The Afghan Speech Obama Should Give (But Won't)
These seven points have been weighing on my mind over the last weeks as we've deliberated on the right course to take. Tonight, in response to the realities of Afghanistan as I've just described them to you, I've put aside all the subjects that ordinarily obsess Washington, especially whether an American president can reverse the direction of a war and still have an electoral future. That's for the American people, and them alone, to decide.
Given that, let me say as bluntly as I can that I have decided to send no more troops to Afghanistan. Beyond that, I believe it is in the national interest of the American people that this war, like the Iraq War, be drawn down. Over time, our troops and resources will be brought home in an orderly fashion, while we ensure that we provide adequate security for the men and women of our Armed Forces. Ours will be an administration that will stand or fall, as of today, on this essential position: that we ended, rather than extended, two wars.
This will, of course, take time. But I have already instructed Ambassador Eikenberry and Special Representative Holbrooke to begin discussions, however indirectly, with the Taliban insurgents for a truce in place. Before year's end, I plan to call an international conference of interested countries, including key regional partners, to help work out a way to settle this conflict. I will, in addition, soon announce a schedule for the withdrawal of the first American troops from Afghanistan.
For the counterinsurgency war that we now will not fight, there is already a path laid out. We walked down that well-mined path once in recent American memory and we know where it leads. For ending the war in another way, there is no precedent in our recent history and so no path--only the unknown. But there is hope. Let me try to explain.
Recently, comparisons between the Vietnam War and our current conflict in Afghanistan have been legion. Let me, however, suggest a major difference between the two. When Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson faced their crises involving sending more troops into Vietnam, they and their advisers had little to rely on in the American record. They, in a sense, faced the darkness of the unknown as they made their choices. The same is not true of us.
In the White House, for instance, a number of us have been reading a book on how the United States got itself ever more disastrously involved in the Vietnam War. We have history to guide us here. We know what happens in counterinsurgency campaigns. We have the experience of Vietnam as a landmark on the trail behind us. And if that weren't enough, of course, we have the path to defeat already well cleared by the Russians in their Afghan fiasco of the 1980s, when they had just as many troops in the field as we would have if I had chosen to send those extra 40,000 Americans. That is the known.
On the other hand, peering down the path of de-escalation, all we can see is darkness. Nothing like this has been tried before in Washington. But I firmly believe that this, too, is deeply in the American grain. American immigrants, as well as slaves, traveled to this country as if into the darkness of the unknown. Americans have long braved the unknown in all sorts of ways.
To present this more formulaically, if we sent the troops and trainers to Afghanistan, if we increased air strikes and tried to strengthen the Afghan Army, we basically know how things are likely to work out: not well. The war is likely to spread. The insurgents, despite many losses, are likely to grow in strength. Hatred of Americans is likely to increase. Pakistan is likely to become more destabilized.
If, however, we don't take such steps and proceed down that other path, we do not know how things will work out in Afghanistan, or how well.
We do not know how things will work out in Pakistan, or how well.
That is hardly surprising, since we do not know what it means to end such a war now.
But we must not be scared. America will not--of this, as your president, I am convinced--be a safer nation if it spends many hundreds of billions of dollars over many years, essentially bankrupting itself and exhausting its military on what looks increasingly like an unwinnable war. This is not the way to safety, but to national penury--and I am unwilling to preside over an America heading in that direction.
Let me say again that the unknown path, the path into the wilderness, couldn't be more American. We have always been willing to strike out for ourselves where others would not go. That, too, is in the best American tradition.
It is, of course, a perilous thing to predict the future, but in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region, war has visibly only spread war. The beginning of a negotiated peace may have a similarly powerful effect, but in the opposite direction. It may actually take the wind out of the sails of the insurgents on both sides of the Afghan/Pakistan border. It may actually encourage forces in both countries with which we might be more comfortable to step to the fore.
Certainly, we will do our best to lead the way with any aid or advice we can offer toward a future peaceful Afghanistan and a future peaceful Pakistan. In the meantime, I plan to ask Congress to take some of the savings from our two wars winding down and put them into a genuine jobs program for the American people.
The way to safety in our world is, I believe, to secure our borders against those who would harm us, and to put Americans back to work. With this in mind, next month I've called for a White House Jobs Summit, which I plan to chair. And there I will suggest that, as a start, and only as a start, we look at two programs that were not only popular across the political spectrum in the desperate years of the Great Depression but were remembered fondly long after by those who took part in them--the Civilian Conservatio n Corps and the Works Progress Administration. These basic programs put millions of Americans back to work on public projects that mattered to this nation and saved families, lives, and souls.
We cannot afford a failing war in Afghanistan and a 10.2 percent official unemployment rate at home. We cannot live with two Americas, one for Wall Street and one for everyone else. This is not the path to American safety.
As president, I retain the right to strike at Al Qaeda or other terrorists who mean us imminent harm, no matter where they may be, including Afghanistan. I would never deny that there are dangers in the approach I suggest today, but when have Americans ever been averse to danger, or to a challenge either? I cannot believe we will be now.
It's time for change. I know that not all Americans will agree with me and that some will be upset by the approach I am now determined to follow. I expect anger and debate. I take full responsibility for whatever may result from this policy departure. Believe me, the buck stops here, but I am convinced that this is the way forward for our country in war and peace, at home and abroad.
I thank you for your time and attention. Goodnight and God bless America.