Archive for Friday, December 4, 2009

Obama’s call to arms lacks conviction

December 4, 2009


— We shall fight in the air, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, we shall fight in the hills — for 18 months. Then we start packing for home.

We shall never surrender — unless the war gets too expensive, in which case, we shall quote Eisenhower on “the need to maintain balance in and among national programs” and then insist that “we can’t simply afford to ignore the price of these wars.”

The quotes are from President Obama’s West Point speech announcing the Afghanistan troop surge. What a strange speech it was — a call to arms so ambivalent, so tentative, so defensive.

Which made his last-minute assertion of “resolve unwavering” so hollow. It was meant to be stirring. It fell flat. In August, he called Afghanistan “a war of necessity.” On Tuesday night, he defined “what’s at stake” as “the common security of the world.” The world, no less. Yet, we begin leaving in July 2011?

Does he think that such ambivalence is not heard by the Taliban, by Afghan peasants deciding which side to choose, by Pakistani generals hedging their bets, by NATO allies already with one foot out of Afghanistan?

Nonetheless, most supporters of the Afghanistan War were satisfied. They got the policy, the liberals got the speech. The hawks got three-quarters of what Gen. Stanley McChrystal wanted — 30,000 additional U.S. troops — and the doves got a few soothing words. Big deal, say the hawks.

But it is a big deal. Words matter because will matters. Success in war depends on three things: a brave and highly skilled soldiery, such as the U.S. military 2009, the finest counterinsurgency force in history; brilliant, battle-tested commanders such as Gens. David Petraeus and McChrystal, fresh from the success of the surge in Iraq; and the will to prevail as personified by the commander in chief.

There’s the rub. And that is why at such crucial moments, presidents don’t issue a policy paper. They give a speech. It gives tone and texture. It allows their policy to be imbued with purpose and feeling. This one was festooned with hedges, caveats and one giant exit ramp.

No one expected Obama to do a Henry V or a Churchill. But Obama could not even manage a George W. Bush, who, at an infinitely lower ebb in power and popularity, opposed by the political and foreign policy establishments and dealing with a war effort in far more dire straits, announced his surge — Iraq 2007 — with outright rejection of withdrawal or retreat. His implacability was widely decried at home as stubbornness, but heard loudly in Iraq by those fighting for and against us as unflinching — and salutary — determination.

Obama’s surge speech wasn’t a commander in chief’s, but a politician’s, perfectly splitting the difference. Two messages for two audiences. Placate the right — you get the troops; placate the left — we are on our way out.

And apart from Obama’s own personal commitment is the question of his ability as a wartime leader. If he feels compelled to placate his left with an exit date today — while he is still personally popular, with large majorities in both houses of Congress, and even before the surge begins — how will he stand up to the left when the going gets tough and the casualties mount, and he really has to choose between support from his party and success on the battlefield?

Despite my personal misgivings about the possibility of lasting success against Taliban insurgencies in both Afghanistan and the borderlands of Pakistan, I have deep confidence that Petraeus and McChrystal would not recommend a strategy that will be costly in lives, without their having a firm belief in the possibility of success.

I would therefore defer to their judgment and support their recommended policy. But the fate of this war depends not just on them. It depends on the president. We cannot prevail without a commander in chief committed to success. And this commander in chief defended his exit date (versus the straw man alternative of “open-ended” nation-building) thusly: “because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”

Remarkable. Go and fight, he tells his cadets — some of whom may not return alive — but I may have to cut your mission short because my real priorities are domestic.

Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?


lounger 6 years, 10 months ago

At least he presented a plan. It total contrast to the previous administration who had NO plan for eight years....

Paul R Getto 6 years, 10 months ago

The president reflects the public ambivalence on this war. We need to get out, NOW! Anyone who has read the history of this tribal "country" should be able to see that. Iraq was a cakewalk compared to the horrors we are about to inflict on our brave military and our national treasure.

miker 6 years, 10 months ago

Impeachment ? what is yer Criteria ? Deliberate Thoughtfulness ? Can't wait for yer zinger !

Bryan Moore 6 years, 10 months ago

Marion, What the heck are you going to impeach him for? Making decisions? What are his "high crimes and misdemeanors"? Disagreeing with your view of how things should be done is not a crime. Just as a contemporary reference the senate report (II) on Iraq intelligence said the Bush Admin knowing used false intelligence to promote the invasion of Iraq and we didn't impeach him. What has Obama done that even remotely rises to the level of starting a war which caused the deaths of thousands of our sons and daughters all based on lies? Put up or shut up!

75x55... yes seriously! What was the plan for Afghanistan in the last administration? There was no surge, no exit plan, what was Bush's plan?

The general concensus on Afghanistan is that it is unwinnable. A foreign army can't outlast a home grown insurgency. Bin laden is in Pakistan. Omar is in Pakistan. They will return to Pakistan when we leave, be it 18 months or 18 years. We're fighting to stabilize a country lead by a man who stole the last election. The populous has an 80% illiteracy rate. The country has lousy roads where they have them at all. Its mountains provide infinite cover for taliban and al Qaida to snipe at our troops and disappear and despite some peoples wishes they are not stupid enough to fight us in an open head to head combat. The army insurgency manual says we need about a half a million troops to stabilize the country so 30,000 or 60,000 more doesn't get us anywhere close to that. We are building schools and roads in Afghanistan while we let our schools fall apart or shut them down completely and allow our roads and bridges to go without maintenance and inspection. We ship food and medical supplys to Afghanistan while our homeless and unemployed go hungry and without proper healthcare and medicine. Given all of that what's your plan? Charles? Marion? 75x55? Vanguard3? Stop whining for just one minute and tell us your plan and what winning looks like in your eyes.

And Vanguard 3 everything Obama has to deal with is a direct result of what Bush left him. He did not start the war. He did not manage the first seven years of it. He did not run off to Iraq to get the guy that threatened his daddy leaving 7 years for the Taliban and Al Qaida regroup, resupply and build up it's ranks. This is now Obama's war from this point on and his political fortunes will be forever tied to this stratagem but it does not exist in a vacuum. You can make lemonade when someone gives you lemons but you still have to supply the sugar and the water. Let's wait and see how it tastes when he is done. I remember very few people liking Bush's Iraq surge lemonade when he unveiled it after a long deliberation but it turned out to be quite refreshing. Lets give Obama the same chance.

jayhawklawrence 6 years, 10 months ago

One of the biggest problems in our country today is the loss of objectivity and honest reasoning based on facts.

For Krauthammer's views to have any credibility, he would have to point out the failings of the Republican leadership, which are great and point out the good points of the Democratic leaders which are many. Both sides have good and bad points.

A recent article in this paper elaborated on the loss of our ability to reason. I believe this constant criticism of a political party simply because it is not YOUR political party is bad for our country. I believe most of these people would damage our country for their own benefit.

I too do not like all of what my President is doing, however, I respect him as President and as a man. I would not be inclined to judge him with my only motivation being to destroy his presidency.

I guess I am hoping for a Jimmy Stewart type of character to arise from the mess of our political system and reaffirm our American ideals.

I am tired of people like Krauthammer and the people who follow him like zombies off the cliff into the sea.

Kirk Larson 6 years, 10 months ago

Bush did so have a plan: Let it ride until someone else has to deal with it.

leedavid 6 years, 10 months ago

lounger (Anonymous) says…

"At least he presented a plan. It total contrast to the previous administration who had NO plan for eight years…."

You are aware the Pentagon plans wars, right? Maybe you did not like the plan of the previous administration, but there was a plan. What will be fun to watch is the left thinks they can do in 18 months that which could not be done for almost eight years, by the US, and even longer by the former Soviet Union. I can not wait to see how this all works out.

temperance 6 years, 10 months ago

"What will be fun to watch is the left thinks they can do in 18 months that which could not be done for almost eight years,"

Why will more of our soldiers dying be "fun" to watch? I think it's a lost cause, too, but I'm not cheering for Obama to fail like you are. Why do you hate America?

Bryan Moore 6 years, 10 months ago

Leedavid The Pentagon gives different plans to the President and the President picks one, combines a couple of them or provides an alternative. The pentagon has no power to execute those plans without the Presidents approval. So what was the plan before Obama? Tell me please. Also if this is the wrong plan what is the right one? You seem to say we can't outlast them (unless you think we should be in the country for 25 - 50 or 100 years) but leaving is wrong. What do you want to see done? What's your sure fire fix for this mess?

leedavid 6 years, 10 months ago

Temperance, I am cheering for Obama to be wildly successful. As go Obama so goes the nation. Please show me one time saying I hope Obama fails. We say the same thing and you attack me for something I never said. Why? Just curious.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 10 months ago

Obama's mistake is trying to appease warmongers like Krauthammer. This surge in Afghanistan won't work, just as the surge in Iraq didn't work-- it merely coincided and slightly reinforced a lull in the civil war which has been the only tangible result of BushCo's war. When it cranks up again, likely when it becomes obvious that the upcoming elections either won't happen, or are a total fraud, US service people will begin dying in large numbers again-- unless we get them out as soon as possible.

Republican policies have been monumental failures in every aspect. Obama needs to fully accept that fact, and quit trying to tidy up the messes that decades Republican and DLC policies have wrought by making minor tweaks to those policies.

Republicans will never like you, Obama, so quit trying to make them.

leedavid 6 years, 10 months ago


The plan for the last three years has been to train Afghanistan forces and to hold security until they could take over their country. Do me a favor, check out

You will notice our efforts have fallen apart in 2009, while this was all happening, how long did it take to come up with this "Plan" and how many died while waiting? I'll give you a hint: This has been the deadliest year, July - Oct the deadliest months. A new plan was crafted in August. How do you explain that?

beawolf 6 years, 10 months ago

Marion is a total idiot as proven by his "impeachment" comment. Just ignore him. He'll never go away because he needs these forums to justify his self-importance, but reading his comments are a waste of time.

As far a Krauthammer's article, he's actually pulling his punches on this one as there is so little to argue against. He has it all wrong though, instead of being dispirited, I would think the troops would be ecstatic that they will eventually be coming home.

Bryan Moore 6 years, 10 months ago

Leedavid OK the last 3 years of which 10 months are under Obama we had a plan now what was going on the 6 years before that? While the Taliban licked their wounds, built their ranks, and regrouped, Bush did what? As far as casualties which seemed to be the point of your link, we sent in 17,000 more troops in 2009 a 50% increase. More men in the fight will result in more casualties. As far as "July to October being the deadliest months of 2009" those were also the deadliest months of every year. Mainly with a very few exceptions the Taliban fights in summer not winter. Now back to my question genius what is your plan? We going to outlast them (they live there)? You going to throw a half a million men into this (that's probably going to increase casualties which you seem to think is "falling apart"). You going to cut and run and be labeled a coward? How much debt are you willing to place upon my grandchildren's shoulders, these things cost money and we can't keep borrowing it from China? You now have ten minutes to decide a comprehensive military, political and social plan because any delay would mean a service member dies just "waiting". You're on the clock! GO!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

Leaving Obama this messy messy war stinks face it.

If the Bush family of politicians were behind bars perhaps then I might be happy. USA taxpayers should be demanding big time investigations instead of overlooking high crimes otherwise it tells the criminal element that robbing banks and fabricating material to start wars is OKAY.

  Author: Bush knew Iraq had no WMD - TODAY PeopleAug 5, 2008 ... directive to forge the document as “a complete fabrication.” ... “Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq from the very first days he was in ...

If BUSHCO had not invaded and occupied the mideast 6000 soldiers would still be alive and our economy might have survived the latest bank robbery.

The republican party are masters at putting millions upon millions upon millions of people out of work. All they do with a remarkable degree of consistency is wreck the economy,initiate huge movements of shipping jobs abroad aka the Reagan-Bush Global Economy and try to wreck social security and medicare.

Is there a definite pattern? Absolutely!

  1. The Reagan/ Bush Home Loan Scandal

  2. The Bush/Cheney Home Loan Scandal

  3. What did Bush and Henry Paulson do with the bail out money?

  4. Why did GW Bush Lie About Social Security?( This would cost taxpayers $4 trillion and wreck the economy)

The problem with putting more war resources into the middle east = the more lives are lost and the more equipment that will be left behind and our economy will struggle longer.

Bring em home!

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

The people who actually committed the crime were living a few blocks away from NSA headquarters and General Hayden. The FBI was never given the authority to pursue the culprits. Thus 9/11/01. All of these people died on 9/11/01.

Hunting down the "bad guys" should not involve wiping out hundreds of thousands of innocent people who had nothing to do with it. Drones don't give a damn who they kill.

Paranoid soldiers kill by mistake because the bad guys are not a large contingent of people. Furthermore they don't wear uniforms. They have no idea who they are looking for.

Killing innocent men,women and children is destroying some of our soldiers who cannot get it out of their minds.

Hunting down the bad guys does not need a huge show of military force but a more quiet covert action. Afghanistan did not attack the USA. Neither have Iran,Iraq,Pakistan nor any other country in the mideast.

There is a large contingency of victims who do not support more killing of innocent humans and destruction.

gogoplata 6 years, 10 months ago

"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."

jimmyjms 6 years, 10 months ago

"Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?"

Um, I can think of one...where was Chuck's pessimistic attitude back in 2003?

Flap Doodle 6 years, 10 months ago

Too bad Dear Leader can't send some SEIU thugs to lean on the Taliban.

MyName 6 years, 10 months ago

I'm sorry, but any column that takes about Obama somehow "losing the war in 9 months" but doesn't mention the fact that we could have fought World Wars I and II in the same period of time we've been over in Afghanistan can't be considered to be anything but a partisan hack piece.

If we beat Hitler in 4.5 years, and haven't captured Osama bin Ladin in 9 years, then maybe the military is stuck in an unwinnable war.

sloppyscience 6 years, 10 months ago

Here's something I don't understand. Conservatives are currently lamenting the fact that Obama and dems in general want to put a time table on operations. They claim the terrorists will simply hunker down and stop fighting to wait out the clock, wait for our withdrawl and then resume fighting once we leave. But couldn't that same theoretical strategy be used against the Republican plan? If the terrorists are smart enough to say, "hey they're leaving in 18 months let's just sit tight until then", wouldn't they also be smart enough to say, "hey, they're planning on staying until the region is stable. Let's disappear for a couple years and then when they leave will resume blowing things up." Just seems like an argument with no legs.

gogoplata 6 years, 10 months ago

Don't confuse true conservatives with Neocons. I am a conservative who believes we should bring the military home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from the majority of the rest of the world we have troops stationed. George Bush ran on an antiwar platform against Gore in 2000. He turned out to be a great liar just like Obama is proving to be.

This latest move by Obama further cements my belief that most of the partisan bickering between liberals and conservatives is pointless because in the end the 2 parties actions are not much different. On most issues it seems the 2 party system is just one giant monster with 2 heads.

Big government is the real enemy of the people. It doesn't matter if it is lead by the republicans or the democrats. Needless war is a big government policy.

BigPrune 6 years, 10 months ago

Is Marion advocating "gentle anarchy?" :)

bondmen 6 years, 10 months ago

Meanwhile Obama's call to take arms (from domestic owners) is still being considered by Obamaczars and Attorney General Holder. If enacted and enforced there'll be enough conviction to go around.

George Lippencott 6 years, 10 months ago

For those of you who want to end it now, what are your perspectives on what happens if we do?

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