Open thread: The troops are coming home from Afghanistan

Not all of them, and not right now, but a lot and soon enough. 8 p.m. ET, all across the dial, The One will lay out his withdrawal blueprint. If you’re on pins and needles wondering what he’ll do, let me ease your pain:

President Obama plans to announce Wednesday evening that he will order the withdrawal of 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan this year, and another 20,000 troops, the remainder of the 2009 “surge,” by the end of next summer, according to administration officials and diplomats briefed on the decision.

These troop reductions are both deeper and faster than the recommendations made by Mr. Obama’s military commanders, and they reflect mounting political and economic pressures at home, as the president faces relentless budget pressures and an increasingly restive Congress and American public…

Two administration officials said General Petraeus did not endorse the decision, though both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is retiring, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reluctantly accepted it. General Petraeus had recommended limiting initial withdrawals and leaving in place as many combat forces as possible for another fighting season, to hold on to fragile gains made in recent fighting.

The Guardian also heard last night that O was about to yank the surge troops over the Pentagon’s objections, with generals pleading with him to give them one more fighting season against the Taliban with full manpower in order to maximize NATO’s leverage at the bargaining table. No dice. How could it have been otherwise? He had all the political cover for a major withdrawal that he could have hoped for here — from the public, from anti-war Democrats, and even from a GOP that seems unsure what its position is anymore on military interventions. I thought last night that he’d do what he always does and piss everyone off by splitting the difference between two rival camps in order to position himself as the cautious pragmatist, but he’s not actually doing that. By ignoring the Pentagon’s wishes and ordering all the surge troops out by next summer, he should make doves pretty happy. And rest assured, conditions on the ground won’t dictate the pace of this withdrawal: The timing here is obviously designed to give him a big talking point ahead of the election about bringing the boys home, so they’ll most assuredly be home by next summer.

All that said, he’s still going to frame this as a “cautious pragmatist” decision; the pragmatism will lie in the fact that roughly 70,000 troops will remain in country once the surge troops are out, a number that won’t be enough to support a robust counterinsurgency campaign but will be enough for him to convince voters that he’s not rashly pulling the plug on the entire mission. Expect three basic points tonight: We killed Osama, we’ve taken some of the Taliban’s territory and killed plenty of their men, and we’re continuing the process of training Afghanistan’s military. Ergo, we can afford to withdraw. (There’ll also be a super-keen NATO summit next year, just to prove we’re keeping our eye on the ball.) Don’t expect much on Pakistan, I’d imagine. No doubt there’ll be lip service paid to how important our “partnership” is, but there’s been too much news lately about their treachery for even modestly informed voters to take that seriously. In case he does end up blowing some diplomatic smoke up America’s butt about our good friends in Islamabad, take two minutes before tuning in to read this. That’s a wider, brighter window into the sort of entrenched cretinism we’re dealing with here than anything O will say tonight.

Exit question: How will top Republicans respond? Their criticism of The One on Libya tempts me to think they’ll grudgingly support him on this, but I don’t think that’s true. If Petraeus had blessed this scale of withdrawal, that’d be one thing, but defying the Pentagon’s judgment leaves Obama plenty exposed to attacks. Boehner hinted at that earlier, in fact, and just within the past few hours Byron York reported that a new group of conservative hawks is forming to pressure the newly ambivalent GOP into supporting interventionism. From a political standpoint, it’s only logical that Republican candidates will look for something to criticize here, but they can read those polls on Afghanistan too. Expect a day or two of complaining, and then back to the economy they go.

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