Commentary: Obama's Afghanistan plan needs more specifics

If anyone wonders whose name should be ascribed to the new Afghanistan "strategy" unveiled Tuesday by President Barack Obama, a Wednesday exchange between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer provided the answer:

Lehrer: Is it correct to say that this could be considered the Gates plan, as the McChrystal plan, in other words, that this is a consensus plan; not just one or two people made the decision?

Gates: I would say this is the president's plan.

By opting for additional troops, the president who said he prefers diplomacy to warfare now owns the Afghanistan campaign. It had to be one of his most difficult decisions. But the hardest part is yet to come: Living with the military and political consequences of setting a timeline to pull out.

"[A]s commander in chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan," Obama said Tuesday. "After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home."

Later in his speech, the president added conditions for beginning the troops' return. But the 18-month deadline itself comes with obvious problems.

First, it borders on unrealistic.

By the Pentagon's own assessment, it will take until late summer 2010 just for the additional soldiers and Marines to get to Afghanistan.

In less than a year they’ll start coming home? Only if Obama's strategy works to perfection.

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