The most explosive controversy over President Obama's address at West Point is the deadline he has proposed for the beginning of withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan of July 2011 -- 18 months from now. Most of the media commentary after the speech has so far focused on this single point and most observers appear to assert that Obama's insistence on a deadline will help Al Qaeda and the Taliban who will, in their turn, wait until US forces depart and then step up their takeover efforts in the country.
However, this a simplistic and truly perverse reaction. It leaves out the main import of the deadline -- which is to impress on the Afghans that they must take responsibility for their own destiny over the next year and one half or else face the loss of international support. They must step up their often laggard efforts at military training and at rallying the Afghan population against the cruel insurgents who have helped destroy so much of a civilized society in that nation. Without a deadline, the Afghans, who have tarried and delayed for eight years at doing the work of defending themselves, will persist in their dilly-dallying and footdragging for another decade or so, figuring that the US and NATO troops will carry the fight for them. Obama took the only responsible route to assuring that the Afghans finally take custody of this fight.