Half-hearted half mea­sures in Afghanistan

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Ei­ther a war has to be fought, or it doesn’t. In his speech on Afghanistan two weeks ago, Pres­i­dent Obama tried to split the dif­fer­ence.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Obama, the war has to be fought, which is why he is com­mit­ting 30,000 ad­di­tional troops, But at the same time, the war doesn’t have to be fought, which is why he’s go­ing to be­gin with­draw­ing them in a mere 18 months (and con­ve­niently, 18 months be­fore the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.)

What he was re­ally say­ing: He has to bulk up in Afghanistan, but he’s just not that into it.

Most omi­nously, Mr. Obama spoke not of winning, but of na­tional lim­i­ta­tions. He spoke not of what we can do, but of what we can­not. Con­strained by two wars, a weak econ­omy, and his own deficit­bust­ing spending, Mr. Obama con­tin­u­ally re­ferred to the lim­its of what Amer­ica can ac­com­plish.

Al­though no­body wants a Pollyanna, we re­ject a pres­i­dent telling us to keep our ex­pec­ta­tions low and our vi­sion small. We know we have limi- tations, but we don’t want to hear the pres­i­dent fence us in with them.

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent is sup­posed to in­spire us to tran­scend those lim­i­ta­tions, to achieve and soar, to in­no­vate, think out of the box, and find a way around con­straints. That’s the Amer­i­can way: big and op­ti­mistic.

The pres­i­dent is sup­posed to be up­beat and pos­i­tive, be­cause no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult the chal­lenges, he be­lieves in Amer­ica’s strength to over­come them. He’s sup­posed to be Oprah, not Debbie Downer.

That’s why we look to him to stir the na­tional soul with words and ac­tions about the power and beauty of the United States, not give us small-bore, nar­row com­ments that could be spo­ken by any lo­cal mayor.

Im­age No. 1: I heard from a fa­mous old-school en­ter­tainer, who, in her hey­day, ruled Hol­ly­wood, New York and Las Ve­gas. She was ap­palled by Mr. Obama’s speech. She was aghast at his trans­par­ent, po­lit­i­cal toy­ing with the end-game timeline.

She was hor­ri­fied by his me­chan­i­cal and emo­tion­less de­liv­ery. If this were to be a cri de coeur, a ral­ly­ing cry to the na­tion in war­time, where was the fire, ur­gency and pas­sion that a com­man­der in chief must con­vey to his peo­ple, his na­tion’s al­lies and en­e­mies, and the troops un­der his com­mand? In her frus­tra­tion, she ut­tered her own cri de coeur — “Bring back my coun­try to me.”

Im­age No. 2: The morn­ing af­ter the speech, a pho­to­graph widely cir­cu­lated of three West Point cadets await­ing the pres­i­dent’s ar­rival. One of them had his head buried in a book. No, it wasn’t Heidi Mon­tag’s “How To Be Fa­mous.” The young cadet was read­ing “Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Com­man­der’s Ac­count of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man.”

The baby-faced Army cadet was send­ing the wa­ver­ing, split-the-baby, heart-notre­ally-in-it com­man­der in chief a mes­sage: Even if the pres­i­dent isn’t that into Afghanistan, those do­ing the fight­ing cer­tainly are.

Their boss may have been split­ting pol­icy hairs, but the cadets have the fight in them, the drive to win, and the ur­gency to de­fend their coun­try in its dire hour of need. No won­der MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called the United States Mil­i­tary Academy “the en­emy camp” that night.

Im­age No. 3: To­tal war. Dur­ing World War II, our sol­diers were tasked with smash­ing the en­emy. Un­like his hero, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt, Mr. Obama seems un­will­ing to em­brace that con­cept.

Ger­many was beaten af­ter World War I, but it didn’t take long for it to rise again as a much more malig­nant threat. The end of World War II was not to be a com­pro­mise; it was to come about from the to­tal an­ni­hi­la­tion of the en­e­mies’ abil­ity and will to make war.

Right now, our sol­diers are ham­strung by rules of en­gage­ment that re­quire them to Mi­ran­dize cap­tured ter­ror­ists, call mil­i­tary lawyers in Wash­ing­ton to pre-ap­prove drone strikes, and can­vass the bat­tle­field with plas­tic bag­gies for ev­i­dence col­lec­tion. War zones are now treated as crimes scenes, and our sol­diers are forced to con­duct com­bat like it’s an episode of a crime-scene in­ves­ti­ga­tion se­ries on TV.

This is part of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s danger­ous re­ori­en­ta­tion of the con­flict away from war and to­ward crim­i­nal jus­tice.

Our sol­diers are fight­ers, not dog­catch­ers. If Mr. Obama were se­ri­ous about winning the war, he would un­leash our mil­i­tary.

In choos­ing to speak of na­tional lim­i­ta­tions rather than victory, Mr. Obama grew even more aligned with Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter, who en­cour­aged our en­e­mies with hap­less and half­hearted poli­cies and talked of “na­tional malaise.” Weak pres­i­dents are nei­ther re­spected nor elec­torally re­warded by their publics.

Mr. Obama is just not that into Afghanistan, but our en­e­mies cer­tainly are into it, and his too-clever-by-half strat­egy will only make them more so.

Mon­ica Crow­ley is a na­tion­ally syndicated ra­dio host, a pan­elist on “The McLaugh­lin Group” and a Fox News con­trib­u­tor.

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