President Obama probably had a more interesting Tuesday than you did: Early in the morning, he boarded Air Force One for a surprise visit to Afghanistan, signed a long-term Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, returned to Bagram Air Force base to address U.S. troops and then the American public in a live, prime-time speech, then flew back to Washington. (Watch the speech below.) Not coincidentally, Tuesday was also the one-year anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden. Here, five big takeaways from Obama's speech to the nation:
1. The U.S. isn't leaving Afghanistan anytime soon
The official reason that President Obama addressed the nation was to outline the Strategic Partnership deal, which promises that the U.S. will support Afghan forces for a decade after NATO combat troops leave the country in 2014, including training Afghanistan's military and providing monetary aid. In other words, "Americans who were not even born on Sept. 11, 2001, will be occupying Afghanistan 20 years after those attacks," says Joe Scarborough at Politico. And Republicans want to stay even longer. Ugh. So "the takeaway of President Obama's speech tonight is simple. The neocons won, the troops lost, and the endless war grinds on."
2. But we are leaving
Obama's speech had two audiences, "one at home and one away," but "the more important audience is American voters fed up with a war that will be in its 12th year on Election Day," say Anne Gearan and Robert Burns of the Associated Press. The defeat of al Qaeda "is now within our reach," Obama said, "but we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly." Obama "used 'end' a lot in the speech," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. "He didn't say 'win' or victory,'" which tells you a lot. Forget destroying the Taliban; this speech was all about "bringing troops home, getting out."
3. The message was for the Taliban, too
The talk of winding down the war and rebuilding America "was largely political veneer," says Michael Gerson at The Washington Post. "The news of the speech" was Obama's "serious, long-term American commitment to the Afghan government." That will assure our Afghan allies that we won't cut and run, and also cheer "American troops, who do not want to see their hard-won achievements undone," but it "must be disappointing to the Taliban." Now that they know we aren't giving up, or letting them overthrow Karzai, maybe they'll finally see the benefits of a truce.
4. The whole trip was about politics
By timing the trip to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden's death, Obama was "making an unsubtle show of the power of the presidency," say the AP's Gearan and Burns. While Obama was secretly jetting off to Afghanistan, says Glenn Thrush at Politico, "there was an unsuspecting Mitt Romney, munching pizza in a safe and sunny Greenwich Village firehouse." It was a stunt right out of the George W. Bush playbook, and in that sense, what Obama said almost doesn't matter, says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast. "The image of the president who got Osama, surrounded by cheering soldiers in the country where the terrorist plotted the 9/11 attacks, is a statement in and of itself."
5. A lot of questions remain unanswered
Obama's "political message, and motivation, for this trip was undeniable," but that's fair game, says The New York Times in an editorial. But he "squandered the chance to fully explain his exit strategy." How will the U.S. and its allies step up the training of Afghan troops so they can actually hold off the Taliban, or deal with the corrupt and incompetent Karzai government? Obama didn't say. We're in favor of two more years of war if it leaves a country able to repel terrorists, but based on his speech, we fear "Obama does not have a clear policy to ensure that the country does not implode once the Americans are gone."