Jonathan, so far it seems that Republican officials are doing precisely as you recommend. Sen. John McCain and many others have expressed support for the president”s decision to deploy at least 30,00 troops and praised his rejection of the advice of those in his own party who would have us retreat from the president’s self-described critical war. But with the responsibility to support an Afghanistan surge, which is in our national interest, comes the obligation to be both intellectually honest and politically candid. The roles for those in elected office and for those who observe from the sidelines may in this regard be different.
For those in elected office, the task at hand is to provide funding and oversight for the war effort. It appears there is overwhelming support among Republicans to fund the surge. But there is also the obligation on the part of lawmakers to provide oversight. How quickly can troops be deployed? How are we providing support for the Afghan government? And yes, what is this 2011 date all about?
And the loyal opposition, because it does believe in the mission, has a particular obligation to provide candid observation and advice as to the reasons why a transition date, however postured, is counterproductive. The loyal opposition is not there to cheerlead or to jeer, nor to obscure or avert its eyes. It is there to provide a voice of warning and, yes, of experience. Deadlines and withdrawal dates are, as Max pointed out, generally counterproductive. It will undermine the impact of the surge — with both foes and allies. It is the loyal opposition’s duty to explain why and to encourage and cajole the president to rethink and restate what he has in mind. We have already seen the damage-control efforts by Secretary Robert Gates and others to put that date in “perspective” — and frankly, we hope, eradicate it. Gates should be supported and encouraged in his efforts.
In sum, the loyal opposition, if it is to be loyal to the country’s national interests and to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, must be candid with the president and the voters. Where the president is right, he deserves praise. Where is is badly misguided, he deserves constructive criticism.