Commentary Magazine


RE: The Half-Hearted Commander in Chief

In the Charles Krauthammer column that Jen refers to, Krauthammer ends by quoting Bob Woodward, author of Obama’s War, who earlier this week said of the president, “He is out of Afghanistan psychologically.”

Here’s the full Woodward quote:

The president’s committed to 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan but in these secret meetings in the Situation Room in the White House, he repeatedly says, “We need a plan to get out. There can be no wiggle room. I’m not going to do 10 years.” He is out of Afghanistan psychologically and the question is, for a commander-in-chief, don’t you have to be kind of the guy who’s up there, “Yes, we can, we’re going to win.”?

Mr. Woodward’s assertion seems to align with the facts as we now know them. So here is the situation we face: the president escalated a war about which he is profoundly ambivalent. His passion isn’t to succeed in Afghanistan; it is to leave from there. Mr. Obama clearly considers the war an unwelcome distraction from his domestic ambitions; he has devoted almost none of his time convincing the country and his party that the Afghanistan war is something that is worthy of our support. And the president’s statement that “I can’t lose the whole Democratic party” is damning.

How many times in American history have we had a president who was out of a war psychologically, even as he was sending more young men and women to fight and to die? And how many times has it ended well?

I have praised President Obama in the past for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. New facts have come to light since then. And, arguably, I should have better understood the true nature of the man in the Oval Office. Either way, the president, rather than distancing himself from the July 2011 draw-down date, has doubled down on it. He has said things in meetings and on the record that underscore his equivocation, his doubt, and his lack of fortitude when it comes to this war. And so it is fair, I think, to render a judgment I much rather would not: What President Obama is now doing – both escalating and undermining a war at the very same time — is not only unwise; it is contemptible. He has a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to choose one path or the other – to prosecute the war with commitment and resolve or to leave.

The president still has time, but not much.