In his Afghan "surge" speech at West Point last week, President Obama offered Americans some specifics to back up his new "way forward in Afghanistan." He spoke of the "additional 30,000 U.S. troops" he was sending into that country over the next six months. He brought up the "roughly $30 billion" it would cost us to get them there and support them for a year. And finally, he spoke of beginning to bring them home by July 2011. Those were striking enough numbers, even if larger and, in terms of time, longer than many in the Democratic Party would have cared for. Nonetheless, they don't faintly cover just how fully the president has committed us to an expanding war and just how wide it is likely to become.
Despite the seeming specificity of the speech, it gave little sense of just how big and how expensive this surge will be. In fact, what is being portrayed in the media as the surge of November 2009 is but a modest part of an ongoing expansion of the U.S. war effort in many areas. Looked at another way, the media's focus on the president's speech as the crucial moment of decision, and on those 30,000 new troops as the crucial piece of information, has distorted what's actually underway.