Pundit Wire

Ten Out, Ninety to Go

American troops in Afghanistan

Original photo by the U.S. Army

Stop the presses, did the Commander-in-Chief really just say this? Ten thousand out this year, 23,000 more by 2012 until the surge is out? That will leave 70,000 until 2014.

“But what could he have meant by this?”

That’s a quote, but not by Beck, Olbermann, or Blitzer. It’s attributed to Otto von Bismarck May 17, 1838, the day his rival and colleague Charles Maurice de Talleyrand died. Talleyrand survived as France’s foreign minister through Louis XIV, the Revolution, Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Charles X, and Louis-Philippe. Talleyrand cared unequivocally for his cause (France) but was a shark among others.

Did Bismarck mean to say that a leader dies more often than he tells the truth?

“Withdrawal in summer of 2011 — calamity!” said some in 2009 and 2010. Joe Biden, Aaron to Obama’s Moses, said in effect, “He didn’t say withdrawal, he said ‘beginning of withdrawal.’” Many didn’t think – shocked! – that a politician might say what he meant, or do what he said.Bob Gates came to the rescue two weeks ago in a speech in Brussels. “I can tell you there will be no rush to the exits.”

A recent Pew Research Center poll said that more than half of Americans want a decrease of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, regardless of whether Karzai’s Afghanistan can make a go of it or not.

A CBS poll conducted last week showed, too, that 64% want a decrease. There is even aisle-crossing on this. All figures are up, except our nation’s solvency and ability to put up a billion more dollars every 72 hours.

In any case we know from our Walter Lippmann, from nine decades ago, that opinions have the life span of a mayfly. Decisions, though, stay on the books until someone decides they are mistakes.

President Obama’s decision in this case will please no one entirely, but it is the sum total of Cato non-interventionists, Heritage exceptionalists, Pelosi let’s-get-going-ists, McCain determinationists, and Kerry prudentialists.

On the eve of the Normandy invasion, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe would have been nuts to announce the GPS coordinates of the landing, but he said clearly it would happen, and everyone knew he meant it. He also told the troops he trusted them to prevail. Imagine, a president (Ike or Obama) repeatedly making a promise, then actually keeping it.

Not to deify the man, but sheesh, we haven’t had it this good in a long time. PunditWire Initials

Dan Whitman is Assistant Professor of Foreign Policy at the Washington Semester Program, American University. As Public Diplomacy officer in USIA and the Department of State for more than 25 years, he drafted and edited speeches for U.S. ambassadors in Denmark, Spain, South Africa, Cameroon, Haiti, and Guinea-Conakry. A senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired in 2009 from the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

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  • Susan L. Golden

    As always, Whitman hits the nail on the head!
    Susan L. Golden