June 22, 2011

Prediction on Obama's Afghan Draw Down Speech

The prediction in one word: punt.

What does punting on a troop draw down mean?  The president is sure to parse this problem in terms of the calculus of the 2012 election.  That translates into doing what upsets the fewest number of likely voters as possible.  The president will try to thread the needle in such a way that liberals who never wanted to be in Afghanistan, fiscal conservatives who want the cost of the mission better managed, and those national security concerned citizen who think that leaving could result in dangerous chaos or a Taliban resurgence, are all only mildly displeased at most.

Given that seemingly 55% of the population according to Pew want the mission to end as soon as practicable, and the troop surge was 30,000 - my guess is he'll try to draw down two thirds of the surge number by September, and the other third by year end.  He'll suggest that we can't remain there forever and he'll reclaim the Osama Bin Laden kill (for a possible bump in the polls) as justification for the draw down speed.  He'll reclaim the need to end the mission by September 2012 (conditionally) and hope it buys enough goodwill for him.

If the Pew number is correct, he should get a mild bump in the polls, though it will be temporal.  In the larger picture, his re-election strategy could consist of a series of well-timed bump-inducing announcements to keep him close to that 50% mark for the next 15 months.  That keeps him in striking distance of a repeat victory.

It's all through the lens of politics that he'll try to keep everyone happy as long as possible.  It worked in 2008 as a blank slate, so why not try it again as a known commodity?  Ugh.

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