatic and development missions.
But the best thing about all this - a surge of around 30,00 troops in Afghanistan brings to mind the surge strategy that McCain had advocated for Iraq (which was far successful than anyone had imagined and was the high point of the McCain campaign). Looks like Obama is really getting to be more and more like Abe Lincoln by taking in the good points of even his opposition parties.
Anyways, I just hope he remains true to his word, for the sakes of all the families whose husbands, wives and children are in this war.