Let us now praise Barack Obama.
Someone should. The left, weary of the effort in Afghanistan, is uneasy about the appointment of General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal—sensing that this was not the action of a president laying the groundwork for getting out. Conservatives, deeply (and correctly) suspicious of much of the rest of Obama’s foreign policy, can’t quite bring themselves to believe that the president may actually be doing the right thing…
an we be confident that Obama is really going for victory? I think so. Consider his speech Wednesday, when he announced the replacement of McChrystal with Petraeus. After referring to our “vital mission” in Afghanistan, to doing “whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan, and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda,” he urged us “to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere.”
Obama didn’t say we persist and we persevere—but only until July 2011. Indeed, Obama never mentioned that date, and he never mentioned withdrawal.
I certainly don’t want to be more Catholic than the Pope (or more Jewish than the Chief Rabbi), but I hesitate to contribute any deep convictions to Obama on the subject of Afghanistan.
For a good look at the military situation, I recommend the latest from Fred & Kim Kagan. Their assessment of what went wrong in Marja is especially noteworthy:
The attempt to import “governance” rapidly into the area is faltering, which is not surprising considering the haste with which the operation was conducted (driven at least partly by the perceived pressure of the president’s July 2011 timeline). The attempt was also ill-conceived. Governance plans for Marjah emphasized extending the influence of the central government to an area that supported insurgents precisely because it saw the central government as threatening and predatory. Although ISAF persuaded President Hamid Karzai to remove the most notorious malign actor in the area from power, Karzai allowed him to remain in the background, stoking fears among the people that he would inevitably return. The incapacity of the Afghan government to deliver either justice or basic services to its people naturally led to disappointment as well, partly because ISAF’s own rhetoric had raised expectations to unrealistic levels.