We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.Contrast that with last year's SOTU:
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.
And in Afghanistan, we're increasing our troops and training Afghan security forces so they can begin to take the lead in July of 2011, and our troops can begin to come home. (Applause.) We will reward good governance, work to reduce corruption, and support the rights of all Afghans -- men and women alike. (Applause.) We're joined by allies and partners who have increased their own commitments, and who will come together tomorrow in London to reaffirm our common purpose. There will be difficult days ahead. But I am absolutely confident we will succeed.Those "difficult days ahead" are now only "tough fighting ahead," which sounds, especially in context, a whole lot milder to me. And while it's true that he did include the July 2011 date last year, the entire section was framed in future tense, as if it was a brand new conflict that began with the Obama presidency, not one that stretched back almost a decade. This year, he sounds as if he's laying the groundwork for declaring victory and going home. And, of course, talking about removing troops eighteen months in advance is a lot less clear than the same thing only six months in the future. There's still nothing precise about what it means to "begin a transition" and "begin to bring our troops home," but neither is he giving himself much (rhetorical) wiggle room here. He's clearly staking out a position that things are starting to go well in Afghanistan, and that's going to be the position on which people judge him going forward, I think.