Jewish World Review
Sept. 23, 2009
/ 5 Tishrei 5770
"Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed."
Thanks to Bob Woodward, the Washington Post's ever-open drop for leaked documents, the American people have the benefit of the latest report and recommendations from the commanding general of NATO forces in Afghanistan. The front-page headline sums up the 66-page analysis from the general and its stark conclusion: "McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure' "
Talk about a feeling of deja vu: The grim picture painted by General Stanley McChrystal sounds much like the one that faced the previous commander-in-chief in Iraq back in 2006, when defeat seemed not only in prospect but already in process.
That president and commander-in-chief had a choice: (a) accept defeat, which would of course be called an orderly withdrawal, or (b) stake all on a new strategy and new troops to carry it out with no guarantee of success.
Heeding the counsel of a general named Petraeus, and a couple of maverick senators named McCain and Lieberman, George W. Bush refused to accept defeat. Instead, he approved what came to be known as the Surge. It succeeded, thanks to the Lord of Hosts and the armed forces of the United States, not necessarily in that order, for the Lord helps those who help themselves.
It succeeded, lest we forget, at no little sacrifice. The military funerals here in Arkansas alone testify to the cost of that success. Now, unless the fruits of that Surge are frittered away, Iraq may complete the transformation from sad debacle to one more victory in this long, long war on terror, or whatever it is now called in Washington well-appointed offices far removed from the dust, din and blood of battle.
Now another president faces another momentous decision, this time in a war Barack Obama used to say had to be won. Faced by declining support for that war, the new president is sending mixed signals. Yes, he's already dispatched fresh troops to Afghanistan, but he has yet to endorse any new strategy there, let alone the one being recommended by the new American commander.
And while this president dithers, support for the war ebbs. The same sort of senators who opposed the Surge in Iraq there was a time when Barack Obama was among them can be counted on to find excuses for not supporting a bold new strategy in Afghanistan. And when politicians are looking for a way to dodge a decision that could prove as unpopular as it is necessary, any excuse will do.
Case in point: Carl Levin, the senator from Indecision, who would prefer to hand the war off to the Afghans themselves. Who wouldn't? Unfortunately, it's more than clear that Afghanistan's flailing government and still nascent army are far from ready to shoulder that responsibility.
If the president is looking for more realistic counsel, he might consult with someone like Ike Skelton, who represents the dwindling old Harry Truman-Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party when it comes to military affairs and national security in general. At 77, Mr. Skelton chairs the House Armed Services Committee, and he speaks plain. Which figures; he's from Missouri, Harry Truman country. And this is what Ike Skelton said on the eighth anniversary this month of the September 11th attacks on America:
"Now is not the time to lose our resolve. We must give our forces the time and resources they need to show progress in the fight against the enemies responsible for the attacks of 9/11." He might as well have been Britain's Margaret Thatcher telling another president, George Herbert Walker Bush, that now was no time to go wobbly after Saddam Hussein had seized Kuwait,
Direct, plain-spoken Ike Skelton is no Churchillian orator, and he's certainly not as articulate as Barack Obama, who can explain both sides of any thorny question, split the difference, and leave his listeners wondering only about where he's finally come down, if he has. Afghanistan is still one of those questions hanging in the balance at White House. How it is resolved will say a lot not just about this president but also about the prospects for freedom and security in this world.
If this commander-in-chief is looking for excuses to lose the war in Afghanistan, with all the strategic dangers so wobbly a course would raise for this country, its NATO allies, and neighboring countries in the region like Pakistan, then he'll find no shortage of such excuses in the counsels of his own party. Some of the same voices who were ready to give up on Iraq a few years ago can be heard urging the same fearful counsel where Afghanistan is concerned.
The new American commander there now has come up with a clear if sobering assessment, and a strategy to go with it. But the word from the White House is neither Stop nor Go, but Wait. At the moment the only clear strategy being followed is to temporize. And it is a dangerous one. For the one sure requirement for victory in Afghanistan or anywhere else is the support of public opinion at home. And every day that passes without strong presidential leadership, the more support for this war will dribble away. It was said long ago: If the sound of the trumpet be uncertain, who shall prepare to do battle?
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