Obama's new Afghanistan plan: 5 predictions

President Obama will unveil his latest strategy for the unpopular war Wednesday night. How many troops will he pull out this year — and will anyone be satisfied?

U.S. Marines arrive home August 2010 after a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan: President Obama will announce Wednesday night how many more troops will follow.
(Image credit: Sandy Huffaker/Corbis)

A year and a half after he initiated the Afghanistan War "surge" of 30,000 troops, President Obama will reveal Wednesday night how many soldiers he is bringing home, and when. So without further ado, "it's time for one of Washington's favorite parlor games — predicting what the president will say before he says it," as Robert Zeliger says at Foreign Policy. Here, five predictions:

1. Obama will pull out 30,000 troops by December 2012

Roughly 100,000 U.S. troops are fighting in Afghanistan, and most prognosticators agree that Obama will commit to withdraw all 30,000 "surge" troops by the end of 2012. Gen. David Petraeus, the outgoing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, reportedly endorses that goal, favoring a slow withdrawal of 5,000 or fewer troops this year, with the remainder coming in 2012. Obama's civilian and national security advisers want a quicker draw-down of at least 15,000 this year. Expect Obama to compromise at 10,000 troops this year, says Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy.

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2. Actually, Obama will punt on the specifics

The Pentagon is surely telling Obama that if he takes out 10,000 troops this year, "he could be the proud owner of a failure," says Taylor Marsh at her blog. "It's what the military always tells civilian leadership," which always listens. One of "the most intriguing proposals" on the table is for Obama to set a 2013 deadline for bringing the surge troops home, but empower the field commanders to set the "timetable for incremental reductions," reports The New York Times. "That seems safe-ish" and typically unsatisfying, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. So "consider that my prediction."

3. Obama could lean toward an even faster withdrawal

The political landscape has "shifted significantly" since Obama announced the surge, says Yochi Dreazen at National Journal. A solid majority of Americans now want all the troops home ASAP, and the bipartisan support for the war has "evaporated." Amazingly, both conservatives and liberals are calling for a full withdrawal, says Richard Cohen at The Washington Post. Obama should aim closer to 100,000 troops than 10,000.

4. The president may address peace talks with the Taliban

This speculation misses the point, says Spencer Ackerman at Wired. "The key criteria for determining how the Afghanistan war will end won't be how fast the drawdown goes," but how successful peace talks with the Taliban are. Obama could "float temporary halts in hostilities to entice the Taliban," or say the military will stay and hammer insurgents to force them to the table. But if he "doesn't explain how the drawdown supports a political strategy for ending the war, it'll mean one thing: He has no idea how to get out of Afghanistan."

5. Whatever happens, nobody will be happy

One certainty: "Nobody will be happy with [Obama's] decision," says Robert Stein at Connecting the Dots. Petraeus "will endorse whatever his boss says," says Danielle Pletka at The Enterprise Blog, but he won't be happy that Obama is making a political decision instead of a military one. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also wants a slower drawdown, so expect her "to resign in the next few months," says Carl Ericson at The Agonist. And much of Congress and the public will want a quicker drawdown and a change of course, says David Dayen at Firedoglake.

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