There were no real surprises in President Obama's speech tonight. The troops will start coming home in July 2011, depending on conditions on the ground. Responsibility will be transferred to the Afghan military and police, which will be built up during that time. Obama emphasized that the commitment is open-ended.
There were no details on a few things that we really need to know: how this will be paid for, what effect it will have on the military, and how a civilian effort to work with the Afghans on agriculture and other infrastructure will be mounted.
I had some of the same reactions that J. did as he live-blogged the speech. It seemed to me, too, that part of the reason Obama chose West Point as the venue was that these people will be some of those most affected by the decision, and that they were unlikely to applaud too much at the wrong places.
The White House was kind enough to make some senior administration officials available to bloggers on a conference call after the speech. It was a good discussion; my blogger colleagues made me proud of them, with much more intelligent questions than one usually hears in White House press conferences. It helped that these officials were not just flacks.
But still, not much detail was added to what was said in the speech. I begin to see that, if one does this all the time, one might come to the silliness that can pervade the press conferences.
There seemed to be some desperation in answer to a question as to whether the stated mission, to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda was achievable. The alternatives are untenable, was the answer.
Budgeting is still up in the air. The administration is working with Congress; the President is "looking to pay for all of his initiatives."
This seems to be very much a work in progress. The scaffolding is in place, but work is continuing.
Text of speech here.