Obama Sends 30,000 More Troops To Afghanistan

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President Obama outlined Tuesday his strategy for Afghanistan, announcing 30,000 additional troops for the country. Max Boot, senior fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, offers his insight.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama tonight outlined his revised strategy for the war in Afghanistan. It includes a call for 30,000 additional troops in the region, and the president has pledged to begin drawing down troops from the region within 18 months, by July of 2011.

For more on this, we're joined by Max Boot. He's a senior fellow for National Security Studies at the council on foreign relations. He's also the author of "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History: 1500 to Today." Mr. Boot, welcome to the program.

Mr. MAX BOOT (Author, "War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History: 1500 to Today"): Thank you.

NORRIS: Now, you all along have been a proponent of a strong and comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. Based on what you heard tonight, do you think the president went far enough?

Mr. BOOT: I would say that the president is giving General McChrystal about three-quarters of what he wants, about 30,000 out of the 40,000 troops. So I would say his speech and the policy he enunciated is about three-quarters good. I mean, the parts that I really liked and I thought were terrific were when he talked about that we have a vital national interest in Afghanistan. We have to be there to prevent a cancer from, once again, spreading throughout that country.

Then when he said at the very end, our cause is just, our resolve unwavering, that's exactly what you want a commander in chief in wartime to be saying. But then he undercut some of the urgency of those words by announcing a deadline for beginning a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July of 2011, just a year after some of our troops will have arrived there.

You know, if the interest is so vital, if we have such a major national stake in Afghanistan, and I think we do. I think he's absolutely right about that. But if we have that vital stake, how can you possibly say that, you know, regardless of what happens, we're going to begin pulling out 18 months from now? That doesn't match up.

I mean, it speaks triangulation and calculation and it sends a message of irresolve to our enemies, which undercuts, I think, some of the positive message, which was otherwise present in his speech.

NORRIS: So I want to make sure I understand you, on one hand the president said that Afghanistan is responsible for its own future, but you're saying that the 18 month timeline is just not long enough.

Mr. BOOT: Well, it may not be, we just don't know. I mean, I think it has to be conditions based and 18 months may be sufficient, it may not be. But, I mean, you have to realize, getting 30,000 troops into Afghanistan is a substantial undertaking. I'll be exceedingly surprised if we could possibly get those 30,000 there by next summer. If we can them all in there by next summer, that would be a tremendous achievement.

And so then he's saying, okay, they'll arrive there in the summer of 2010, and we're going to start pulling them out in the summer of 2011. That's only a year to reverse a situation which has been deteriorating for a number of years. And maybe that'll be enough time and maybe 30,000 troops will be enough, even though General McChrystal thought that 40,000 would be the moderate risk option.

But we just don't know. And there's no way he can possibly know in advance. And so even if he thinks that he wants to pull them out in 2011, he shouldn't say so because he's telegraphing indecision and lack of resolve, which is something that's going to hurt our ability to break the will of the enemy.

NORRIS: Just very quickly, these endeavors are often more complicated than they seem going in. We certainly saw it in Iraq, and we can expect that in a country like Afghanistan, what are the one or two things that the president might not foresee in laying out the strategy?

Mr. BOOT: There's a million things that you don't foresee in wartime. I mean, you just can't possibly imagine all the contingencies that can occur. Things can go much easier or much harder than you can imagine. I mean, just think of what happened in Iraq in 2007, when all of a sudden, the situation there was much worse than it is in Afghanistan today. And within a year it was almost miraculously turned around by the surge through a bunch of factors coming together, interacting in ways that nobody could've foreseen.

Something similar could happen in Afghanistan and things might go much better than anybody expects, but we also have to be ready for the reverse, which is that things could go much worse than anybody expects, which is why I think it's a big mistake to set any timeline in advance. Because, you know, in warfare nobody has a crystal ball that works.

NORRIS: Mr. Boot, thank you very much for being with us. Max Boot is a senior fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks again.

Mr. BOOT: Thanks for having me.

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