Very few people, at least among conservatives, put any confidence in candidate Obama's claim that Afghanistan was the war we had to fight, that this was the "good war," a "war of necessity." Many observers thought then that he was just using this rhetoric to prepare the country for a withdrawal from Iraq and allay fears among voters that he might be capitulating in the war against Islamic terrorism. Few conservatives believed then that his heart was really in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan so few are now surprised that he seems to want to dither over General McChrystal's report that he needs 45,000 more troops to prevent defeat in that woe-begotten territory.
Columnist Ruben Navarette, who is certainly no knee-jerk Obama opponent, writes that:
According to McClatchy Newspapers, military officials in Kabul and Washington say that the White House and Pentagon over the last six weeks had issued directives telling McChrystal not to submit a specific request for an increase in U.S. forces; the general is said to want as many as 45,000 additional troops. The administration isn't ready to consider that option. Instead, McChrystal sent his 66-page report last month to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. As everyone knows by now, the general concluded that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure" without a new strategy and an urgent infusion of troops. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, both backed that assessment.
Obama's own arguments about what to do in Afghanistan have not been very persuasive. Not even to himself. In March, he declared that the United States would prevent the return of the Taliban and "enhance the military, governance and economic capacity" of Afghanistan in order to help prevent al-Qaeda from returning and once again using the country as a launching pad for further attacks against the United States. But now the president seems to be backing off from his own hard line. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Obama said that "the only reason I send a single young man or woman in uniform anywhere in the world is because I think it's necessary to keep us safe. ... We're not gonna put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops (to Afghanistan) we're automatically going to make Americans safe."
So no matter what Obama said in the spring, it is no surprise that many White House advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden, are looking for a way to leave Afghanistan. That would be a grave mistake, and an abdication of Obama's duty to keep Americans safe by preventing more acts of terrorism. More than a clumsy flip-flop on policy, it would also be an outright betrayal of the military leaders that he put in charge of the operation in Afghanistan.
According to McClatchy, some members of McChrystal's staff said they don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" but still hasn't given them the resources they need to do what is necessary.
McChrystal is in a tough spot. When he isn't fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, he has to combat ignorance and cowardice on the Potomac. The general might have to end his career over this. But he shouldn't back down -- not when strong leaders are in such short supply.
Ignorance and cowardice are strong words, especially when used to describe the President of the United States, and I don't want to judge whether they apply in this case. Nor do I want to parse Navarette's reference to the dearth of strong leadership and speculate on exactly who he had in mind, but I do think that Mr. Obama has been disingenuous with the American people on the matter of his committment to Afghanistan. The President, after all, is a man of the left, the left abhors our military involvements abroad, and everyone who understands this should have known prior to the election that Mr. Obama would vacillate on Afghanistan regardless of how resolute he sounded during the campaign.
Now the President is confronted with a choice, and he can't vote "present." He must either accede to General McChrystal's request or he must pull up stakes in Afghanistan and come home. If he does the former he will surely anger his progressive base. If he does the latter he risks being judged by history as feckless and irresponsible and will be roundly punished by historians for handing Afghanistan back to al Qaeda to be used as a base for further terror operations against the U.S. and this after the loss of hundreds of American lives on that barren soil.
Moreover, if he chooses to give up in Afghanistan it will be a demoralizing blow to the American military and our intelligence agencies and will greatly strengthen the resolve of our enemies who already believe that we lack the endurance to prevail in the generational war they're waging against us. The weakness Mr. Obama will project if he withdraws will haunt this country for decades in a myriad of ways, just as did our ignominious flight from Vietnam in the 1970s.
Mr. Obama is going to have to spurn his base once again or be seen by the world as weak, wobbly, and risible. The first step in doing the right thing would be to finally, eight months into his presidency, give a nationally televised speech on Afghanistan and Iraq and dispel the growing suspicion that he simply doesn't care very much about what happens there.RLC