The decision came at least three months too late - the plans were ready this past August. It did not fully satisfy the needs of our military in Afghanistan - Generals Petraeus and McChrystal requested 40,000-60,000 troops – they’re getting 30,000. It is accompanied by a politically driven, potentially disastrous timetable - President Obama wants to start drawing down troops in July, 2011, throwing a bone to the antiwar left while signaling to our enemies that to prevail they only need to wait us out. (It also allows him to get his re-election campaign started, unencumbered by the messiness of a war). The sudden concern over fiscal responsibility is laughably hypocritical - after throwing around multi trillions of taxpayer dollars, much of it on wasteful payoffs to Democratic constituencies, a 30-60 billion dollar commitment essential to the nation’s security becomes “a concern”. Obama’s heart isn’t in it - Obama’s interest in national security, as Mark Steyn has noted, is to be able to socialize the country before an irritating distraction like a nuclear attack occurs.
Still, Obama's Afghan surge is about the best we could have hoped for from this president.
Considering his radical background, his multilateralist, internationalist ideology, his party affiliation (to Democrats, all conflicts are potential Vietnams), and his penchant for making a political calculation on every issue, it’s remarkable that he’s going as far as he is. Andrew Ferguson (Weekly Standard) pointed out that Obama is the first Democratic president to authorize a large troop deployment in 40 years. The troop level he chose is not optimal but it is far more than the defeatist wing of the party would have liked. The administration only floated Joke Biden’s minimalist approach to fighting the war so that Obama’s final decision would appear bold by comparison. Obama talked about merely stopping the Taliban’s momentum instead of crushing them, but, thinking charitably, this may be just an attempt to manage expectations. And he did use the word "defeat" as in, "Our overarching goal remains the same - to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future". Importantly, by choosing to surge in Afghanistan, Obama is implicitly suggesting that President Bush made the correct decision by surging in Iraq and that he (Obama) was wrong to oppose that move.
When this president makes a correct call, rare as it is, and especially in the face of angry criticism from his most fervent supporters, it should be celebrated.
Conservative commentary on the Obama’s decision has ranged from cautiously optimistic (Bill Kristol) to lukewarm (NR editors) to strongly negative – for not making a stronger committment (Ralph Peters). One contrarian conservative viewpoint was provided by John R. Miller (NRO). Miller argues that Iraq is strategically important and therefore worth fighting for, whereas Afghanistan is not. The flaw in this thinking should be obvious – Afghanistan wasn’t “strategically important" before 9/11 either. The parameters for deciding what constitutes strategic importance is different than it used to be. The dangers we face today are not necessarily restricted to large nations with large militaries. We should have learned this lesson by now.
As for Obama’s speech itself, the National Review editors had this to say.
The speech was by turns defensive, graceless, intellectually mushy, and annoyingly self-righteous. Most of what he said will soon be forgotten, and deserves to be. What will endure is the policy, and on that — most important — Obama made basically the right call.
The speech was typical Obama – too long, gaseous, self-referential, unfocused at times and of course, it contained a few sneaky swipes at Bush. However, it also included some noble truths, including this segment where he sounds downright Bushian.
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions – from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank – that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings
We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades – a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.
For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation’s resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for – and what we continue to fight for – is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.
Obama would do well to make these points when he goes to visit the ingrates who "haven’t always thanked us" or when he speaks to the collected oppressors infesting the UN.
As an aside. I noted previously (11/25) that some of my language may have been co-opted by a couple of esteemed columnists. Well, now it appears that my blog may have provided inspiration to the President of the United States. I wrote (in a separate post, also on 11/25),
"...That we provide this service (a defensive umbrella to various nations) free of charge is a fact not emphasized (to put it mildly) in the president's 'we're so sorry for being arrogant' speeches".
"We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades..."