Commentary Magazine


Will He Prove Them Wrong?

The Washington Post‘s editors are nervous about the president’s upcoming speech on Afghanistan:

Mr. Obama’s prolonged deliberations and some of his public comments have made clear that he will embark on this new course reluctantly. That is understandable, given the problems in Afghanistan and the lack of Democratic support for an expanded war. Yet once he has chosen his strategy, it’s vital that the president commit himself fully to its success. That requires sending enough troops to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and describing the new commitment in a way that will convince Afghans, allies, the Taliban and the leaders of neighboring Pakistan that the United States is determined to succeed. It also means avoiding hedges and conditions that could doom the escalation before it begins.

Here Obama has made his own job worse. By empowering the likes of Joe Biden and his domestic policy advisers to second-guess the recommendation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and to warn openly of the domestic consequences of embracing the only viable plan for victory, the president has signaled that he’s looking over his shoulder. The sole target of his concern has not been the enemy and the horrendous potential consequences of a halfhearted effort. Instead he’s been fixated on his left-wing base. He’s obsessed over an exit strategy, forgetting that his predecessor won a war without one and that George W. Bush’s wartime troubles stemmed not from failing to  promise an end date but from letting a losing strategy persist too long. Obama’s also muddied the waters on the identity of the enemy and whether we can achieve “victory,” a word never uttered but essential to leading a war effort.

Now, as the editors note, “Both Americans and Afghans wonder whether the president believes in the war and has the will to win it.” One way for Obama to demonstrate that he takes being commander in chief seriously would be to dismiss his left-wingers’ “tax the war” gambit, designed to undermine support for the effort we are about to undertake. He should be clear that this is sheer hypocrisy (where’s the stimulus surtax?) and won’t be realistically entertained.

Frankly, it might be a good time for the president to battle his left flank and demonstrate some moxie, if he has it. The world and a vast number of centrists in America, not to mention conservatives, think he’s a wimp. This is his time to prove them wrong.