I don't understand Obama's withdrawal timetable

You can fault some of the particulars of Obama’s policy. I’m scratching my head about the logic of his timetable for reversing the surge he announced 18 months ago: Pulling out 10,000 troops this year is okay, but why yank out an additional 23,000 in the middle of next year’s fighting season? That encourages a battered Taliban to hang on awhile longer rather than bargain for a truce. It repeats the tip-your-hand mistake I thought Obama made back in December 2009, when he set a date for beginning the withdrawal of his surge forces even as he ordered them into battle.

But on the larger theme, I thought Obama had it right. This period of expeditionary wars does need to come to an end — not just because America is weary and broke but because the dialectic of history has brought the world to a new place. If American military might has been shown to have limited effect in shaping events over the past 10 years, so have the terrorist strategies of al-Qaeda and the Taliban…

Obama concluded that this counterterrorism side of counterinsurgency works far more reliably than the uncertain, nation-building side. The embrace of counterterrorism tactics makes sense as an exit strategy from Afghanistan, and as a continuing check against al-Qaeda. But America should understand that this is a dark face of war — something perilously close to combat by assassination. It needs more debate before it’s elevated to a cornerstone of American strategy.

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