Today we are facing another troop debate over Afghanistan: How quickly will we remove the 66,000 troops there now and what size residual force will we leave behind after 2014? If news reports are accurate, General John Allen, the top commander in Kabul, is pushing to retain as many forces as possible into 2014 and then to keep as many as 20,000 troops after 2014. But the White House–read: the president–is clearly uncomfortable with leaving that many troops behind and has pushed for lower estimates from the Pentagon. Anyone want to bet what advice Secretary of Defense Hagel would provide to President Obama about the speed and extent of a drawdown?
In this regard it is instructive to read news accounts such as this one, which report: “The choice of Mr. Hagel, the first Vietnam veteran to be nominated for the post, would add a prominent Republican to Mr. Obama’s cabinet, providing some political cover for the president’s plans to exit Afghanistan and make cuts to a military budget that has roughly doubled since the 2001 terrorist attacks.” It is instructive also to read editorials such as this one in the New York Times, which advocates bringing all the troops home this year and leaving no force in 2013 much less after 2014. That is where the president’s most liberal supports are at the moment on the war that they once argued was the “good war,” the “necessary war,” unlike the “war of choice” in Iraq.