Led by a conflicted president of a divided party and nation, America is deepening her involvement in a war in its ninth year with no end in sight.
Only one parallel to Barack Obama’s troop decision comes to mind: the 2007 decision by George W. Bush to ignore the Baker Commission and put Gen. David Petraeus in command of a “surge” of 30,000 troops into Iraq.
That surge succeeded. Baghdad was largely pacified. The Sunni of Anbar, heart of the resistance, accepted Petraeus’ offer of cash and a role in the new Iraq. Together, Americans and Sunni began to eradicate al-Qaida. In July, the surge ended and U.S. troops withdrew from the cities.
In August and October, however, the Finance, Justice and Foreign ministries were bombed. The Sons of Iraq now say the Shia government reneged on its pledge to pay their wages and bring them into the army.
Jockeying in parliament for the inside track to power in January’s elections may force a postponement of the elections, and of the U.S. timetable for withdrawal. Kurds and Arabs are battling over Kirkuk. Iraqis seem to be going back to fighting one another.
What hope can there be then for a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, a larger, wilder, less accessible, more backward country, whose regime is less competent and more corrupt than that in Iraq?
Conservative columnist Tony Blankley, who supported the Iraq war and surge, has come out against more troops in Afghanistan. His reasoning: Obama will be sending many hundreds of young Americans to their deaths and thousands to be wounded in a war about which he himself has doubts.
While it may speak well of Obama as a man that he has reflected, agonized, debated within himself and conducted nine war counsels with scores of advisers before acceding to General McChrystal’s request, what does this say of him as commander in chief?
Whatever one may say against George W. Bush, he was decisive. As was James K. Polk when he sent Winfield Scott to take Mexico City. As was Abraham Lincoln when he congratulated General Sherman on his barbarous March to the Sea. As was Harry Truman, who ordered the dropping of an atom bomb to jolt Tokyo into accepting unconditional surrender.
One may condemn the wars these presidents fought. One may deplore their tactics. But they and the most successful American generals — Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton — were not Hamlets. They did not agonize over why they were fighting or whether it was worth it.
How does a president lead a nation into a war where he is not wholly and heartily committed to victory and from which, say his aides, he is even now planning the earliest possible exit?
When Dwight Eisenhower took office, he concluded that the price of uniting Korea under a pro-U.S. government meant years more of war and scores of thousands more U.S. dead. He decided on an armistice. In six months, the war was over.
Ike was as decisive as Obama is diffident.
From tapes of his conversations with Sen. Richard Russell, LBJ agonized over Vietnam as early as 1964. He worried about the U.S. casualties and whether we could prevail in a country of little interest to him and of no vital strategic interest to the United States.
Out of fear that Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater would call him the first president to lose a war, Johnson plunged in. And rather than win swiftly and brutally as we had with a mighty Japanese Empire, LBJ fought Vietnam as the conflicted war president he was, babbling on about building “a Great Society on the Mekong.”
One senses Obama is escalating for the same reason: He is not so much exhilarated by the prospect of victory and what it will mean as he is fearful of what a Taliban triumph and U.S. defeat would mean for America — and him.
And he is right to be. A U.S. withdrawal leading to a Taliban triumph would electrify jihadists from Marrakech to Mindanao and mark a milestone in the long retreat of American power. Pakistan, having cast its lot with us, would be in mortal peril. NATO, humiliated in its first war, would become more of a hollow shell than it already is.
To prevent this, Obama plans to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to hold off a resurgent Taliban, even as he plans for their eventual withdrawal.
The United States is today led by a commander in chief who does not believe military victory is possible, who is not sure this war should be fought and who has a timetable in his own mind as to when to draw down our troops. And we face a Taliban that, after eight years of pounding, is stronger than ever, and believes God is on its side and its victory is assured.
Who do we think is ultimately going to prevail?