‘War of ne­ces­sity’ not so nec­es­sary?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

“This is not a war of choice,” Barack Obama told the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars on Aug. 17. “This is a war of ne­ces­sity. Those who at­tacked Amer­ica on 9-11 are plot­ting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Tal­iban in­sur­gency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Amer­i­cans. So this is not only a war worth fight­ing. This is fun­da­men­tal to the de­fense of our peo­ple.”

But that was two months ago. Now, it ap­pears that Mr. Obama is about to ig­nore the ad­vice of Army Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal, whom he in­stalled as com­man­der in Afghanistan in May, af­ter re­liev­ing his pre­de­ces­sor ahead of sched­ule. Mr. McChrys­tal, who came up as a Spe­cial Forces of­fi­cer, is an ex­pert in coun­terin­sur­gency. Not sur­pris­ingly, in his Aug. 30 re­port to De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates, he rec­om­mended a course that seems cer­tain to re­quire a sub­stan­tial num­ber of ad­di­tional troops.

Dur­ing the first three weeks of Septem­ber, Mr. Obama held one meet­ing on the “war of ne­ces­sity.” Then, on Sept. 20, Mr. Obama ap­peared on five talk shows to push his health plan. The next day, Bob Wood­ward pub­lished a story in The Wash­ing­ton Post based on a copy of Mr. McChrys­tal’s re­port, which the news­pa­per later posted in redacted form. Mr. Wood­ward made it clear that Mr. McChrys­tal would re­quest more troops. When ques­tion­ers pressed him about the war, he said he was re­think­ing his Afghanistan strat­egy.

The re­think­ing looks a lot like a re­jec­tion of his gen­eral’s rec­om­men­da­tions. Mr. McChrys­tal said two weeks ago that he had spo­ken to Mr. Obama ex­actly once since he was ap­pointed. But many peo­ple, notably Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den, seemed to be speak­ing against his rec­om­men­da­tion in a three-hour meet­ing Mr. Obama held with ad­vis­ers on Oct. 1.

Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, “se­nior ad­vis­ers” chal­lenged some of Mr. McChrys­tal’s key as­sump­tions. “One se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the meet­ing, said, ‘A lot of as­sump­tions — and I don’t want to say myths, but a lot of as­sump­tions — were ex­posed to the light of day.’”

Sounds just a bit con­de­scend­ing, doesn’t it? Among the as­sump­tions, wrote the Post re­porters, is “that the re­turn to power of the Tal­iban would au­to­mat­i­cally mean a new sanc­tu­ary for al Qaeda.” That’s the same as­sump­tion Obama made in his speech to the VFW 44 days be­fore.

On the day of the White House meet­ing, Mr. McChrys­tal was in Lon­don to speak to a for­eign-pol­icy group. He was asked whether Mr. Bi­den’s ap­proach, to down­size the num­ber of troops and fo­cus on killing se­lected ter­ror­ists, could work.

“The short an­swer is no,” Mr. McChrys­tal said. “You have to nav­i­gate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strat­egy that does not leave Afghanistan in a sta­ble po­si­tion is prob­a­bly a short­sighted strat­egy.” The next day, on his hastily sched­uled trip to Copen­hagen to lobby for Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, Mr. Obama man­aged to squeeze in 25 min­utes for Mr. McChrys­tal. Pre­sum­ably Mr. McChrys­tal de­fended his “I don’t want to say myths, but a lot of as­sump­tions.”

What to make of all this? First, Afghanistan was never a “war of ne­ces­sity.” It was, like all our wars, a “war of choice.” Franklin Roo­sevelt could have avoided pro­vok­ing Nazi Ger­many and im­pe­rial Ja­pan; em­i­nences like Joseph P. Kennedy and Charles Lind­bergh were ar­gu­ing that we could sur­vive, per­haps un­com­fort­ably, in a Nazi-dom­i­nated world. But Roo­sevelt chose to risk war in or­der to rid the world of evil­do­ers.

Declar­ing Afghanistan a “war of ne­ces­sity” was a way for Mr. Obama and other Democrats to at­tack Ge­orge W. Bush for choos­ing, in their view un­wisely, to wage war in Iraq. But now when it comes time to wage the “war of ne­ces­sity” in the way that our care­fully se­lected gen­eral rec­om­mends, it turns out not to be so nec­es­sary any more. Not when Demo­cratic politi­cians and Demo­cratic vot­ers are shy­ing away from it.

It’s not clear yet that the “se­nior ad­vis­ers” who were mock­ing Mr. McChrys­tal’s as­sump­tions will pre­vail. In his 25 min­utes on Air Force One, Mr. McChrys­tal may have used his knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to con­vince Mr. Obama that his judg­ment was bet­ter than that of the arm­chair gen­er­als that the pres­i­dent had lis­tened to for three hours the day be­fore. Maybe Mr. Obama will choose to wage his “war of ne­ces­sity” in the way the gen­eral he se­lected be­lieves is nec­es­sary for us to suc­ceed.

But I wouldn’t bet heav­ily on it — not any more, in fact, than I would have bet on Chicago’s chances of host­ing the 2016 Olympic games.

Michael Barone is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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