Today in the Rose Garden, President Obama announced that he’s going to keep a little under 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2014, half that number by the end of 2015, and will have all those forces out by the end of 2016. Putting aside the fact that this is the lowest number military advisors estimated was necessary to maintain training and some counterterrorism capability in country over not just one year but several, the decision to halve and then zero out those forces by 2016 is a reminder not only of how seriously unserious this president on strategic matters can be but also how cynically partisan he is.
By pulling out all the troops in 2016, and perhaps before the consequences are fully felt in Afghanistan, he will be leaving for his successor the politically difficult decision of reversing course with all the attendant downsides of once again putting troops in harm’s way. But such ploys are not new to this president. Remember the Afghanistan “surge”--low on numbers as well but also timed to end before the 2012 election. In any case, by structuring the decision and timeline as he has, Obama and his crew know full well that this issue will then become a bone of contention within the GOP primary, with every debate moderator asking: “Would you put troops back into Afghanistan?"
I suppose if there is any positive thing that might come out of the president’s ploy it’s that conservatives will get to see pretty quickly which of the GOP contenders in 2016 has a strategic backbone.