Obama opts for large Afghanistan troop withdrawl with a promise to "start nation-building at home" (+ analysis); Fears of Taliban takeover as US troops leave; Chinese artist Ai Weiwei released on bail; China warns US to stay out of South China Sea tensions; Relations between Syria and Turkey sour while India and Pakistan hold peace talks; and more
Top of the Agenda: Obama’s Afghan Troop Drawdown Plan
President Barack Obama is expected to travel today to Fort Drum, NY, to rally support for his plan to withdraw thirty-three thousand troops (CNN) from Afghanistan. In a televised speech last night, Obama said ten thousand of the surge forces would withdraw by the end of the year, with the remainder leaving Afghanistan by 2012--about one-third of the one hundred thousand US troops in the country. "It's time to start nation-building here at home," Obama said. The speech predictably drew a mixed response in Washington, with outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) supporting the decision, while prominent Republican critics, in particular House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) are more skeptical.
In Afghanistan, political leaders expressed fears (WSJ) that US allies could leave before their job is done. While the troop withdrawal is not expected to change much in Afghanistan right now, US and Afghan officials worry about the overall impact (NYT) on Afghanistan's struggling economy. And with Gates' recent acknowledgement of "outreach" talks with members of the Taliban, some Afghans are worried about a new Taliban takeover (Guardian) when the United States leaves.
A constraint on America's retreat from Afghanistan "is the recognition that, more than ever, the United States will be relying on Afghanistan's help to deal with the threats emerging from Pakistan," writes David Sanger in the New York Times.
This CFR timeline of the war in Afghanistan examines the events that led to US involvement and the history of the conflict.
The White House review of US strategy in Afghanistan in 2009 opted for a competitive decision-making process. This time, the administration has aimed at consensus, which should make executing the strategy easier, writes Brett McGurk in Foreign Affairs.
PACIFIC RIM: China's Ai Weiwei Released
Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (BBC) was released on bail after pleading guilty to charges of tax evasion. His arrest in April prompted a global campaign for his release and galvanized criticism of China's human rights record.
China: China's vice foreign minister warned the United States to stay out of the region's heightening territorial disputes (NYT) and maritime conflicts in the South China Sea.
China's growing military and naval strength and its increased pugnacity are heightening concerns in Vietnam, the Philippines, and elsewhere, says CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick.