White House Not Feeling the Love
I suspect that the White House is not particularly feeling the love in the reactions of various different pundits to President Obama’s announcement that he will send an additional 30,000 U. S. troops to Afghanistan.
Note what’s going on here: Obama’s efforts to persuade enough skeptics — especially in his own party — by placing a limit on how long we will stay and by trying to separate Afghanistan from Iraq earned him only reproofs from the other party. Heads, Obama loses with the doves; tails, he loses with the hawks. There is not a large market for owls claiming the wisdom of the middle way.
Under the guise of cleaning up Bush’s mess, Obama has chosen to continue Bush’s policies. No doubt pulling the plug on an ill-advised enterprise involves risk and uncertainty. It also entails acknowledging mistakes. It requires courage. Yet without these things, talk of change will remain so much hot air.
President Lyndon Johnson doubled down on the Vietnam bet soon after he inherited the presidency, and Mikhail Gorbachev escalated the Soviet deployment that he inherited in Afghanistan soon after he took over the leadership of his country. They both inherited a mess — and made it worse and costlier.
As with the Americans in Vietnam, and Soviets in Afghanistan, we understate the risk of a nationalist backlash; somehow Mr. Obama has emerged as more enthusiastic about additional troops than even the corrupt Afghan government we are buttressing.
The president’s party will not support his new policy, his budget will not accommodate it, our overstretched and worn-down military will be hard-pressed to execute it, and Americans’ patience will not be commensurate with Afghanistan’s limitless demands for it. This will not end well.
The president can take some solace in the fact that the prevailing wisdom in the form of the editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post has already provided its imprimatur to the plan. The American people? Not so much:
Before the president’s speech, voters were essentially evenly divided over whether the United States could still win the war in Afghanistan and whether all the troops there should be brought home within a year. Forty-five percent (45%) favored bringing troops home immediately or within a year while 43% opposed such a timetable.
The number of those questioning America’s ability to win and of those supporting a troop withdrawal had been increasing steadily since September when the internal Obama administration debate over Afghanistan became public. That debate was prompted by a request from General Stanley McChrystal, the chief commander in Afghanistan, for a troop surge, but politically speaking, particularly in the president’s own party, an expansion of the war wasn’t a hugely popular idea.
Prior to the speech, Democrats were far more supportive of a troop withdrawal and less confident of winning in Afghanistan than were Republicans and voters not affiliated with either major party.
At the same time, overall voter confidence in America’s conduct of the War on Terror has now fallen to its lowest level since the first week of January in 2007.
Success has many fathers while failure is an orphan. If President Obama’s Afghan surge succeeds, he will be hailed as courageous and statesmanlike, braving the political winds to pursue an ultimately victorious policy. If it fails, he’ll be a goat.
If, as is more than likely, it neither succeeds nor fails but continues the stalemate along the Durand line, partisans of all stripes will seize the opportunity to point out that whatever happened fully justifies the position they held to begin with.