The speech’s first section—justifying the length of the President’s autumn policy review, and blaming his troubles, mutedly but unmistakably, on his predecessor—seemed, in this setting, and given the solemn and forward-looking character of the President’s decision, unnecessarily defensive [emphasis added]. [...]
The problem lies in how the Taliban and the Pakistan Army will read the explicit use of a calendar. Ahmed Rashid, on NPR’s Morning Edition, speaking from Lahore, voiced the same fear that seized me when I heard the President be so explicit about 2011: No matter how nuanced the invocation, Pakistani liberals fighting against the Army’s hedging strategy of support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda will be demoralized by the use of a specific date. They will interpret it as evidence that the United States has already made a decision to leave the Afghan battlefield and that it will ultimately repeat its past pattern of abandoning Pakistan periodically. This may be unfair, but the perception is inevitable. Gates took the point on this question today as well, arguing that the Taliban already know that the United States is divided on the Afghan war and could hardly be more emboldened than they are now. On the other hand, he continued, if they decided to melt away for eighteen months in the hope of prevailing later, this should be welcomed, since it would create much more permissive space for the U.S. and the embryonic Afghan security forces.There's that dynamic again -- Obama's problems all need to stem from Bush, lest his celebrity be tarnished; and again, his foreign policy is that of a neophyte.