It seems that even on Afghanistan, arguably the high point of Obama’s foreign policy to date (everything in politics is relative), things are not going smoothly. Jamie Fly observes: “With the president having decided to send Gen. McChrystal the bulk of the additional forces he requested, one would think that all is settled, right? Well, it seems that key White House officials don’t think so. They continue to snipe at Gen. McChrystal as he sets out to implement the strategy that the president announced at West Point on December 1.”
First we saw Joe Biden denying that the president had adopted an insurgency strategy and reinforcing the notion that a withdrawal in 18 months would amount to a quick drawdown in forces, not at all what McChrystal, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates had explained. Fly notes another round of leaking via the New York Times in which it appears that “White House officials are supposedly upset because an essential component of a fast drawdown in 2011 is getting the initial surge there as soon as possible to begin to make progress. The Pentagon agrees with the need to make progress quickly, but is dealing with real-world logistical challenges of implementing what is essentially a politically-imposed timeline.” Fly concludes that the ever-so-helpful Joe Biden is up to no good:
It seems that Biden et al. are still frustrated that the lost the battle during the Afghanistan policy review (Biden was also on the losing side of the first review back in March as well) and are looking for ways to further their agenda and sow doubt about what can be accomplished prior to July 2011.
This illustrates several unfortunate aspects of the Obama White House, the first being Joe Biden. Yes, he’s Obama’s choice and he’s proved to be a gaffe machine, a policy disaster, and the source of much angst. (Do we think Hillary is betting he’ll be bounced in 2012? ) But more fundamentally, it shows that the president often seems to be a bystander in his own administration. Where is his forceful follow-up on the West Point speech? Why wasn’t he reinforcing McChrystal’s position. Well, recall that no sooner had he delivered the West Point address than he was on 60 Minutes bad-mouthing triumphalism and emphasizing that he didn’t much care for those open-ended commitments. So really, if there’s a vacuum in presidential leadership, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it filled by Biden or others.
And finally, we see how very hard it is for the White House to turn that corner that many conservatives keep spotting. Obama really is stepping up to the plate and embracing the job of commander in chief, we were told. But it’s never quite clear that his heart is in it. He described Afghanistan as “a critical war” . . . but . . . it’s also one the president keeps telling us has a time frame. Obama has backed his military advisers over political flunkies . . . but . . . he can’t manage to keep the latter under wraps.
If Obama appears to domestic observers to be both conflicted and peripheral in the decision-making process for a “critical” battleground in the war against Islamic fascists, how must all this appear to our Afghan partners? Or to our enemies? Once again, Obama seems to have convinced himself that all that was required on this issue was a single decision and a speech. But of course, being commander in chief requires much more. It entails an ongoing process of rallying the country, explaining our mission, tamping down infighting, publicly supporting our military commanders, and assuring friends and foes that we’re committed to victory. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have other things to do. The country and his own image will suffer as a result.