White House Not Feeling the Love

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee December 3, 2009 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to examine President Obama's plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee December 3, 2009 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to examine President Obama's plan to send more troops to Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

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.

E. J. Dionne

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.

Andrew Bacevich

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.

Nicholas Kristof

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.

George Will

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.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Furhead says:

    Zakaria has similar complaints about the timeline, but overall I think he’s positive. I’d be curious to know what Mr. Schuler thinks of his opinion:

    Fareed Zakaria on Afghan plan

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m skeptical of the possibility of accomplishing anything worthwhile in Afghanistan in the near term. I’m further skeptical of the value of securing the large cities from a strategic sense. Unless Mr. Zakaria is defining “population center” in a very eccentric manner or he’s counting an enormous number of them, I think he’s wrong about 70% of the Afghan people being in the “population centers”. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is overwhelmingly rural. My reckoning is that it’s closer to 30%.

    I’ve posted on this subject before either here or at my own blog.

  3. Furhead says:

    Thanks. I was just kind of feeling out your opinion on him in general as I’m reading one of his books.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    I believe it was former Sen. Fred Thompson who said Obama’s dithering made it clear his heart was not in it and we have effectively already lost because of that. The timetable supports that lack of resolve to win.

  5. LaurenceB says:

    As long as we’re speculating: What would be the effect if Osama Bin Laden were captured or killed in the next year and a half, and if it could be partly attributed to the “Obama surge?”

    That sounds like a good time for “declare victory and go home” to me – and a huge win for Obama.

    As long as we’re speculating.

  6. Franklin says:

    I believe it was former Sen. Fred Thompson who said Obama’s dithering made it clear his heart was not in it and we have effectively already lost because of that. The timetable supports that lack of resolve to win.

    That quote would demonstrate why Fred Thompson knows nothing. Thank goodness some people think before they act.

  7. sam says:

    I believe it was former Sen. Fred Thompson who said

    Great source. I was just reading his book Asymmetrical Warfare and the Art of Television Acting. Superb.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    I can’t believe E.J. Dionne said something worthwhile. He’s dead right. Obama made a speech calculated to bring on board Wilsonians and Jacksonians, and then in a single line about pulling out in 18 months to assure Jeffersonians of a limited commitment, Obama outraged Jacksonians who felt that he was not properly supporting the mission with the necessary resources. Whatever school of foreign policy one adheres to, it’s not the Jeffersonians that are going to support sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan when we’ve been there for eight years.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    Fareed Zakaria had my favorite comment following the President’s speech. He interrupted somebody to plaintively ask that we stop making such a big deal about corruption. [applause]

    Corruption is the mother’s milk of representative government. The government should be seeking the support of power brokers, distributing jobs to the influential and particularly bringing dangerous, volatile elements into the coalition.

  10. Steve Plunk says:

    Franklin and Sam, instead of bad mouthing Thompson let’s talk about what he said. It’s clear Obama’s indecision undermines confidence in the United States while his timetable undermines confidence in Afghanistan. PD points out a similar take on his failure to please anyone. Really, why so long a wait just to get a wishy washy plan?

  11. sam says:

    It’s clear Obama’s indecision undermines confidence in the United States

    Crystal clear to you, Steve.

  12. sam says:

    And BTW, if Obama’s indecision undermines, etc., what did 8 years of Bush neglect do?