“Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn away
And lose the name of action.” (Hamlet, Act III, Scene I.)
In the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy, Shakespeare shows Hamlet’s indecision over whether to fight his enemies or just take refuge in a deathly sleep, “perchance to dream” his way out of difficulty. However intellectual his musings, however noble his thoughts, Hamlet simply cannot act until at last events spin out of control, and he ends up killing and being killed.
In President Obama’s dragged out debate over his course for Afghanistan it is easy to see the danger of “resolution” being “sicklied over” with too much thought, too much dancing around the issue. As the days, weeks, and now months roll by without an answer to his hand-picked General’s request for more troops, our current enterprise of such great pith and moment, the war Obama himself said was the “right war” to pursue, now appears to run risk of its currents turning away and the action being lost.
Obama is said to be rethinking the strategy that he decided on just a few months ago in March. The approach he adopted then was focused on combating the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan through a troop-intensive strategy of protecting the population from insurgent attacks. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, has said he needs up to 40,000 more troops to do that job.
McChrystal sent his assessment to Washington in August, and it was leaked to the press in mid-September. In his report, McChrystal said failure to reverse “insurgent momentum” in the near term risked an outcome where “defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” (Reuters, “U.S. commander says Afghan war needs more troops,” Monday, September 21, 2009.)
While our soldiers are in theater facing death every minute of the day, not knowing if McChrystal’s request will be honored, or if the war will ultimately be “lost” as the General fears, Obama continues to hold meetings debating the issues.
He held the fifth in a series of White House Situation Room meetings on alternative strategies with advisers Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates yesterday, and plans another next week. The President, a former law instructor, is said to pose rigorous questions and encourage robust arguments at the sessions, according to senior adviser David Axelrod. (Bloomberg.com, “Obama Becomes Target on Afghan Troop Review as Pressure Rises,” October 15, 2009.)
The White House has today announced through its spokesman, Robert Gibbs, that they are almost done with meetings on the issue, but that Obama won’t make a decision on Afghanistan for a few more weeks.
Why on earth not make a decision? It seems to me there are only two possibilities, neither of which is very flattering to Obama as a leader and a Commander in Chief.
The first possibility, (and this is my personal view of what’s going on), is there’s a political reason for his lack of action: Obama has already made up his mind to send more troops but wants to wait as long as possible so as not to alienate his far-left base, (already unhappy that existing troops are not being brought home,) and jeopardize his beloved health care bill as it is being cobbled together in Congress.
The idea seems to be that if, through posturing, Obama looks ponderous enough, if he looks like he’s painstakingly examined all the facets of the problem and, only reluctantly, decides to send troops, then the war-weary public will be more inclined to support his decision.
A recent statement made by Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, supports my belief. She said that an American public that has grown “exhausted from this war” will appreciate Obama’s approach to the “significant decisions that need to be made.”
“They will have a high degree of confidence that the process that led to those decisions was one that was deliberative, that wasn’t in response to any political pressure, but was made on the merits,” Dunn said in an interview. (Bloomberg, supra.)
As I see it, the only other possibility for the President’s inaction, is that Obama really doesn’t know what to do, but is arrogant enough to think that he, Hillary, Joe, Bob Gates and other back-room talking heads can figure it out by evaluating strategy better than the generals in the field can do.
While his study and evaluation are perfectly fine and desirable, does Obama really think that he and his buddies sitting around a table know more than those who are fighting the war in the trenches?
If the General that Obama himself hand-picked says the war will be lost without the additional troops, isn’t Obama gambling with the lives of all those currently engaged in the war effort if he doesn’t comply with the request? If the war will be lost without the additional support, doesn’t Obama also run the risk of making the sacrifices of those who died and suffered injuries in the struggle be all in vain?
Key members of Congress are speaking out against the President’s indecision. Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, the House Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, made this statement at a congressional hearing on October 14:
“Given the urgency of the situation, I have a number of concerns about how the debate in Washington will affect the war in Afghanistan. First, I’m concerned about the continued drift of our Afghanistan strategy. It is unfair to our forces in theater to fight a war while the strategy remains in limbo. Last week the President told members of Congress that his decision will be timely. My hope and expectation is that the President will make a decision on resources in the coming week and stick with it. We cannot win if we conduct quarterly strategy changes. To be sure, nips and tucks are appropriate, but wholesale reconstructive surgery is a recipe for disaster…
In my view, if the President departs from the March strategy he will be rejecting key assumptions about the threats we face and strategies we need to prevent another 9/11. A half measure in Afghanistan is tantamount to a doctrinal shift away from all the lessons learned since al-Qaeda attacked our homeland over eight years ago. This will endanger our homeland and put our forces at risk.” (McKeon Opening Statement for Hearing on Afghanistan Strategy, Press Release October 14, 2009. Emphasis added.)
Other lawmakers, such as Arizona Senator John McCain, are also pushing for a decision to send the troops that General McChrystal has said he needs. McCain has been joined by Democrats such as Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who heads the Select Committee on Intelligence, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, who has been quoted as saying:
“Who knows the situation any better than the commander of the theater? He understands the people, knows the enemy, and knows what it will take to fulfill our mission.” (National Review Online, “Skelton: Obama Should Listen to McChrystal,” October 7, 2009.)
As the President continues torturing the country with his indecision, (though undoubtedly delighting the Norwegian Nobel givers), I keep thinking of the young men and women fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their families here at home, waiting for the Commander in Chief to lead.
How agonizing for our soldiers to shoulder their weapons and face down death on a minute-by-minute basis while the President ponders, and perhaps postures for political reasons, about providing them support.
What a stab in the heart of troop morale to have their field commander say the battle will be lost without additional troops, and yet to see the President unable or unwilling to make up his mind.
Our troops, the bravest of our country’s young men and women, already face daunting odds of survival, of winning. And now they face another enemy: The Commander in Chief’s indecision and failure to lead while our enterprise of great moment is at risk of being lost.