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Time for Obama to Lead

On Fox News Sunday, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Diane Feinstein provided some sage advice and bipartisan leadership on the war in Afghanistan. Graham explained:

The ambassador’s a fine man, has a poor working relationship with President Karzai. That’s true of Ambassador Holbrooke. Can they function together with General Petraeus? That’s one thing I’d like to know. But the main problem I have going forward is that we’ve got to clarify this withdrawal date of July 2011. If it is a goal where we’ll all try to start transferring power over to the Afghans, I’m OK with that. If it’s a date where people are going to begin to leave no matter what, a predetermined withdrawal date, that, in my view, will doom this operation.

Feinstein was even more direct:

If the team isn’t right, I think Petraeus’ views should be taken into consideration and observed by the administration. This is kind of, if you will, not a last ditch stand, but it is a major change in the middle of the surge, and I think you put the general in, he should make the call. If he can’t work with the ambassador, the ambassador should be changed. If he can’t work with Holbrooke, that should change. I mean, I think we put all of our eggs in the Petraeus basket at this stage.

(I don’t always agree with her, but this reminds me that Feinstein, as she demonstrated on her report on the administration’s failings regarding the Christmas Day bomber, is one of the grown-ups on the Democratic side of the aisle.)

During the Fox Roundtable, both Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol noted that it is now up to Obama to exercise the same leadership as these two senators. If Obama can’t come up with a civilian team that is competent and cooperative, Gen. Petraeus will not succeed. Cheney argued that Obama should “completely and explicitly repudiate the July 2011 deadline,” while Kristol noted that “it would be better if the president ultimately repudiates that July 2011 date” but that Obama, as he has begun to do, can certainly distance himself from what has been another self-imposed obstacle to victory.

Over on Meet the Press, Sen. John McCain went after Obama’s rationale for the timeline: “In wars, you declare when you’re leaving after you’ve succeeded. And, by the way, no military adviser recommended to the president that he set a date of the middle of 2011. So it was purely a political decision, not one based on facts on the ground, not based on military strategy or anything. … They need to have a clear signal that we are staying.”

Unfortunately Obama turned petulant again yesterday, whining about the “obsession” with the timeline. Sigh. Yes, foes and allies do pay attention to his words, and it matters whether or not he gives a definitive commitment to stay until victory is achieved.

Despite relatively small differences in tone and language, there is remarkable agreement among the three senators who took to the airwaves on Sunday, as well as among other responsible figures, that if Obama fails to do what is needed (walk away from the timeline and replace the civilian leaders), the U.S. will suffer a devastating defeat. For Obama, it will be a blot on his legacy. No president will be fondly remembered if the first item in the history books is “He lost the war.”



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