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Media reaction to Afghan troop surge

Military families and veterans gathered to watch President Barack Obama's speech on sending troops to Afghanistan in Long Beach, California, 1 December 2009
Military families and veterans gathered to watch the speech in California

US President Barack Obama has outlined his country's new Afghan strategy in a televised speech to the nation.

The media had long speculated about the president's plans, with leaks from the meetings between the president and his advisers making headline news.

So how has his announcement of the deployment of 30,000 extra US troops coupled with the warning that America would begin to withdraw its military by 2011 been received by commentators?

The New York Times finds the president's arguments "persuasive". In its editorial, the paper welcomes the setting of a deadline for a drawdown.

"Mr Karzai and his aides need to know that America's commitment is not open ended... Otherwise, Mr Obama will be hard-pressed to keep his promise that this war, already the longest in American history, will not go on forever."

Chris Cillizza, in the Washington Post, says the speech contained a thinly-veiled criticism of former President George W Bush for the situation in Afghanistan.

"A careful reading of Obama's decision to offer a detailed timeline of how we got to where we are in the country is rightly seen as an attempt to make clear to the American people that he is making the best of a situation he believes was mucked up by the man who preceded him in office."

But Jillian Bandes blogging on Townhall.com detects a "Bushian" tone to the president's Afghanistan address.

"He said the US had underwritten international security for decades, and that 'moral authority' gave us the power to do what we thought was right." She thinks "there's no way of telling if Obama achieved his most important goal: getting the American people's approval back."

Writing for the conservative National Review Online, Jamie M Fly also compares Mr Obama's tone with that of his predecessor.

"There will be time to criticise various inflection points and question details, but the fact of the matter is that Barack Obama has accepted the mantle of wartime president and even overcome his aversion to American exceptionalism to employ some rhetoric that is worthy of George W Bush. General McChrystal will get most of the troops he requested and the time required to implement a counterinsurgency strategy that offers the best chance of success."

In the Financial Times, Edward Luce questions whether the "characteristically thoughtful" speech by Mr Obama will prove persuasive with the US public, and says the president "risked contradicting himself" by setting a tight deadline for the withdrawal of US troops to begin.

"In his speech Mr Obama said the July 2011 timeline would add a sense of urgency to Hamid Karzai's government, which would use the short window to prepare to take over from the departing US forces. Whether Mr Karzai is willing or capable of acting on such a deadline is open to question. But few national security analysts doubt that the soft deadline will prove useful for anti-American forces in the region."

Canadians should cheer the decision, says an editorial in Canada's Globe and Mail, as "the best possible plan for a region that is beset with danger and presents political difficulties at home.

"All told, moves by Mr Obama since he took office will have more than tripled the American military presence in Afghanistan. This is a welcome relief for Canadians, who serve bravely in the country's most dangerous regions."

Joan Walsh writing for Salon.com was left cold by the president's words.

"At the moment he needed all of his persuasive powers, Obama gave the worst major speech of his presidency. I admit: I expected to be, even wanted to be, carried away a bit by Obama's trademark rhetorical magic. But I wasn't; not even a little. I found the speech rushed, sing-songy and perfunctory, delivered by rote."

And while Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Dish questions Mr Obama's confidence in American military and civilian power to turn Afghanistan and Pakistan around, he points out that the president's is probably the best plan at present.

"I see no reason after the last eight years to see how this can happen, even with these new resources. But if you rule out withdrawal right away, then this seems to me to be about the smartest strategy ahead."

Tod Robberson in the Dallas Morning News thinks 30,000 troops can "turn the tide" in Afghanistan, but that President Obama was right to make clear to Afghans that the US commitment is not open ended, and that Afghans need to have a sense of urgency about preparing to take responsibility for their own security.

"This was exactly the argument we made regarding the need for Bush to get the Iraqis moving on their own training program. And the timetable worked."

But Simon Tisdall in the Guardian rates the chances of President Obama's troop deployment succeeding as no better than 50-50.

"In seeking to subdue, control, unite and then honourably depart from a country that has defied foreign conquest for all 2,500 years of its recorded history, Obama aims to succeed where Alexander the Great, among numerous others, ultimately and ingloriously failed."

Meanwhile, Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times tempers his view that President Obama had correctly identified Afghanistan as a war of "necessity" with a warning about the limits of what might be achieved there.

"Though Obama's strategy will not transform Afghanistan, it may some day make that country safe enough to leave. The notion that anything more can be achieved in that backward and tragic place is folly, as is the wishful fantasy that American casualties will do anything but climb in the months ahead."



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