"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way." – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859
"This Dickens guy sure kept his butt covered, didn't he?" – Cliff Clavin, Cheers, 1991
Cliffy's funny statement about the intended contradictions in the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities could easily apply to President Barack Obama, particularly – though not limited to – his foreign policy and more specifically, his Afghanistan military policy.
In general, Obama has set himself up to be inconsistent on so many levels. On some issues, he has presided way to the Left of where he campaigned. On others, he held fast to Bush policies that he decried during the campaign. When asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, he said yes but then amazingly stripped away the idea of American exceptionalism by equating it to British and Greek exceptionalism (?!).
Obama thinks he can say two contradicting things at the same time. He can be a faithful follower of Reverend Wright for 20 years while supposedly rejecting Wright's worldview. He can support unspecific democratic ideals while turning his back on an Iranian uprising or a democratic recovery in Honduras. He can declare gay and straight people equal and the same while opposing gay marriage. And yes, he can simultaneously take the country to war and end that war in practically the same breath.
What Obama's position on Afghanistan does succeed in doing is make one clear statement: the far-left positions on the war on terror are foolish and void of serious consideration. If there was any credibility to the idea that war didn't solve anything, that it only made more enemies and created more terrorists, that we could settle the matter of 9/11 by simply capturing Osama bin Laden…then wouldn't this president be announcing the end of the war rather than the, albeit temporary, escalation?
Today, a minority of Americans support the Afghanistan conflict. We have a far-left president in office who is all but curtseying to the religion of Islam, a president who swears up and down on the power of limitless diplomacy, who can make friends with our enemies, who can bring peace to the world by committing to eliminating nuclear weapons and backing down from rivals. We have a Democratic controlled Congress who repeatedly tried to undermine President Bush and the military during Bush's last term. We have everything in place to bring our post-9/11 presence in the Middle East to an immediate conclusion. So why aren't we?
Simply put, we aren't because the Leftist desire to weaken America and embrace a Utopian vision of the world has no basis in reality. Even Obama knows this.
"Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war." - Winston Churchill
This Churchill quote aptly applies to today's war against terrorism. It was the case in Iraq, it is the case today in Afghanistan. Showing a ruthless enemy your jugular is a sure fire way to get slashed with a boxcutter. Allowing a hostile takeover of a nation would harm the West and strengthen the fundamentalists across the region. Abandoning a struggling country like Afghanistan would cripple America's standing in the world and tarnish our influence just as our shameful abandonment of South Vietnam harmed the US for years following that war, as well as doomed millions to darkness and destruction.
"A country cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." - Albert Einstein
This is what seems to be Obama's focus. There is no sound reason for announcing a surge with a fixed expiration date, unless that reason is purely political. Battles will be fought and lives will be lost between now and July of 2011. Obama can't micromanage that reality. If the president had said we will bring the troops in, put the strategy in play and then assess the situation at various intervals to later determine our end game, I think more people would be comfortable with that. I can't help but picture 30,000 fans buying tickets and rushing into a stadium with the purpose of hearing a rock band play the last few notes of their encore. It just doesn't make sense.
"It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it." - General Douglas MacArthur
As many have pointed out, Obama introduced his surge strategy by speaking often of when the war will end and the "conclusion". But he doesn't predict how. In other words, he omits what is practically a guarantee from a war time Commander-in-Chief committing troops to a battle: the goal of victory. No talk of winning; little description of the enemy. People accused Bush often for his communication skills (and praise Obama's) but in areas where clarity is a must, Bush could be counted on, even if you didn't like his vision.
I've said often that Obama has the ability to rally the nation and Afghanistan is a perfect opportunity to test that skill. I know that the infinitely brain-dead Chris Matthews viewed Obama's speech at West Point as Obama going into the "enemy camp" but Obama could have killed that perception in ten minutes last Tuesday by committing himself, not as Spender-in-Chief or Appeaser-in-Chief or Doctor-in-Chief or Automaker-in-Chief but as a focused and determined Commander-in-Chief.
"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival." - Winston Churchill
Presidents are judged by their actions but also by their words. No one forced Obama to be wishy-washy and pandering in his Afghanistan strategy. Obama suggested that Americans could rally around a national cause and he's right. But first someone has to tell them what that cause is and why they should rally around it. Personally, I think America is desperate for leadership on the issue of war and would welcome a strong, clear and resolute Obama.
Americans need a president who will do the right thing even when the wrong people are supporting him. Unleashing tens of thousands of troops and committing the world to military expansion in a tough battlefield is not the time to prepare for the next election. If a president does the right thing for the right reasons and people believe in his sincerity, that will serve his legacy better than a president who does what is most pleasing but lacking in sincerity and clarity.
Obama has made the road to victory in Afghanistan much more difficult than it needs to be. He has also made his own path more treacherous, which is often what politicization of policies accomplishes. He won't win over the hawks because he has set an arbitrary deadline without a goal for victory and the doves aren't happy because he set an end to the war but only after expanding it greatly. This is a lose-lose for the nation and for the president.
We should all ask ourselves in the next several weeks: what are Obama's primary principles? Are they to peace regardless of cost? Or are they to the cause of victory? How can anyone possibly know this or trust him on this matter?
"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality." - Dante