Stephen Hadley, George W. Bush’s national security adviser, knows a thing or two about surges. He writes in support of Obama’s Afghanistan surge and urges bipartisan support for the plan. First, he must console and assure conservatives that Obama’s 18-month deadline is meaningless: “The president and his national security team have said there is no arbitrary withdrawal schedule or exit date.” Well, at least the security team has said it. He quotes Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who’ve spent the past week reiterating this point. And Hadley retraces the significant troop increases authorized under the Bush administration, which has been maligned as blocking or ignoring commanders’ requests.
But his central point is simple:
It will take time and great effort, but we can succeed by convincing friends, foes and our own forces that we are committed to success and will not fail; motivating and enabling the Afghan government and people to accept greater responsibility for their future; and helping Pakistan in its effort to put down its own Taliban threat and control its territory. The last goal is paramount. A destabilized Pakistan would threaten regional stability and ensure that Afghanistan could not be stabilized. Success will depend on proving to Pakistan that it has an enduring partner in the United States. Our strategy can succeed in Afghanistan if we are committed to succeeding, not just getting out.
Hadley’s advice is a not-so-subtle prodding of the president. A successful counterinsurgency is as much about “motivating and enabling” our allies and intimidating our foes as it is about getting the troop numbers right. Also essential to victory is the projection of staying power. And frankly, Obama has been rather mute since the West Point Speech, allowing his advisers to do the clean-up work on a speech that has been seen, by both supporters and critics, as a weak effort in defense of an essential policy.
It seems that Obama’s task is to convince our allies that he is every much committed to victory, yes victory, and to staying put until the job is done, as was his predecessor in Iraq. Obama has adopted the “surge” terminology; now he must demonstrate the determination that will ensure its success. It can’t be delegated to his advisers, and it can’t be hedged. It must be unequivocal and without regard to the sensibilities of former political soul mates on the Left. That, after all, is what commanders in chief must do.