President Obama is set to unveil a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan in a speech next week. Hints of troop escalation have trickled through the media, but the address will chisel out the details, and perhaps draw a blueprint for long-term withdrawal. Here's what analysts are watching for, and what they hope the speech will accomplish.

  • Winning Over Allies  Deciding on an Afghanistan strategy, argues Joel Achenbach at The Washington Post, is "vastly more complicated"than a mere matter of "whether Obama should authorize more troops." Whatever the strategy, Obama "must bring on board as many allies as possible," which means getting the support of "Congress, his Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the bean counters who budget military action, NATO, various dyspeptic European leaders, the generals in the theater, the troops on the ground, the sketchy Afghan leadership, the Pakistanis and so on." Then comes "sell[ing] his plan to the American people."
  • Selling the Plan to Conflicting Interests  David Sanger takes a similar theme in The New York Times. Selling the plan to Americans next week in the speech, he says, will be a tricky balancing act. First, there's the "contradictory signal" of saying that by adding troops he can speed the United States toward an exit." Then "he must convince Democrats, especially the antiwar base that helped elect him, and the slim majority of the country that tells pollsters the conflict is no longer worth the sacrifice, that in sending more troops he is not escalating the war L.B.J.-style." But also he needs to "persuade Republicans that he is giving the military what it needs" and convince all involved that the effort is "worth the price tag," even with the current fuss about the deficit.
  • Nothing But the Details  The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman says Obama's speech might not include much new "beyond a firm troop number, the division between combat forces, military trainers and civilian nation builders, and expressions of presidential empathy." A timeline for withdrawal would be exciting.
  • Be Patient  The New Republic's Michael Crowley adds that, while it will take "months" for new troops to reach Afghanistan, it will also take "many more months--maybe a year" to determine "whether we've turned the conflict around." His message for those waiting for Obama's speech? "Take your patience pills."
  • Echoes of Vietnam, worries law professor William Jacobson. Obama's preview of his strategy "centers around the phrase 'finish the job,'" he says. Is that the new "peace with honor"? The latter phrase from Vietnam meant "that we will claim one thing (the dreaded 'V' word) while accepting something else (the dreaded 'D' word)." So the word Jacobson would really like to hear in Obama's speech is "victory"--but he's not holding his breath.
  • Slow Build-Up  David Dayen at Firedoglake points out that with the current timeline, even this new injection of troops would be "escalation in slow motion." Plus, "the total 34,000 number" that has been bandied about in the past few days "could be lower than the actual commitment," especially if Hillary Clinton manages to "wring some more troops out of [NATO] countries."