There are many unfortunate aspects of President Obama’s decision to prematurely pull the plug on the surge in Afghanistan. Not least is it will be more difficult to maintain the bipartisan consensus behind the war effort. Indeed, it will make it harder to maintain a bipartisan consensus for a strong, forward-leaning foreign policy designed to defend freedom.
It is no secret that isolationist tendencies are coming to the fore in the Republican Party. Already, 87 House Republicans voted for a resolution sponsored by the ultra-left-wing Rep. Dennis Kucinich to immediately end our involvement in Libya–a decision that would throw a lifeline to the odious Muammar Qaddafi and sabotage some of our most vital alliance relationships. Now House leaders are preparing a vote on a resolution that would cut off funds for all “hostilities” in Libya while maintaining money only for non-combat activities.
President Obama is said to be angry about this attempt to undercut his commander-in-chief authority–as well he should be, although he also brought this upon himself in part by failing to ask Congress for authorization for the Libyan war effort. Moreover, he is costing himself support among many conservative Republicans by failing to prosecute the war against Qaddafi more vigorously. Now he is making the same mistake in Afghanistan, where once again Obama is showing himself to be fatally ambivalent about a war with which he is closely identified.
Whatever their isolationist tendencies, most Republicans can be rallied by a cry to support the commander-in-chief and to defeat our enemies. But only if they feel the commander-in-chief is serious about fighting in a way designed to maximize the odds of success. With his willingness to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan before they have achieved their objectives, Obama is raising serious doubts about his credibility as commander-in-chief. That will inevitably affect the willingness of Republicans to support him not only over Afghanistan but also Libya and other crisis spots.
I believe Republicans must still back the president–and our troops–in Afghanistan, because while a good outcome is harder to attain now, it is far from impossible. But Obama is making that argument harder to make.