It's no longer a question of if -- or even when -- the United States withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. Now it's just a matter of sticking with the plan to carry out an orderly withdrawal starting in 18 months.
In the aftermath of the President's December 1 speech on Afghanistan, some of us were a little shell-shocked. Even though we had known for weeks that immediate withdrawal was off the table -- as was a massive buildup -- we were still disappointed that the magical outcome we had hoped for hadn't happened. I reflected some of those feelings ("That was a terrible speech!") in an interview I gave with the Washington Post the morning after.
It wasn't until that morning that I got my head around the fact that the President, in a very far-sighted manner, had sought to work through the Afghanistan problem by proffering a plan the country could unite around. He sees that we've got a lot of battles ahead of us (care to re-activate the Constitution, anyone?), and we need to fight them together.
And it wasn't until that afternoon that it finally occurred to me: wait a minute, those of us who have been arguing for withdrawal got our way! We no longer have to convince anybody that the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan - the President has already said we will. Nor do we have to wonder when it will happen - the President has put a date on the calendar.
To be sure, a lot of people are trying to say that the July 2011 promise wasn't serious. ("That wasn't a promise." "That depends on circumstances.") There are plenty of those people out there. I don't think they know their man.
As the President has demonstrated with his steady withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he does what he says he's going to do. Sure, the Afghanistan decision will require real backbone. Even at the excruciating rate of a brigade (5,000 troops) every month, withdrawal will pose enormous logistical and security challenges. But he's executed against just such a plan in Iraq.
Of course, we can help the President keep his promise if we let everyone know that we strongly support it.
So . . . the question for us now is: how can we contribute to supporting the sure and successful (read: safe) execution of the withdrawal plan set out by President Obama?