The AP reports today that “a request for new troops from the U.S. commander in Afghanistan may have to be revised now that there is growing uncertainty inside the Obama administration over whether to escalate the American commitment to the eight-year war.” General Stanley McChrystal is set to deliver his troop request, believed to be upwards of 40,000 additional troops, by the end of the week.
It is now up to President Obama to decide if he will keep his promise to the American people when he committed to winning the war in Afghanistan because it is inextricably linked to our safety at home. It is up to President Obama to decide if he will listen to the generals on the ground or if he will continue to ask them to revise their assesment until it fits his political agenda. It is up to President Obama to decide if he has a clear strategy for success in Afghanistan, or if he is merely winging it. It’s time for real leadership, but is the President capable of providing it?
In March 2009, President Obama said:
As President, my greatest responsibility is to protect the American people. We are not in Afghanistan to control that country or to dictate its future. We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends and our allies, and the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan to have suffered the most at the hand of violent extremists.
So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That’s the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.
President Obama displayed true leadership in these seven brief lines. The Afghanistan war is against a common enemy that threatens us, our allies and the Afghani people. It must be won and to win, it must be executed with clear and focused goals. But where is this clarity and focus only six months later?
Politics has clearly gotten in the way of clarity and focus. The liberal left do not want troop surges, just as they did not want them in Iraq. Senator Harry Reid declared the Iraq War “lost” well before the troops had the opportunity to win it. They want the troops home from Afghanistan, even if that means our mission failed, and the world is no more safe than it was on September 10, 2001. The President has failed to make a compelling and strategic case to his liberal allies in Congress, or even to the American public, and it might possibly be because he never believed in the mission either.
According to the AP: “One senior military official said stepping up airstrikes might be difficult and more risky to do without additional forces. Without more troops, coalition forces will be able to secure fewer regions, and the insurgents will only have to move to the areas troops vacate.”
Does the President believe al Qaeda must be defeated in Afghanistan; in what he calls a “just cause?” Does the President believe he can defeat them with the troops that are on the ground now, despite NATO and U.S. forces commanders urging otherwise? And if he doesn’t, is any decision to keep troop levels low, solely based on political headlines at home? President Obama had a clear strategy in Afghanistan only six months ago, but now that polls are down, health care reform is failing and his environmental agenda is collapsing; he said to NBC on Sunday: “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan.”
President Lyndon Johnson often grew frustrated with the Vietnam War, since it took away focus from his domestic priorities, i.e. the Great Society. President Obama has set out on even more ambitious, more costly, and more transformative domestic agenda in 2009 that has largely been met with public indignation. He clearly would prefer to maintain focus on these priorities demonstrated by his numerous White House meetings on government giveaways such as Cash for Clunkers, and his utter lack of White House meetings on Afghanistan troop levels.
President Obama laid out his strategy for winning this war. The Generals responded to his strategy with a request for more troops. The President now must commit those troops or explain why the war is no longer worth winning. If he doesn’t appreciate the advice of his commanders, he should respectfully ask them to resign rather than undermine them and their mission as he has this past week, and install leaders who are willing to fight a war with limited troop deployment and a confused objective. Does that general exist?