Last night at West Point, President Obama had a golden opportunity to demonstrate that the world’s only superpower is lead by a tough, determined, world leader, able to make difficult decisions. Instead, President Obama chose to take a hedged, triangulated position between those in America that support the war in Afghanistan and those that oppose it. There was more nuance in the President’s address than there was determination and resolve, which is unfortunate for America and for international security around the globe.
There really are no good options for America and the situation in Afghanistan. Looking backwards into the rearview mirror does us no good; we are where we are and fair or not, the President is forced to look ahead and play the hand he has been dealt. As evidenced by the delay and lengthy deliberation regarding additional troop commitments, President Obama is learning that it is more difficult to actually lead a nation than it is to merely campaign to lead a nation.
Whether the best course of action is committing more troops or withdrawing could be debated by reasonable people, but it is less important than commitment and dedication to one or the other, with resolve. The President needed to get it right last night—either we’re all-in or we’re out—and he failed, choosing conditional commitment and putting his weakness and equivocation on full display for the world.
Rather than attempting to placate his left flank by holding back 25% of the 40,000 troops requested by General McChrystal, the President could have demonstrated he was in it to win it, giving the general the 40,000 troops he requested. Why hold back 10,000 troops? If ever an ounce of prevention were better than a pound of cure, this would be it—give the general what he is requesting and “get ‘er done.” The left is not placated by his gesture to send 30,000 more troops and hold back 10,000, and history informs us well that underwhelming the enemy or relying on the pathetic troop commitments of our allies is a recipe for disaster and defeat.
Clearly, the ultimate pusillanimous act last night was announcing a troop draw-down in 18 months. This was not leadership, but a cowardly act that undermined any attempt by the President to even feign commitment, again serving only one purpose, to unsuccessfully attempt to appease the left.
The left and right are not happy with the President, nor is Middle America, which wants us out of Afghanistan, best achieved by either a total commitment to get out or bucking-up and committing overwhelming force. Giving General McChrystal less troops than he requested and announcing a draw-down in 18 months are jellyfish maneuvers, difficult to rationalize other than through a purely political prism. Middle America deserves leadership from President Obama and knows all too well that the only thing in the middle of the road is a dead possum on a dotted white line.