Commentary Magazine


Don’t Wait for Obama to Make Up His Mind About Making Up His Mind

This quote from an unnamed White House official, reported in today’s New York Times, filled me with dread:

“I’m not saying that we’ll be in a perpetual state of review, but the time the president has taken so far should signal to people that he will not hesitate to take a hard look at things and question assumptions if things are not moving in the right direction,” a senior White House official said.

Please, please say it ain’t so — that we won’t see another review like the present one for a long, long time. Bad enough that the White House has been ostentatiously and publicly reviewing all options in Afghanistan since August — for the second time this year! — while efforts to win the war are effectively put on hold. Worse is the possibility that we could see another such process as soon as next year.

Every president reacts, I suppose, to the perceived mistakes of his predecessors. George W. Bush thought that Bill Clinton was too professorial and vowed not to hold any of the aimless, grad-school-type chat sessions that were a hallmark of the Clinton decision-making process. Bush styled himself as the decider-in-chief and placed a premium on reaching decisions with a minimum of hand-wringing or second thoughts. The result was, as we know, some terrible decisions — especially in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. So now Obama, reacting to what he perceives as the lack of thought and debate that characterized decision-making in the Bush White House, is going too far in the other direction by publicizing every permutation of his Afghanistan thought process, and letting his subordinates suggest that the second-guessing and questioning will never stop.

Obviously it’s a good thing to be thoughtful and reflective and to take all factors into account before reaching a decision. But at some point the commander in chief has to say, “Enough! I’ve reached my decision, and now I’m going to give my commanders time and room to carry out the plan.” President Obama has not yet reached that point, and as the quote from his unnamed aide suggests, he may never reach that point. If he doesn’t, he will be doing terrible damage to our war effort. Success in war requires determination and will above all — even more than resources. If the commander in chief does not convey the determination to prevail, no matter what setbacks may arise, then the commitment of extra resources will not be all that effective because our enemies will be encouraged to think that they can simply wait us out and expect our will to snap at some point not too far in the future.

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