The Half-Hearted Commander in Chief

Charles Krauthammer sums up conservatives’ horrified reaction to Bob Woodward’s book:

What kind of commander in chief sends tens of thousands of troops to war announcing in advance a fixed date for beginning their withdrawal? One who doesn’t have his heart in it. One who doesn’t really want to win but is making some kind of political gesture. One who thinks he has to be seen as trying but is preparing the ground — meaning, the political cover — for failure.

You would think the left, which wasn’t game on the war anyway, would be equally horrified. But they are in a state of shock as it is. I suspect as Obama’s position erodes, they’ll be heard from, as well.

As Krauthammer notes, the president is concerned primarily, maybe exclusively, with keeping his party together. Aside from the impropriety of elevating partisanship over matters of national security, it is exceptionally passive:

Is it not Obama’s job as president and party leader to bring the party with him? This is the man who made Berlin coo, America swoon and the Nobel committee lose its mind. Yet he cannot get his own party to follow him on what he insists is a matter of vital national interest?

Did he even try? Obama spent endless hours cajoling and persuading individual members of Congress to garner every last vote for health-care reform. Has he done a fraction of that for Afghanistan — argued, pleaded, horse-traded, twisted even a single arm?

And what about persuading the country at large? Every war is arduous and requires continual presidential explication, inspiration and encouragement.

But he would do so only if he were committed to victory and understood the ramifications of defeat. Plainly, he doesn’t — and that is the source of the problem and the real lesson to be learned Woodward’s book. Where we go from here — a more fulsome devotion to victory, or a stubborn adherence to his 2011 deadline? We don’t know. We can only hope that with a Republican House (and possibly Senate) that his domestic agenda will be thwarted — and he therefore will turn to matters on which he can maintain his relevance and rescue his legacy. To do that, of course, he’s going to have to make sure we win.