Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Not Reassuring

Well this, from the New York Times, is not very encouraging:

In declaring Tuesday that he would “finish the job” in Afghanistan, President Obama used a phrase clearly meant to imply that even as he deploys an additional 30,000 or so troops, he has finally figured out how to bring the eight-year-long conflict to an end. But offering that reassuring if somewhat contradictory signal — that by adding troops he can speed the United States toward an exit — is just the first of a set of tricky messages Mr. Obama will have to deliver as he rolls out his strategy publicly.

It seems that tricky messaging is the last thing we (both the country and Obama) need right now. The protracted dithering has unnerved our allies and emboldened our foes, suggesting that the president’s heart isn’t in this and that he is desperately looking to find an out. Now he’s going to reinforce that by publicly hedging his bets? Well, that’s the sort of suggestion that seems to have come from the political-consultant crowd that didn’t want to adopt Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s plan in the first place.

And forgetting the national-security implications for a moment, this seems to portend a political disaster:

Over the next week, he will deliver multiple messages to multiple audiences: voters at home, allies, the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the extremists who are the enemy. And as Mr. Obama’s own aides concede, the messages directed at some may undercut the messages sent to others.

Yikes. So in the end everyone will be unnerved, by both the image of the president as lacking resolution and the disturbing impression that everything in this administration is about politics and spin. It took them months to come up with this? We are told the game plan here (with some wiggle room in how troop levels are counted) will, wow, give the president “flexibility” and allow him “to tell the Democrats that his commitment is limited, and to tell the Republicans that he will do whatever it takes to win what, only three months ago, he called a ‘war of necessity.’” Hearing that, you realize just how polluted with politics has become the formulation of war strategy. In the end, I suspect, the competing sides in the domestic debate, as well as our enemies, will figure out that Obama is trying to have it all ways and thereby lacks the singular determination to win a difficult war.