Until yesterday, I tended to agree with the argument that outlining an exit from the war in Afghanistan was, well, the least-inspiring way to deploy 30,000 troops there. Then I recalled the true nature of troop morale. A Pakistani journalist also clued me in to the view of the Afghan public. And I read Sarah Palin's facebook. It was an enlightening day. These three audiences, the American public, the troops, and the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan will all listen to President Obama's speech tonight with unique hopes and fears. It's a tough crowd for a tough sell. But indications are he'll strike the right balance, one that reflects the new strategy.
But first, the notion that morale will tank the moment Obama says "withdrawal" is not only overrated, it's condescending. Our troops are are trained professionals -- well-led, disciplined, proud soldiers. The media forgets that platoon by platoon, morale depends less on our presidents rhetoric than it does on whether or not their friends are killed. If General McChrystal's right, this decision will save both American and Afghan lives and, exit strategy or no exit strategy, save morale. Or so we pray.
That aside, why lay out a withdrawal plan now? As my colleague in the Pakistani media told me, after they're assured that America's serious, the Afghan public will want to hear that someday we'll leave. "They are weary of occupation," this correspondent told me. "The people do not want to be ruled by the Taliban, but not by the U.S. either." This may sound unflattering to some, but should come as no surprise. Look at the party the Iraqis people threw when we scaled back there. They called a national holiday. Even Japan, a country we've protected for over fifty years, kind of wants to kick us out of Okinawa. It's is a natural concern for them. And if we're serious about "a dramatic change in how we operate," a desire to work with local leaders, win hearts and minds and gain new allies, then the message from our Commander-in-Chief must reflect that new strategy: To build trust by signaling that as soon as we can, we'll leave.
Here at home, however, Sarah Palin and Michael Moore are not impressed. Tell me "America is in it to win," Palin said. Anything less is defeatist. Moore, on the other hand, thinks it's time to "stop the madness. Stop the killing." The rest of the country, while somewhere between these two I'd like to think, is no less divided with 49% public approving, 51% opposed. We can only hope the people of Afghanistan are more supportive. The new strategy depends on it, and it starts tonight. Hopefully this brings peace.