President Barack Obama was reaching for the middle of the political spectrum in his speech at West Point and, by and large, he hit the right notes:

— “We did not ask for this fight.”

— “Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards.”

— “We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through the country.  But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan.  That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.”

—  Alluding to the surge in Iraq and the expectation of more support from the Afghan government: “This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over.”

And the gamble?  Signaling the exit strategy.  Obama said he’ll start withdrawing troops in 2011.  Does that increase the pressure on the Afghans to perform? Or invite al-Qaida to wait.  It’s the same risk that President Bush took in Iraq.  It’s not yet clear how that will work out.  It won’t be any easier in Afghanistan.

Another question is how much time Obama has.

His biggest critics may be his own Democratic base, just as they opposed Bush on the surge.  His best allies may be the troops themselves.  The Guardsmen who returned home to Petaluma in recent weeks talked about the prospects for success, not any need to withdraw.

— Jim Sweeney