Tomorrow at 8pm, President Obama will be giving one of the most important speeches to date of his presidency at West Point. In it, as has been widely reported today, he will be laying out his Administration’s strategy for dealing with the crisis in Afghanistan. He met yesterday with his top advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden, Admiral Mike Mullen, General James Cartwright and David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. He also spoke to General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, about his decision.
He was scheduled to spend most of today calling world leaders telling them about his strategy and asking for continued and renewed support Afghanistan. He already secured a commitment from Britain, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown announcing today to Parliament that the country would send 500 new troops to Afghanistan next month, bringing the United Kingdom’s totals to 10,000 (9,500 troops plus 500 special forces). France has commitment to maintain its presence, though has not indicated whether it will increase its numbers.
Here is what to expect of President Obama tomorrow:
- A 40 minute speech outlining the strategy
- The deployment of an additional 30,000 to 35,000 U.S. troops, bringing the U.S. totals in the country to 100,000
- Increasing the number in the Afghan army to 240,000 and the Afghan police to 160,000 by October 2013
- An announcement that the U.S. will ask its NATO partners for 7,000 to 10,000 more troops (currently U.S. allies have 36,230 troops in country)
- An acknowledgement of the “limits” on U.S. resources -both in manpower and funding – for the war
- Some details of an exit strategy
It is not expected that the President will go into great details about the cost of the escalation or that he will touch upon the proposals by some in the Democratic party, led by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, for a “war tax.”
Chairman Obey conveyed to CNN recently that he has to “to look at the entire federal budget, as chairman of the committee, for instance. I have to see what $400 billion or $500 billion, $600 billion, $700 billion, over a decade, for this effort, will cost us on education, on our efforts to build the entire economy.”
Chairman Obey’s words sum up perfectly why tomorrow’s speech is perhaps one of the most important speeches of this young Presidency. With an ambitious domestic agenda, President Obama must convince the left tomorrow that spending on Afghanistan is the right thing to do and that his domestic priorities will not suffer. At the same time, he has to convince the right (and most of the moderate middle) that he is tough enough on terrorism and that spending on both domestic and international priorities can be done simultaneously. What the President says and how convincing he is tomorrow will set the tone for politics in D.C. for 2010.