Foreign Policy: This Week at War: Obama's Nixonian Withdrawal Strategy
During his news conference with Karzai, Obama reaffirmed his intention to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011. Obama undoubtedly wants to run for re-election in 2012 with the message that he wound down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He may be using Richard Nixon's first term as a model. Nixon reduced the U.S. head count in Vietnam from more than 500,000 to just a few thousand by election day in 1972. That wind down of the war, combined with an economic rebound and a weak opponent, resulted in a landslide re-election.
The dangers of Obama's July 2011 withdrawal declaration are well known. The Taliban, with ample sanctuaries, can easily conserve their resources and adjust the tempo of their operations to extract maximum political effect. Once a U.S. withdrawal begins, it will become irreversible. Political events might even lead to its acceleration. The United States' remaining coalition partners surely won't dither on the tarmac. Another risk is that Afghanistan's security forces will not be ready to accept heavy responsibility in 14 months.
Some may see Obama's withdrawal plan as a cynical move to get reelected in 2012. If it works, he will have to live with the consequences. Obama and his advisors have apparently concluded that a smaller advisor-based and open-ended security assistance program will keep Afghanistan from becoming a headache in his second term. If he gets re-elected, he will get a chance to experience that theory.