Nobody needs to tell President Obama that you can’t poll your way out of your problems because his polls have seen every view of the mountain. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that an increasingly skeptical American populous is growing disenchanted with the ways of war. It would be surprising if the public was still willing to make the shared sacrifices that come with a prolonged battle, but given the economic downturn and the costs of a failing economy, Americans are feeling the need to balance the budget more than the need to fight an ideological war against an increasingly small contagion of terrorists.
The problem with war is that the costs of winning are often identical to the costs of losing. If you want to know how real world military victories translate to the electorate, ask George H.W. Bush how that worked out for him in ’92. It’s been said that the only great Presidents are war-time Presidents and if that’s true (which I’m not entirely convinced it is) then there has to be a reason for it.
Either the leaders during times of war have been great or leaders have been given sufficient power to delegate their war time responsibilities to such an extent that we generally can’t notice when there’s a ripple in the chain of command. In either event, it takes extremely strong leadership whether you’re fighting the battle or delegating the fighting of the battle down the chain.
President Obama is going to announce his new strategy in Afghanistan on Wednesday. Whatever announcement he makes will be met with criticism. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney indicated that the President hasn’t completely made up his mind yet and that’s telling.
It’s telling because any amount of indecision at this point in time can look like blood in the water to the other side. It takes an immense amount of courage to stand up and with conviction point us in a new direction in one of the longest wars in American history. I don’t know what the President is weighing right now, but I can imagine the scenarios and pretext that he’ll use for his justification on Wednesday.
The tone will be in a “peace with honor” manner or a “mission accomplished” manner, but don’t expect any congratulations being lauded from the President’s pulpit. This is a situation where he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If he withdraws, the President will be painted by a relatively weak opposition candidate as soft on defense and conciliatory towards terrorists. If he continues to fight, the jeers will continue and people will continue to talk about how he still “doesn’t get it.” But the truth is that this truly is a catch-22 situation. There is no peace with honor situation in Afghanistan, there’s a bad option and a really bad option.
The bad option would look like a full military withdrawal. This would look bad to our allies and to our Arab friends. This would cause short term instability and a power vacuum to be unleashed in the world of Afghan politics. That being said, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot going on in the world of Afghan politics and Hamed Karzai is a pretty crooked guy, it would take a lot to live this guy down, but the guy he replaced was a lot worse, so this option could turn out pretty bad.
The really bad option would entail one of two scenarios. Either the President maintains troop levels or cuts them by 20,000 or less. In this situation there would be little, if any tangible political victory for the President, but there may be an opportunity closer to the election for sharper troop reductions. Then there’s the dreaded option c.
Option C is basically what we have now, rapid troop deployments, million dollar a day soldiers, and families needlessly burdened by the loss of a loved one (either by overseas deployment or as a casualty of war.) No one needs to tell this President what these costs entail, but someone should tell him what the economic costs are going to be for everyone if we can’t cut defense spending. So, regardless of what he does in Afghanistan, he’s got to come up with some spending cuts somewhere. Cut a couple bases in Germany, maybe close down Gitmo.
If I were advising the President, I’d tell him to take option a because a loss in this war doesn’t necessarily translate to a loss in the actual war we’re fighting. Just what war that is however, is another question entirely and that’s the bigger problem.