WASHINGTON — President Obama will talk about troop numbers in Afghanistan when he makes a prime-time speech from the White House tonight. But behind his words will be an acute awareness of what $1.3 trillion in spending on two wars in the past decade has meant at home: a ballooning budget deficit and a soaring national debt at a time when the economy is still struggling to get back on its feet.
The President will face a stiff political challenge Wednesday in presenting his plan for a gradual end to the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. His prime-time address must remind a skeptical electorate and a concerned Congress that the country’s longest war remains worth fighting — and funding — for several more years.
A bipartisan group of 27 US senators sent Mr Obama a letter last week pressing for a shift in strategy.” Given our successes, it is the right moment to initiate a sizable and sustained reduction in forces, with the goal of steadily redeploying all regular combat troops,” the senators wrote. “The costs of prolonging the war far outweigh the benefits.”
Obama also faces a war-weary public. According to the latest ABC news polling, 73 percent of Americans say the United States should withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. But only, 43 percent, think that will happen.
As he begins the promised withdrawal, Obama’s challenge will be to provide his generals with the resources to wage the war’s final phase while persuading Congress that, at a time of fiscal strain, maintaining most of a $10 billion-a-month war effort is worthwhile.
“The process [leading to the decisions to be announced Wednesday] was all about the mission that was laid out in December of 2009, the surge in forces that followed from that decision and that mission, and the evaluation of the success that we’ve had since that mission began,” Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, told reporters Tuesday. “Having said that, we are always mindful of the fact that, as powerful and wealthy as this country is, we do not have infinite and unlimited resources, and we have to make decisions about how to spend our precious dollars and, more importantly, how and when to use military force.”