President Barack Obama delivered his “State of the Union” address on Tuesday night. And though he suggested there may be minimal reductions to wartime spending, he jingoistically declared, “We will maintain the best military the world has ever known.”
The speech renewed the US government’s commitment to a permanent war on terrorism. While it signaled the country would no longer be engaging in full-scale occupations or nation-building efforts while Obama was president, there was no indication that America’s dominance in the world would be reduced. America’s global military footprint of around 1,000 bases would be preserved.
In his address, it sounded like President Obama was definitively announcing the war in Afghanistan, which has been ongoing for twelve years, would be over by the end of 2014. Saluting American troops, he said:
…America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.
There are about 66,000 troops in Afghanistan right now. Withdrawing 34,000 American troops over the next year will mean approximately 32,000 troops remain in Afghanistan.
Somewhere between 45,000 and 55,000 troops were in Afghanistan at the end of 2008. In 2009, Obama escalated the war with a surge of 30,000 troops that were sent to Afghanistan. So, withdrawing 67,000 troops would still leave tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, not to mention the private military contractors helping the United States conduct war.
The war would not be over. As long as the US is engaged in missions that involve “training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos” and “counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates,” the war will not be over. It will especially not be over if the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) remains in effect while these missions are ongoing.