Commentary Magazine


Why So Mum, Mr. President?

The Washington Post editors are properly concerned that Gen. David Petraeus is doing a job that should be done primarily by (or at least in concert with) the president:

Gen. Petraeus sought to deliver in interviews over the past few days: The mission isn’t hopeless. Another, though, was that success won’t be easy and that it won’t come in one defining battlefield victory. It will be measured in the gradual strengthening of the ability of Afghanistan’s elected government to provide security for its own people. . . This is an appropriate message for the general to deliver, but he shouldn’t have to do it alone. …

Having formed his policy and committed the U.S. troops needed to implement it, Mr. Obama needs to explain his rationale to the American people, especially to the many doubters within his own party. He needs to do so not once, not twice, but repeatedly. This isn’t Gen. Petraeus’s war, and it’s not even Mr. Obama’s war. It is America’s war — and ultimately, only the president can make that case.

And why hasn’t he? After all, he waxes lyrical on the Ground Zero mosque — well, for a day. He talks frequently about the economic recovery, even if there isn’t much of one. He really gets revved up when castigating the Republicans. Yet he avoids like the plague speaking to the American people and to our allies and enemies, who will be listening in about a critical war (he said) that we must win (he said). Is he uncomfortable exhorting his nation to victory (too much “triumphalism,” as he once sneered about the Iraq war effort)? Does he want to leave himself some wiggle room to reverse course?

It’s a mystery, but more important, it’s a shirking of the responsibility to lead and not just order troops into battle. And although it’s not “Obama’s war,” he will bear the burden of defeat should we not prevail. He should, therefore, if only out of self-interest, try really hard to win this.