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State of the Union Address should chart new course in Afghanistan

January 25, 2011

President Obama should use the upcoming State of the Union Address to outline an approach that would look at the troubled Afghanistan war policy with fresh eyes.

The decade-long conflict drags on, despite widespread public opposition. Last week, Vice President Biden, in an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, said the United States will stay in Afghanistan long past the recently announced December 2014 deadline. Paradoxically, just one month ago on NBC’s Meet the Press, the VP said we’ll be completely out of Afghanistan “come hell or high water” in 2014.

With conflicting messages coming from the administration, the strategy seems at best unclear and at worst astray. Political space is needed to refocus the American presence in Afghanistan. Without political space President Obama cannot change the policy in Afghanistan. The Pentagon will not provide such political space, and President Obama cannot create it on his own. Moreover, as nearly 30,000 troops prepare to deploy between now and July, there could not be a more critical time for a new policy analysis.

Therefore, President Obama should convene a group of experts to provide an alternative strategy in Afghanistan—similar to the Iraq Study Group, which provided an alternative roadmap and helped deescalate the Iraq war.

Congressman Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, first called on President Obama to convene and Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group in August; he was then echoed by California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and ten other House Democrats. A bipartisan, co-chaired study group can provide recommendations on how best to proceed in and—most importantly—how to leave Afghanistan.

Using the State of the Union Address to announce this initiative would demonstrate that President Obama has full control of the war strategy, which is not presently clear.

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