Commentary Magazine


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Nervously Waiting

Anticipating Obama’s speech at West Point, David Brooks writes:

What’s emerging appears to be something less than a comprehensive COIN strategy but more than a mere counter-terrorism strategy — shooting at terrorists with drones. It is a hybrid approach, and as we watch the president’s speech Tuesday night, we’ll all get to judge whether he has cut and pasted the different options into a coherent whole. It’s not the troop levels that matter. What matters is how this war will be fought.

Some very smart people say that the administration’s direction is already fatally flawed. There is no such thing as effective COIN-lite, they argue. All the pieces of a comprehensive strategy have to be done patiently and together because success depends on the way they magnify one another.

Others are concerned that there will be too much “exit strategy talk.” Tom Ricks observes:

Perhaps most importantly, is his heart in it, and can he bring along a good portion of the American people, especially part of his base? Or is he gonna say we’re giving it 12 months and then we’re outta here? … If he uses the phrase “exit strategy,” or dwells on the subject, then you’ll know you’re probably looking at a one-term president. In other words, file under “Jimmy Carter,” not “Abe Lincoln.”

All this, of course, is what comes from months of public agonizing and a sense that domestic politics, and domestic political advisers, had overtaken the process of developing a winning war strategy. In a feverish effort to keep the unplacatable Left placated, Obama runs the risk of making his own job — leading us to victory — more difficult.

This is obviously not a role he relishes nor a process he has excelled at. There are choices to be made: McChrystal or not, exit-strategy limited or not. It is excruciating to watch the White House try to please this and that constituency as if this were an ag bill. But as Donald Rumsfeld once said of the Army, we fight wars with the president we have. This president has a chance to — for once — put aside pedestrian domestic concerns and demonstrate he understands both the nature of our enemy and the requirements of fighting a self-described critical war. If he does that, the politics will sort themselves out. If not, he’ll have far greater problems than keeping Nancy Pelosi happy.