The Rolling Stone article that took down Gen. Stanley McChrystal reported that the president “didn’t seem very engaged” during his early meetings with McChrystal. The general was frustrated by Obama’s slow-motion review and re-review of his administration’s own stated policy of an Afghan surge.
It pays to recall that the president entered office by firing McChrystal’s predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, ostensibly to shake things up and goad the military into action in Afghanistan. But when McChrystal, following the president’s lead, asked for the resources necessary to win what the president called a “war of necessity”—including 40,000 additional troops—the president blinked and balked, ruminated and reviewed.
The president ultimately concluded that “it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan,” before promising that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”
Now we know why the president dithered over McChrystal’s request. It simply wasn’t what he wanted.
“I want an exit strategy,” Woodward quotes him as saying. Note that the president isn’t talking here about Iraq—the war that, in his words, “distract[ed] us from Afghanistan and the real threat from al Qaeda.” He’s talking about Afghanistan, “the good war.”
As a candidate and as a commander-in-chief, the president has often employed this politically effective, if spurious, argument that Iraq was a war of choice that diverted attention and resources from a war of necessity in Afghanistan.
It was a politically effective argument because it allowed him to brandish a tough position on national security. But it was disingenuous because he is now and always has been uncomfortable with the application of U.S. power anywhere, as underscored by his demand for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, his embarrassingly drawn-out response to McChrystal’s request for more troops in 2009, his timetable for withdrawal, and his bizarre notion that it’s somehow in America’s “vital national interest” to fight for Afghanistan—but only until next July.
What this president apparently doesn’t understand is that vital national interests don’t have expiration dates, and letting the Taliban know when the U.S. military will end its offensive makes victory difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
But thanks to Woodward, we are learning that losing Afghanistan is apparently no more important than losing the Democratic Party.
Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.
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