President Barack Obama committed another 30,000 troops to the war in Afghanistan during his speech at West Point on December 1. And TIME magazine's cover last week got it right: "It's His War Now."

This is why that, along with announcing a surge in troops, Obama also declared that beginning in July 2011, the United States would begin taking forces out of Afghanistan and transferring power to Afghanistan's government. Republicans, though happy about the increase in troops, blustered over the announcement of an exit date. John McCain, Republican Senator from Arizona, stated in one breath his complete support of the troop increase while saying in the next, "What I do not support, and what concerns me greatly, is the president's decision to set an arbitrary date to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan."

The date to begin withdrawing our troops in Afghanistan is an open deadline that will be, as Obama said during his speech, "based on conditions on the ground." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates clarified this later by saying that some troops will start leaving in July 2011 only as conditions permit.

Should conditions dictate that any significant withdrawal of troops would drastically damage progress made over the previous 18 months, Obama and his administration would undoubtedly consider if they wanted to honor their withdrawal date. July 2011 is the goal for the beginning of our exit, not the date of departure for our last soldier.

Sending another 30,000 troops abroad makes the war and its outcome Obama's responsibility, and his promise to withdraw troops starting in July 2011 is a crucial part of that ownership. Announcing a withdrawal date now tells both America and the world that Obama is not willing to commit the United States to a decade of nation building.

However, Obama fervently believes that terrorist groups in Afghanistan pose a real danger to our national security and that they must be stopped. As he said during his speech, "If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow."

The continuation of the war in Afghanistan is relevant to our immediate security; I, for one, am willing to take him and his generals' word on this point.

Discussing our intended departure date now indicates that our role in Afghanistan has practical and financial limits. A withdrawal date puts pressure on the Afghan government to accept the realities of this war and puts pressure on our own troops and commanders to treat the time and resources they have as precious. Furthermore, it acknowledges the concerns of Americans who worry about continuing a war whose gains seem too often elusive.

Back in April of 2008 at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Obama questioned General David Petraeus, who was at that time the commander of forces in Iraq, and Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker about the troop surge in Iraq.

I remember watching the hearing and feeling frustration as Petraeus and Crocker were completely unable to signal what benchmarks had to be met so that we could leave Iraq. At one point, Obama stated, "When you have finite resources, you've got to define your goals tightly and modestly."

The biggest problem with the troop surge in Iraq back in 2008 was that no one was willing to say why we were surging and what we were hoping to accomplish. The Bush administration and his generals refused to give any clear benchmarks for success in Iraq or give any sense of a timetable for fear of letting the enemy know what our plans might be. The blunder of the Bush administration was that it concealed strategy at the cost of communicating a basic set of modest goals for our time in Iraq to the American public.

This is precisely what Obama is trying to avoid in Afghanistan. He doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of Bush by leading the country through a war without purpose and without a clear time commitment. We can hope that the surge in Afghanistan can be just as successful as the surge in Iraq was, but Obama will be able to do it without pulling the veil over our eyes.

Good military strategy would have the President keep secret our intended departure date and this fact should not be nonchalantly tossed to the wayside. There is plenty about the military that is not and should be not be public. But secrecy and strategy are not the only controlling interests. There is a certain level of public disclosure necessary so that we are able to hold our elected officials responsible for their actions.

The specific date of July 2011, rather than June or August, is in some ways meaningless to the public. What is meaningful about it is the public commitment it makes to end a war that has gone on for too long. In some ways, the exit date is as much symbolic as anything else. It symbolizes a new approach to the war and our commitment in Afghanistan. It says that we can no longer act as though we have the financial resources to indefinitely stay in Afghanistan, nor the interest to remain there without reason.

Rebuilding Afghanistan into a sparkling new democracy in our own image, free of corruption and uninfluenced by either the Taliban or Al Qaeda is impossible and well beyond the scope of our mission. "Disrupting, dismantling, and defeating Al Qaeda and its extremist allies" is the goal Obama has laid out for the troop surge.

The plan goes like this: eliminate terrorist safe havens; work with Pakistan to unseat the Taliban there; help Afghan security forces establish a stable government that has the support of a plurality of Afghanis; and finally, bring our troops home.

Obama's plan is strategically comprehensive and is designed to meet a set of necessary yet attainable objectives. It's refreshing to see a well-articulated set of goals that both keeps us safe and brings our troops home in a timely manner. I'm sure military families, especially in this holiday season, are glad to know when their sons and daughters might be coming home for good.

Joe Babler is a member of the Class of 2010.