THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Speech Obama Should Give Tonight

Winston Churchill was a great orator who knew the power of the simple declarative.

On June 17th, 1940, he got on the radio and said to his country: "The news from France is very bad."

And so in that spirit of directness, I stand before you tonight and say the news from Afghanistan is very bad.

The war in Afghanistan began on October 7th, 2001, and here is where we stand on the evening of December 1st, 2009:

Put in the starkest terms, we have not been able to defeat the Taliban, to eliminate the pervasive corruption and drug trade that undermine the country's very existence, to establish even the rudimentary foundations of a stable nation.

Whatever successes we've had have come because we've bribed some local militias and tribal chiefs with wads of cash. When America has to compromise its values by supporting warlords who just happen to be on our side of ancient tribal conflicts, something is very wrong.

I listened to the generals and added thousands of troops since I became president. But the Taliban insurgency is growing in strength every day. That's not because we don't have courageous troops and brilliant generals. It's because we don't have the support of the people of Afghanistan. And the truth is that no matter how many troops you have on the ground, you cannot succeed where you are not welcome.

Consider these numbers: In 2005, more than 80% of Afghanis gave the United States a rating of good or excellent; this year, the same number has plummeted to 30%.

To me, that says there is something fundamentally misguided about our efforts. We're spending billions of dollars and risking American blood and treasure on an effort to protect the Afghani people from the depredations of the Taliban, and yet the local population views us more unfavorably year after year.

We have invested billions to build a stable society, but our effort hasn't been matched by enough legitimate, dedicated efforts on their side to put Afghanistan on the path to become an honest and open nation. While there are some admirable people in the Afghan Army and police force who deserve our respect, these are fundamentally broken institutions where the right amount of money stuffed in the right pocket can buy anything you want.

For seven years Afghanis lived under the brutal thumb of the Taliban; basic human rights were violated, girls couldn't go to school and women couldn't work.

Even though we liberated that country - and I don't use that word lightly - America, as I have told you, is still largely mistrusted and often loathed. With real unemployment pushing twenty percent at home, with 20,000 people a day joining the food stamps program, with more than forty million people lacking health insurance, I can't justify a further investment in Afghanistan.

If I sent in 40,000 troops - the number requested by General McChrystal - I am sure we would have some short-term success. Our troops are well-trained and well-equipped. But it's not the short-term that deeply troubles me.

I believe that the presence of more American troops on the ground would make it easier for the Taliban to recruit and to grow stronger, since there is no palpable national desire for our involvement and for the positive change we can bring about. More American boots on the ground feed their mythology. We are a commercial for our enemies.

If the country of Afghanistan won't step up, we shouldn't step out. That is the hard but implacable truth.

Of course, all this would be different if there were national security issues at stake. There were clearly such issues in the balance when we launched our attack on the Taliban. They gave safe harbor to al Qaeda. It was in al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan where many of the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks learned their evil trade and where Osama bin Laden was permitted to set up shop.

But we have largely dismantled Al Qaeda and decimated its leadership. At the same time, their support has been dropping around the Muslim world. Polls show that the number of Muslims supporting suicide bombings in places like Indonesia and Lebanon has dropped by more than half over the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, only 10 percent of the population now has a favorable view of Al Qaeda.

The tide is naturally turning as the twisted ideology of Al Qaeda is being seen for what it is. Now I am not naïve, I know that they will continue to recruit disillusioned Muslim youth, and that we are engaged in an enduring struggle against their belief system and their concrete plans to kill Americans around the world.

If I thought that sending more troops to Afghanistan would prevent an al Qaeda attack against American interests, I would not hesitate to take the steps - despite my frustration with the Afghan people who haven't taken their own futures in their own hands.

But I believe that increasing our troop commitment will create the illusion of progress in a war where conclusion is the only progress. We have sophisticated drones and enough troops on the ground to prevent al Qaeda from re-establishing itself. That should be our only goal. Not nation-building, not defeating the Taliban, but simply preventing those who perpetrated the September 11th attacks to be in a position to harm a single American, anywhere in the world.

So my message tonight is a simple one. I respect my generals who are asking for more troops, but I have not been convinced that more troops are the long-term answer. In fact, more troops are a long-term disaster, because they will only create a situation from which it will be more difficult to extricate ourselves. I have seen no evidence that the sacrifices we've made to date have resulted in an Afghanistan that is more unified in its mission to create a strong, proud and just nation. So I have no reason to believe that intensified sacrifice will change this.

I am telling the Afghan government and the Afghan people that they need to get their act together, and that we will start to draw down our troops at a reasonable and prudent level starting now.

If this tough medicine galvanizes the nation into action, if I see real efforts made to eliminate corruption, to suppress the drug trade, to put tribal differences aside to begin the difficult and complex - but noble task of creating a modern nation, I will reconsider.

But until that time, and as long as - to paraphrase Churchill once again -the news from Afghanistan is very bad; I'm not authorizing a single additional brave American to be deployed there.