The President’s Speech

June 23, 2011 By Melissa Silverman

Last night, in a prime-time televised address to the nation, President Obama announced that 10,000 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan this year and an additional 23,000 will come home by next summer. The troop withdrawal will begin quickly, starting next month. After the withdrawal is complete, some 70,000 American service members will remain in Afghanistan. The President focused on gains made in disrupting Al Qaeda and preventing the resurgence of the Taliban in his speech, but also discussed the growing financial cost of the war and the need to trim budgets in order to reduce the deficit.  This morning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the House, the FY12 Defense Appropriations bill will be considered on the floor today.

Must Reads

Who’s In the News

Obama announces plan to bring home 33,000 ‘surge’ troops from Afghanistan (Washington Post, Scott Wilson)

President Obama charted a middle course Wednesday for ending the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, outlining a departure plan that will remove troops faster than his commanders had requested but more slowly than many of his political allies would like. In a prime-time address from the White House, Obama said he will bring home 10,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year and 23,000 more by next summer, a withdrawal window that will conclude two months before voters decide whether to give him a second term. The first troops will leave Afghanistan next month. “Tonight,” the president said from the East Room, “we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.”

Stretching the shrinking foreign aid dollar (The Hill, Rep. Gerry Connolly)

Despite the general misperception to the contrary, foreign aid is a miniscule slice of the overall federal spending pie — comprising less than 1.5 percent of all federal spending, not the 10 percent or more that many believe it to be.  Unfortunately, it may become even smaller in the current cost-cutting climate in Congress. But in today’s globalized economy, America must continue to promote development and democracy in countries that support our diplomatic interests. That will require applying tougher, results-oriented metrics to the delivery of foreign assistance to stretch those dollars.

Victory Is the Answer in Libya (Wall Street Journal, Joe Lieberman And Marco Rubio)

We’re engaged now whether we like it or not, and the only acceptable outcome is the end of the anti-American dictatorship. The deepening confrontation between the White House and Congress over Libya is both counterproductive and unnecessary. Whatever one thinks about the constitutional questions surrounding the War Powers Resolution, or the wisdom of the original decision to intervene in Libya three months ago, the strategic reality is that our nation is now engaged in a fight. It will either end in the demise of a brutal anti-American dictator, or in his victory over us and our allies. The latter would be an extremely harmful outcome for the U.S.

Why Gadhafi’s Fall Is in America’s Interests (Wall Street Journal, Paul Wolfowitz)

Instead of opposing U.S. support for NATO’s military operations, Congress should be criticizing the administration for its failure to support that effort with nonmilitary actions that could bring the conflict to a more rapid and successful conclusion. The mood in Congress in part reflects a public that is understandably weary of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But Libya is not Afghanistan or Iraq. No one is suggesting sending in foreign ground troops, and the Libyans have made clear that they don’t want them. What they do want are the means to win their own fight for themselves. The sooner that happens the better.

Smart Power

Analysis: U.S. troop cut may also bring risky cuts in Afghan aid (Reuters, Alistair Scrutton)
– President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan troop withdrawal is likely to be accompanied by cuts in billions of dollars of civilian aid, bringing a precipitous shift of control many fear could tip the country into further corruption and chaos. Parallel with Obama’s draw-down of combat troops by 2014, the United States plans to pull back hundreds of civilian advisers involved in helping govern Afghanistan, whether helping organize the annual budget or FBI agents setting up crime units. The aim is to wean Afghanistan off foreign aid to form a sustainable state, allowing the West to exit without being accused of abandonment — an image that has haunted the international community since the Soviet exit in 1989 ended in civil war.

Corporations unite to fight for development (Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin)

Development funding is under attack, so 50 private corporations are joining together to establish a new mechanism for development advocacy, called the Coalition of International Development Companies (CIDC), which launches today. The firms involved are also members of other large coalitions of development advocacy organizations, such as InterAction or the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, but the CIDC is meant to focus on for-profit businesses that have a stake in development but until now haven’t felt the need to establish their own advocacy in a public and organized manner.

USAID Launches Leadership Program for Agricultural Sector (Devex)
The U.S. Agency for International Development announced June 21 a new initiative under Feed the Future: the Borlaug 21st Century Leadership Program. The program will provide training to future leaders and help strengthen institutions in agriculture. “To build the next generation of leaders in food security, we will invest $32.5 million in a new Leadership Program, named after the father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug. Through support for strategic planning and donor coordination and financing, the Leadership Program will help strengthen over 65 African agricultural research institutions. And it will directly reach more than 2,300 students with fellowships, training and mentoring,” Shah said.

Politics/Foreign Policy

US pledges more foreign aid to fight drug cartels (AP, Bradley Klapper)

The Obama administration pledged Wednesday to increase its investment in Central America’s security to nearly $300 million this year to thwart the expanding activities of drugs cartels threatening to destabilize the entire region. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the release of new funds at a meeting of 12 regional countries and donor nations.

South Africa Embraces Mrs. Obama With Fervor (New York Times, Celia Dugger)

Michelle Obama and an audience member hugged after her speech at the Regina Mundi church. “We welcome you as a daughter of African heritage, and we can call you the queen of our world,” said Ms. Machel, an advocate for women and children, noting that Regina Mundi means queen of the world in Latin. The prickly ambivalence that South Africans often show toward the United States, which is often perceived here as an overbearing superpower, seems to have been suspended for Mrs. Obama. South Africans have embraced her with stirring emotion since she arrived on Monday, and she has been hugging them back, one by one, stop after stop.