There is no more solemn duty as President than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harmâ€™s way. I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani borderâ€”President Barack Obama, February 2009
Until Iâ€™m satisfied that weâ€™ve got the right strategy, Iâ€™m not going to be sending some young man or woman over there, beyond what we already have. Iâ€™m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for the durationâ€”President Barack Obama, September 2009
What a difference a few months make.
We all remember Barack Obamaâ€™s statements criticizing former President George Bushâ€™s actions when it came to Afghanistan. Obama accused him of â€œindecision,â€ of not acting quickly enough in removing troops from Iraq so they could be deployed against the Taliban in Afghanistan, where â€œthe real conflictâ€ was. Claiming that Bush was only â€œtinkering around the edges and kicking the can down the road to the next president,â€ Obama appeared to be portraying himself as a true hawk against terrorism, at least when it came to Afghanistan.
In light of the statements he made back then, it would seem self-evident that an urgent request today for more troops because of the deteriorating situation on the ground — a request made by the man in charge of the operation — would be met by the president with two questions: â€œhow many troops do you need?â€ and â€œwhen do you need them?â€
In the topsy-turvy world of the Obama administration, however, things are rarely self-evident.
And yet, that exact request was made of the president just last week by U.S. and NATO Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of forces on the ground in Afghanistan. In a grim assessment that was leaked to the press, the General warned that a
failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near termâ€¦risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.
Remarkably, according to a report by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!, McChrystalâ€™s request is being â€œreviewedâ€ by the president, who â€œremains skeptical about the need for more US troops in Afghanistan.â€
The Generalâ€™s assessment is quite clear. Without those additional troops:
we will be defeated in Afghanistan.
He goes on to say that:
Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure
The president, now showing the same indecision he accused Bush of succumbing to, says that while he is â€œconsideringâ€ McChrystalâ€™s assessment of the situation, he will be â€œvery deliberateâ€ in deciding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan because â€œmy determination is to get this right.”
Obama said he wants to hear not only from the military, but also from civilian and diplomatic quarters:
One of the things that I’m absolutely clear about is, you have to get the strategy right and then make determinations about resources. You don’t make determinations about resources — certainly you don’t make determinations about sending your men and women into battle — without having absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be.
Has the president forgotten why we are there, or what the ramifications of our failure in Afghanistan would be?
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for one, has not:
For the sake of our long-term security, we should support the McChrystal Plan. Anything less would confirm Al Qaedaâ€™s view that America lacks the strength and the resolve to endure a long war.
McConnell is quite right. This is not a time for dithering. Failure in Afghanistan is not an option.