A conservative's praise for Obama's Afghanistan strategy
Principle matters, and having an American president who is willing to stand by American principles will mean that more nations will stand with us and share our burdens.
Washington — Critics on the left and the right have skewered President Obama for his speech laying out his administration's Afghanistan strategy. From the execrable to the thoughtful, the president's critics have caviled at the tone, the venue, and the content of Obama's war plan.
To be fair to the disgruntled among us, the president ensured over the last few months that his decision would satisfy no one.
Supporters of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's plan were shocked at the White House's apparent willingness to publicly second-guess the president's own handpicked commander. Proponents of quitting Afghanistan were encouraged by the obviously engineered leak of Ambassador Karl Eikenberry's cable opposing the surge. The president's public wavering annoyed our NATO allies and heartened America's adversaries.
Much of the sound and fury around the Afghanistan decision boils down to Washington parlor games: Who's on first? Who leaked what? Who has the president's ear?
As such games become a distraction to the leader of the free world, they become more dangerous. (Ask President George W. Bush how much his postwar Iraq efforts were hurt by bickering between petty bureaucrats of the State and Defense departments.)
At the end of the day, however, it is the decision that matters. And Mr. Obama made what is fundamentally the right decision: to resource a fully fledged counterinsurgency strategy, to answer his commander's request for more troops and accelerate the deployment, to stay and fight a most necessary war.
Some in our little Washington parlor have been surprised by the willingness of those who abhor the president's policies in Iran, China, Burma (Myanmar), and elsewhere to support him nonetheless. It's easy to understand why:
Increasingly, principle takes a back seat to politics in Washington; ironically, too, Obama has been the poster child for the naked politicization of policymaking. (Can anyone in the White House deny the 2012 election cycle was front and center when July 2011 was picked as the arbitrary date to begin withdrawing US forces?)
However, principle matters, not just in the intellectual world, but in the world of realpolitik. And having an American president who is willing to articulate fundamentally American principles, stand by them, and defend them, will mean that more nations will stand with us and share our burdens.
The job ahead is not to parse Obama's body language (who cares if he looked unenthused?) or to smack him around for being indecisive over these last months. It is to ensure that the more worrisome aspects of his strategy, in particular his insistence on an arbitrary date to "end" the war in Afghanistan, do not become the real endgame.
The president chose not to use the word "victory" in his speech, which is a shame, as victory is both an admirable endgame and an exit strategy. Nonetheless, the goals he articulated are worthy: "We must deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
Danielle Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI).