The Corner

Stop the Agonizing

On Friday afternoon, President Obama met with the Joint Chiefs to discuss, according to the New York Times, “how sending more forces might affect the health of the military.” Apparently not satisfied with what he heard, he’s called the Chiefs back for another meeting next week.

Meanwhile, everyone in Washington is trying to ascertain what the president’s decision will be and when it will be announced. That same Times article hinted that an announcement may not even come until after President Obama’s trip to Asia in mid-November, raising the specter that the country, our allies, our enemies, and the men and women fighting and dying in Afghanistan on a daily basis may not know the level of U.S. commitment to success in Afghanistan for weeks to come.

In perhaps the best column on Afghanistan this week, David Brooks hit the nail on the head, focusing less on the debates about military strategy but analyzing what President Obama’s public wavering (some prefer dithering) says about our wartime commander in chief. Brooks notes the widespread uncertainly about how committed the president is to winning in Afghanistan and writes:

So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.

The president’s defenders are correct to point out that he bears a burden that those of us on the outside do not (as evidenced by his trip this week to Dover Air Force Base), but the president is discovering that the presidency is not solely about remaking American society and electing more members of your party to Congress. Making tough decisions to protect the nation, decisions which will likely result in the deaths of young American men and women in uniform, is what he is paid to do. This is something he should have realized when he ran for president. 

In the preface to the first volume of his memoirs, Pres. Harry Truman wrote:

The presidency of the United States carries with it responsibility so personal as to be without parallel.  Very few are ever authorized to speak for the President.  No one can make decisions for him.  No one knows all the processes and stages of his thinking in making important decisions.  Even those closest to him, even members of his immediate family, never know all the reason why he does certain things and why he comes to certain conclusions.  To be President of the United States is to be lonely, very lonely at times of great decisions.

President Obama is now entering his third month of public agonizing over Afghanistan. He should make the decision to support the recommendations of his commanders and the entire military leadership and he should make that decision now.

 — Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Jamie M. Fly — Mr. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative. He served in the office of the secretary of defense and on the National Security Council staff from 2005 to 2009.

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