I haven't really laid into Obama for the whole "dithering" thing even though I've sometimes wanted to. Taking his time to make the right decision is better than quickly making the wrong decision, even though there is a palpable time decay factor that is literally killing our guys. Unfortunately, my perception (and I am not alone) is that the longer the decision is delayed, the more likely that Obama will try to tweak, compromise, and do the deployment on the cheap. An on-the-cheap deployment is problematic because it risks not getting the job done and broadcasts a lack of resolve necessary to win.
General McChrystal's figure of 40,000 additional troops was a nice fat round number. There's an implied margin of error in a figure like that. So while I thought Obama's leaked figure of 34,000 was a little too cute, hinting at political calculation more than military strategy, it was within what I guess to be McChrystal's margin of error, and leaving room for more NATO and native Afghan troops. Good enough, I'll take it.
But this newly leaked figure of 30,000 has me somewhat more disturbed. Sure, it's only 4,000 fewer than what was previously semi-announced. (Actually, I could have sworn I'd heard 36k, and started drafting this post with that figure...) But it's three-quarters of what McChrystal requested. What happened that 40k degraded to 34, then to 30? It's unclear who Obama satisfies with this figure. Not the hawks, and certainly not the anti-war left.
Which brings me to Joe Biden. I'm really bothered that Biden is around. The guy hasn't been right about anything. Ever. As disturbed as some people are about Sarah Palin, at least some Republicans acknowledge her flaws. No similar left-leaning acknowledgment is to be found regarding Mr. Biden. The man is a joke and nobody other than SNL is able to hint at it. Newsweek even put Biden on its cover recently, vainly and specifically arguing that Biden was not "a joke". If one had merely voted opposite from Biden on major national security issues for the last 30 years, one would have accumulated a fairly decent voting record. (Having been originally for, and later against Iraq, he has by definition been wrong on that at some point.)
I bring up Biden because this 30k business gives a Biden-like vibe. The Veep has been a major proponent of a colossally stupid plan for Afganistan, which would involve controlling the cities but taking our sweet time in the countryside, allowing the Taliban/AQ forces to continue to have fairly free reign. The plan commits most of the additional troops of a real counter-insurgency plan, but with very little of the actual killing of terrorists and achieving of our goals. It's the worst of both worlds in the name of compromise.
Some conservatives will be listening intently to the President's speech to determine how fixated he is on an "exit strategy". I have my problems with talk of "exit strategy", but I expect Obama to mention it, as it's become an integral part of the popular wisdom of waging war. Even if he really hammers the "exit strategy" rhetoric, his actions will speak louder than his words.
If Obama gives a Biden-like rationale for this reduced number, the Right will be all over him. If he says we're getting a NATO infusion and accelerating Afghan Army training (despite indications that the Afghan Army buildup is a no-go), I think he gets off a little easier. Of course, if he goes back to a 34k figure (and gives a reasonable rationale), we'll be delighted by a number with which we were so recently lukewarm.