From the briefing held in advance of the speech, Max, there seems to be much to be pleased about. The briefer made clear that the goal is to “disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan,” and this entails stabilizing Pakistan and preventing the Taliban’s overthrow of the Afghan government. Obama will announce a “surge” (yes, they call it that) of 30,000 troops. The briefer did declare that this would be for a “defined period of time.” But conservatives who are wary of endpoints and withdrawal dates may take some comfort in this:
What the President will talk about tonight is a date by which he has given the mission that we will begin to transfer our lead responsibility — that is, the U.S. and NATO lead responsibilities from that operation — to Afghan counterparts. He will not, however, tonight specify the end of that transition process, nor will he specify the pace at which it will proceed. Those variables — pace and end — will be dictated by conditions on the ground.
Again, in the Q & A, the briefer added:
This is the beginning of a process which is not yet defined in terms of the length of the process or the end point. And that’s because the pace of transition from our lead to the Afghan lead, and how long it will take, will be dominated by conditions on the ground, which, because they’re at least 18 months from now, are not possible to foresee with accuracy.
This sounds sober and realistic, like something that could have come out of the mouth of an official in the George W. Bush administration. The process getting here was arduous and frankly damaging to the president’s own standing. If he delivers a compelling speech, he can begin to undo some of that self-inflicted harm.