The Agenda

Obama’s Commitment

Citing a McClatchy report on Obama’s commitment to Afghanistan, Peter Feaver writes:

There are few things more toxic for effective civil-military relations in wartime than the military believing that their political commanders are not serious about seeing the conflict through to a successful conclusion. No army can remain more resolved than the Commander-in-Chief is — not for very long, anyway. And once doubts about that resolve seep into the interagency and theater decision-making process, they are very hard to eradicate. Indeed, once entrenched, efforts to rebut them with bold statements of resolve suffer from the “thou doth protest too much” problem and may even reinforce those doubts.

Only one thing could scare me more: If these doubts are based on first-person encounters with President Obama and his top-most national security team. In my experience, even “senior Pentagon officials” can have only vague and dodgy understandings of what the president actually believes. During the Bush years, I sometimes encountered people matching that anonymous source’s description who based their assessments primarily on what they had read in the newspapers, not on any real knowledge of White House discussions. For the time being, then, I am hoping this story is based on a misapprehension of President Obama’s resolve. But I will be watching closely to see if it is based in fact. If so, the Afghanistan mission is in real trouble.

Note that the report comes shortly after President Obama characterized Afghanistan as a “war of necessity.”

Feaver also makes note of George F. Will’s case for withdrawal from Afghanistan, a view that I suspect will gain popularity on the right in the months to come. And if the right turns against the war in Afghanistan, anti-war Democrats, who have been gritting their teeth in deference to the White House, will bolt.  

One of the central problems we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that the Pakistanis are convinced that we aren’t committed to securing Afghanistan, and so they feel obligated to hedge their bets. We’re proving their point. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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