Barack Obama probably wouldn't be president if he hadn't taken a strong
stand against the war in Iraq. He was an underdog to Sen. Hillary
Clinton when the Democratic primaries began, and needed an issue to
distinguish himself from her. He chose her vote to authorize the war.
The strategy worked. Mr. Obama gained the support of the antiwar Left,
which was crucial in the early primaries.
After he wrapped up the nomination, Mr. Obama talked less about Iraq,
partly because the extreme position he had taken wasn't as appealing to
a general election electorate, partly because by the summer of 2008 it
was clear the troop surge was working.
But even during the Democratic primaries Mr. Obama talked about another
war, the war in Afghanistan. That was the important war, he said. He'd
beef up the U.S. presence there.
Strategically, Mr. Obama's emphasis on Afghanistan was nutty. Iraq, a
populous, oil rich country in the heart of the Arab world, is
strategically critical. Afghanistan is a backward bywater.
But politically, it made a great deal of sense. The moonbats, thrilled
by his opposition to the war in Iraq, overlooked Mr. Obama's hawkish
rhetoric about Afghanistan. And no Republican could accuse him of being
weak on national security. He wasn't against fighting America's
enemies; he just wanted to fight them in the right place.
But a national security policy designed chiefly for its effects on
domestic politics has its drawbacks. President Obama says little about
Iraq these days, since he's essentially following George W. Bush's
strategy there. And Afghanistan where he has announced he will boost
U.S. troop strength by 17,000 has become "his" war.
That war isn't going well. "Nearly every indicator in Afghanistan is
heading in the wrong direction," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said in a
speech Feb 25. "The number of insurgent attacks was higher every single
week in 2008 than during the same week in 2007."
With the war in Iraq all but over, the antiwar Left is developing a
predictable queasiness about Afghanistan. "We've seen a hopeful
presidency, Lyndon Johnson's presidency, burn up in the furnace of war,"
President Obama's onetime pal, former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers,
said in an interview Feb. 23. "I fear that this brilliant young man,
could easily burn their prospect of a great presidency in the war in
President Obama has ordered an interagency review of U.S. policy in
Afghanistan, to be completed before the NATO summit meeting in April.
Such a review is long overdue.
"It's our own failed policies that are the problem," Sen. McCain said.
"We have tried to win this war without enough troops, without sufficient
economic aid, without effective coordination, and without a clear
There is no doubt egregious unforced errors have greatly complicated the
situation in Afghanistan. Lewis Irwin, a professor at Duquesne
university and a colonel in the Army Reserve who spent six months in
2007-2008 as an advisor to the Afghan national police, described in an
off the record discussion with the editorial board of the Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette mind-blowing examples of insularity and lack of
coordination between the U.S. military and civilian agencies, and
between the U.S. and other NATO governments. But the fundamental
strategic situation is this: we cannot lose in Afghanistan as long as we
maintain a major military presence there. But we cannot win as long as
the Taliban has a safe haven in Pakistan.
Afghanistan has become the principal front in the war on terror, and
that's curious, because we are fighting there the Taliban, not al Qaida.
The Taliban are evil mean nasty rotten guys, but they want to control
Afghanistan, not blow up shopping malls in Miami.
We can't just walk away from Afghanistan, as the antiwar Left would like
to do. But we need a clear-headed understanding of what our strategic
goals are there, what it is likely to cost to achieve them, and whether
the American people are willing to bear that cost.