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12/2/2009
SUPPORT THE PRESIDENT

I didn’t see the president’s speech last night, deliberately eschewing the dramatics, and trying to resist the siren song effect his speeches usually have on me. I admit I am a sucker for a good speech, well delivered, and Obama could charm the bloomers off a middle aged virgin spinster with his delivery at times.

So I chose to read the speech, and try and judge it on it’s merits. It seemed a good, workmanlike job by the president; sober, serious, keeping the mickey mouse, soaring rhetorical flourishes to a minimum. He seemed to be saying, “I realize it’s my war now and this is what I intend to do.”

Did it have to take so long to come to this decision? Excuse the digression but the process of presidential decision making varies from man to man. Some find solitude the most efficacious way to reach an important decision. Nixon comes to mind as a president who practiced a nearly go it alone approach, seeking counsel from a very few close advisors and then retiring to dwell on his options.

Other presidents are more intuitive in their decision making. Reagan fits this category. He would seek a consensus but if he felt it was the wrong choice, he had very little hesitation in going against his advisors if he felt strongly enough about something. I think Clinton also could be placed in this camp, although he was much more calculating a politician than Reagan.

Then there are the consensus builders like Obama. George Bush #41 and Jimmy Carter are recent examples there. All three men seemed to revel in listening to every possible permutation of policy and then guiding their advisors toward a decision they could all support.

Is any one decision making process superior to another? I don’t see how that could be possible. Each man who occupies the Oval Office is different, each has their own style and temperament. The process is never as important as the result.

In this case, the result was the best that could probably be hoped for. And his justification for the new policy is spot on:

So, no, I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.

This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. And this danger will only grow if the region slides backwards and al-Qaeda can operate with impunity.

We must keep the pressure on al-Qaeda. And to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

I certainly didn’t envy Obama in making this decision. What a God-awful mess of a country Afghanistan is. It’s barely a country at all in the nation-state sense of the word. What percentage of the population actually feels any loyalty at all to the concept of “nation?” I would bet it’s under 50%. No appeals to the people based on doing what’s right for the “nation” will work. The country will be pacified by brute force and small, local victories won by our nation building forces. The hope appears to be to bring peace and security via a new counterinsurgency strategy to large enough areas where loyalty to Kabul can then be cemented through rebuilding and creating infrastructure.

It’s all we’ve got and the president has made the only choice consistent with trying our best to achieve a good outcome. Another good choice was to get the troops overseas as fast as possible. Previously, there was talk of extending the deployment of the extra troops for a year or more. Getting them in country by May seems to me to be the right thing to do.

Is anyone surprised at the president’s July, 2011 deadline for getting out? I am surprised he is giving our efforts that long. If one were to look at the military and civilian situation separately, it’s clear that the military aspect of the campaign - as hard as it is going to be - will be a cakewalk compared to trying to fix what’s wrong with government in Afghanistan and have in place a governing body that can handle most of its own security by summer of 2011. All the excellent work that will be accomplished on the military side will count for nothing unless something positive can be achieved on the civilian front.

I don’t think the president and his advisors think Karzai is the right man for the job. They have been disdainful of his efforts to eradicate corruption, bring the warlords to heel, and engender confidence in the Afghan people. Their doubts are well founded, but the president seemed to accept the fact that at the moment, Karzai is “it,” and we have to work with him:

President Karzai’s inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance.

We’ll support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas such as agriculture that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.

The president mentioned earlier that, “The days of providing a blank check are over…” to the Afghan government. This says to me that there will be some kind of accountability structure - perhaps even metrics that the Afghan government will have to achieve - if our continued help is going to be forthcoming. It also could mean that we will be taking more of the initiative in these programs, cutting the Afghan middlemen out of the process. Since doling out our aid in the past has been an open invitation to corruption, this would seem to be a step in the right direction.

Not receiving the notice it deserves are the presidents words about Pakistan:

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. And those days are over.

Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear.

America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan’s democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistan people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan’s security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.

We are aiding Pakistan to the tune of $7.5 billion over the next 5 years. That money will be much more carefully watched than the $5 billion we gave Musharraf in 2002. I doubt much, if any of this recent aid package will be used to kill Indians.

But the president’s emphasis on not separating the AfPak situation is exactly right. Whether we can do anything about cross border infiltration, ISI assistance to the Taliban, or assist the Pakistanis in their war against the extremists is unknown at this time. I would not be surprised if in the near future, our military receives private assurances from the Pakistani government that they can engage in “hot pursuits” of the Taliban across the border. As pressure increases on the Taliban in Afghanistan, this will become vital to avoid a repeat of Tora Bora where so many enemies escaped.

In summary, the plan appears to be the best available. I suppose we could have sent more troops but for what purpose? One could argue that the president is doing the absolute minimum to achieve success, leaving little room for error. I would agree with that but add the caveat that it’s his war now and he is prosecuting it according to his lights. He is not running away. He is seeking a good outcome to a situation where options are limited, and success may be elusive.

His weakest moment was here:

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort, one that would commit us to a nation-building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests.

Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

As president, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I don’t have the luxury of committing to just one.

Setting a timeframe for withdrawal is a wholly political decision and trying to justify it by folding it within our interests and responsibilities doesn’t cut it. A good argument can indeed be made that we should pour in the troops and stay a decade or longer to pacify the country. The president has rejected the argument but that doesn’t make it any less viable a strategy.

The president is calculating that he cannot hold his base of support or the support of many Americans if the war continues through the election of 2012. It may even lead to his defeat. Thus, getting rid of the problem prior to the election season is probably good politics. We shall see if it is good strategy.

In summary, the president has successfully split the difference with his advisors and has come up with the best option for the near term in Afghanistan that could be achieved without ripping his administration and party apart. Overall, it appears to me to have a decent chance to succeed in fulfilling his limited goals.

Beyond that, there is now the matter of supporting the president and our military in their efforts. I would like to associate myself with the remarks of Jules Crittenden on this:

And that’s pretty much what we all have to do now. Salute and say yes sir, and make a go of it. Because he is the president, he is sending more soldiers to war, and it was his decision about how, when and for how long that will be. A few actually do have to salute and go do it. The best thing the rest of us can do is encourage him, the Congress and everyone involved to make it work, and make it count. Because even if the president didn’t say so, the goal isn’t getting out. There is no acceptable outcome short of success. Getting out comes after that.

I suspect that most responsible conservatives will have this attitude. There will no doubt be groaning about the timeframe. There will be criticism about the number of troops. And the digs about Obama “dithering” - something I wondered about and criticized the president for as well - will be present in most analysis of the speech on the right.

But in the end, I suspect most of us will salute and say, “yes sir.” Barack Obama is our president. He is the only one we’ve got. He has made an important decision about sending our sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors to war. He has made it plain he expects success and has come up with a plan that appears to give that prospect at least a fighting chance.

Last year, I was heavily criticized by some of my righty friends for writing this:

But when push comes to shove and crisis erupts somewhere in the world involving American interests - and no president in recent memory has escaped such a challenge - I plan on backing my president’s play. I may give voice to skepticism about the path he chooses. This is our right and duty.

But I will not wish that he fail nor will I work to see that he does. The fact that I even have to mention this shows how foreign an idea this is to both the right and the left. The unbalanced hatred on the right directed against President Clinton was followed up by the even kookier and dangerous rage by the left against Bush. Perhaps its time for all of us to grow up a little and start acting like adults where the survival of our republic depends on the two sides not trying to eye-gouge their way to dominance.

President Obama has embraced the War in Afghanistan and made it his own cause. So, is it patriotic only to support a Republican president who goes to war? We’ll soon find out.

By: Rick Moran at 9:26 am
23 Responses to “SUPPORT THE PRESIDENT”
  1. 1
    jackson1234 Said:
    10:24 am 

    You ruined an otherwise good post with an incredibly stupid question at the end. The vast majority of Republicans indeed support the president. The majority of Democrats oppose him. In fact, the only Republican criticism has been he either should have deployed more troops and/or shouldn’t have imposed a withdrawal date. Most Democrats, of course, being world class liars and hypocrites (”Afghanistan is the good war”, ad nauseum) want a withdrawal. While there are exceptions on both sides, this is how it has shaken out.

    Will you run a post about Democratic opposition to the president on Afghanistan?

    I doubt it since it doesn’t fit your insipid template.

    That was my follow up to this - a round up of Michael Moore type reaction on the left.

    Come back in a few hours - especially if I get linked by the Freepers and you tell me whether that last question is spot on or not. Even though most knucklehead Republicans don’t visit here anymore, I’ll still get a fair share of heat for agreeing with Obama.

    ed.

    ed.

  2. 2
    jackson1234 Said:
    10:29 am 

    An addendum: The speech live was horrible and perhaps the worst the president has delivered. The transcript is much better.

  3. 3
    funny man Said:
    11:05 am 

    I didn’t watch the speech either (dayjob). Anyway, the problem with sending even more troops frankly is that Pakistan is the real problem (nuclear arms, tribal region etc). So the Taliban can just wait us out over the border. So IMHO we can only hope to stabilize Afghanistan and at the same time hope the Pakistani military is strong enough to contain the Taliban. It’s not great but it does effect our security so I also support the policy.

  4. 4
    michael reynolds Said:
    11:09 am 

    It took 90 days because he’s not a guy who likes having to choose between bad and worse, between likely to fail and guaranteed to fail.

    Let’s not kid ourselves that this is anything other than a face-saving exit a la Iraq. That was the best we could realistically hope for.

  5. 5
    jackson1234 Said:
    11:45 am 

    Rick:

    “That was my follow up to this - a round up of Michael Moore type reaction on the left.”

    Let us not delude ourselves. We don’t have to turn to kook fringe celebrities like Moore to get the Democratic Left’s reaction. Elected Democratic officials have done a bang up job in less than 24 hours.

    Behold:

    “For most of the public policy decisions in the first 10 months of his presidency, President Obama has enjoyed the backing of the liberal wing of his party. However, Obama’s latest move — sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan — places him at odds with many of his most ardent supporters in Congress…

    “The two co-chairs of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus — the largest subgroup in Congress — oppose the troop surge and are just two of a sizeable number of Democrats who are likely to vote against its funding…

    “Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) withheld support in a statement released last night, saying only that Obama had “articulated a way out of this war” and that the “American people and the Congress will now have an opportunity to fully examine this strategy…

    “Hours before the speech, four members of Congress held a press conference at the Capitol to denounce the troop surge. They agreed that Congress should be allowed to fully debate the move before any troops are deployed…

    “The three Democrats there — Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus — said there is a distinct unease within the Democratic caucus about the decision to send more troops and that its funding is far from a sure thing…”

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/12/02/rep_woolsey_majority_of_dems_will_vote_against_war_funding_99367.html

    The kook fringe is the Democratic Party mainstream on national security issues with few exceptions. You might get some grief from Freepers, I have no clue, but when you look at the reaction of rank-and-file Republicans, let alone their elected officials, there is no comparison to the Democratic reaction.

    None.

    I would be interested to see how many of these fine public officials were all for the “good war” in Afghanistan until Bush went out of office. I’m certain someone will compile their old, i.e., 11-month old, musings.

    Hypocrites all.

  6. 6
    Aaron Said:
    12:56 pm 

    My guess is we’ll see a measurable uptick of support among Republicans and a downtick of support among Democrats, but nothing like jackson1234’s absurd prediction of a “vast majority” on either side. Many Dems will realize that it’s the best decision possible given the circumstances, and many Reps will simply ignore it because it doesn’t fit in with their preconceived notion of ‘Obama = bad’. Glancing at PJM, Michelle Malkin, Free Republic, the general reaction is silence.

  7. 7
    Allen Said:
    1:23 pm 

    Well the decision is made, let us hope it works out for the best. What will be interesting is in seeing the reactions in Congress when he goes to get the funding. If the republicans play any silly buggers with this they will only hurt themselves. The democrats have the real problem. A good portion of their constiuencies will not like this, but they have to go with them our their party leader. Tough row to hoe.

  8. 8
    Richard bottoms Said:
    2:52 pm 

    Most Democrats, of course, being world class liars and hypocrites (”Afghanistan is the good war”, ad nauseum) want a withdrawal.

    You must be quoting from EIGHT years ago. Because that’s when this fiasco began and not too soon after Shrub started screwing it up by diverting resources to Iraq.

    What they are sleptical about is “Victory”, which as anyone who really knows something about the region understands it won;t be anything like VE or VJ day.

    Victory will be successfully containing the Taliban because we sure as shooting won’t ever score a pure military defeat short of sending several million troops over there to do it.

    The least worst option is degrade the Taliban, setup containment and leave. Hopefully turn their farmers to producing wheat instead of poppies in greater numbers and make Kabul and a few other urban areas safe. That’s it.

    Even that limited amount of work needed to overcome Bush’s ADD was too much so we skipped out less than two years into the war and made in much harder and very much more expensive to accomplish to little we can do even in the best of scenarios.

    These people live there, they have lived there for 1,000 years and will still be there centuries after we’ve gone. Time is most certainly on their side.

  9. 9
    jackson1234 Said:
    3:38 pm 

    Richard Bottoms:

    “Even that limited amount of work needed to overcome Bush’s ADD was too much so we skipped out less than two years into the war and made in much harder and very much more expensive to accomplish to little we can do even in the best of scenarios.”

    Amazing how Bush’s ADD lasted eight years, and the left-wing’s ADD has lasted about 11 months under this president. The “good war” didn’t look so good with a change in Administrations, eh? If Obama can do one-third as well as Bush I will be happy. If he surpasses him I will be elated. If his lunatic base will give Obama half a chance (you know, the same loons who raised hell when Bush even sent troops to Afghanistan), I will be shocked.

  10. 10
    JOElias Said:
    3:59 pm 

    Rick:
    Well written and lucid assessment. One thing keeps bothering me. What will keep the Taliban/Al Qaeda from laying low, building up reserves and making sure conditions on the ground point to the beginning of a withdrawal so that they can return with a vengeance when the USA and its allies leave? What will keep the Afghans from hedging their bets in that pre-pullout period so that the vengeance does not fall on them once withdrawal is effected?

    Expect negotiations between the Taliban and Karzai government and a unity government will be formed. That’s the quickest way out for us.

    ed.

  11. 11
    Richard bottoms Said:
    4:10 pm 

    The “good war” didn’t look so good with a change in Administrations, eh?

    What is this, World of Warcraft?

    The dead soldiers are still dead, the billions still spent and surprise, the Democrats are reluctant to give an open ended commitment to continue a war in a country headed by a corrupt, sockpuppet leader whose brother is one of the largest opium dealer in the world.

    Color me shocked.

    Damn straight they are going demand details and assurances that this is worth the new dead this “surge” will produce among our troops and the Afghan people too. That’s their job.

    Meanwhile the Republicans will paint this as weakness on Obama part for not immediately saying yes and actually asking for metrics, options, and explanations.

    How is it that president Bush, who got exactly everything he asked for, virtually no questions asked for eight years, FAILED to move the needle even a little bit on this war? And, how do we avoid asking exactly those same questions two years from now.

    Good on Obama for his measured response and thoughtful approach.

  12. 12
    michael reynolds Said:
    4:10 pm 

    What will keep the Taliban/Al Qaeda from laying low, building up reserves and making sure conditions on the ground point to the beginning of a withdrawal so that they can return with a vengeance when the USA and its allies leave? What will keep the Afghans from hedging their bets in that pre-pullout period so that the vengeance does not fall on them once withdrawal is effected?

    Nothing. But the Afghans know we’re leaving. One year, five years, ten years, they know we’re leaving. They live there, we don’t.

    This could be called the “Walk before they make us run,” strategy. It’s essentially identical to Iraq: use a surge to back the bad guys up for a while so we can make a dignified exit.

    In the end Afghanistan goes back to being the corrupt, cruel, primitive, superstition-ridden sh*thole it’s been since Alexander the Great wrote the following in reference to his own visit to beautiful Afghanistan: “I am involved in the land of a ‘Leonine’ (lion-like) and brave people, where every foot of the ground is like a wall of steel, confronting my soldier. You have brought only one son into the world, but everyone in this land can be called an Alexander.”

  13. 13
    CZ Said:
    4:51 pm 

    This HOPE and CHANGE thing is finally beginning to gel, much earlier than I thought it would.

    This “audacity” thingie was all Chicago-style political slight-of-hand from the get-go. Once you get a good whiff the memory never leaves your sinuses.

    Sell the dream…deliver the turd.

  14. 14
    Richard bottoms Said:
    4:55 pm 

    Sell the dream…deliver the turd.

    In other words, “Mission Accomplished”.

  15. 15
    obamathered Said:
    6:03 pm 

    That was a speech? I thought it was a hostage video without the sincerity.

    I don’t think there will be any serious Republican opposition to what the hosta—err, president read last night. The Democrats? Batshit Crazy City on meth. Already. I just hope it isn’t enough of those left-wing bastards in Congress to cut off funds but who knows with these kooks.

  16. 16
    John Burke Said:
    7:45 pm 

    Rick’s take is the right one — and I’ve said much the same thing on my blog.

    This is not a war we started but we must finish it by defeating al Qaeda ad its indispensable and loyal ally, Mullah Omar’s. Taliban. Anything less would endanger Americans again and threaten the stability of the sub-continent. Obama clearly grasps this and has committed himself and the nation to this fight. In two waves — early this year and now — he has added more than 50,000 US troops to the fight — more than doubling the number and raising the number of combat brigades from three to eight. He has appointed a smart, aggressive new commander and embraced his COIN strategy. At the same time, he has ramped up CIA-run operations against al Qaeada and Taliban inside Pakistan and appears to be pressing Pakistan for a stepped up commitment on their side of the border.

    Yet, even as the pathetically pacifistic left wing of the Democratic Party — meaning people like Feingold and Conyers, not just Michael Moore — have blasted Obama’s plans and begun to launch a new “peace” campaign, a large collection of right-wingers and Republicans have also jumped on Obama as if he had put up a surrender flag. Yes, the right generally “supports” Obama’s surge but a quick look at the news shows that their criticisms stands out while their “support” is barely noted. Frankly, making a big deal out of Obama’s setting forth a flexible time frame or failing to make it 40,000 new troops is ridiculous. The timing is conditions-based and easily changed. The 30,000 number seems to have come from Bob Gates ad is based on the outer limit of what the US logistics infrastructure can accommodate in a year. Anyway, McChrystal will see his combat power increase from three to eight brigades which is a very big deal.

    One more thing: the talking point is taking hold on cable in in the blogs to the effect that the Taliban can lay low for 18 months and then take over. This is so ludicrous that people saying it should be laughed out of the room. It totally ignores the enormous combat power of 100,000 US troops. Give them 18 months without serious opposition and they will own Afghanistan.

  17. 17
    DrKrbyLuv Said:
    9:25 pm 

    Obama: “We Did Not Ask for This Fight” | Bush: “We Did Not Seek This Conflict”

    Obama: “New Attacks are Being Plotted as I Speak”
    Bush: “At This Moment … Terrorists are Planning New Attacks”

    Obama: “Our Cause is Just, Our Resolve Unwavering”
    Bush: “Our Cause is Just, Our Coalition [is] Determined”

    Obama: “This Is No Idle Danger, No Hypothetical Threat”
    Bush: “The Enemies of Freedom Are Not Idle”

    Obama: “We Have No Interest in Occupying Your Country”
    Bush: “I Wouldn’t Be Happy if I Were Occupied Either”

    http://www.michaelmoore.com/

    New puppet, same policy….

    Perpetual and expensive war at a time when the country is going broke…maybe china will lend us more money? This is the most insane national security policy since bush invaded iraq over bogus claims of WMDs.

    We need a third party ASAP!

  18. 18
    John Burke Said:
    11:54 pm 

    DrKrbyLuv is good enough to remind us that Republicans are not the only people capable of talking tough.

    Beyond that, his link to Michael Moore’s silly ramblings should remind us that the “peace movement” is not opposed only to US military actions that make no sense but to any and all US military actions, even when they are in pursuit of unambiguously clear national security interests.

    I would not be the lest bit surprised if Moore could find similar pairing quotes from FDR and Winston Churchill. There’s a job!

  19. 19
    c3 Said:
    4:32 pm 

    President Obama has embraced the War in Afghanistan
    embraced seems a little strong.

    The 10+ months of deciding on a new (same) direction suggests a distinct ambivalence on our President’s part.

  20. 20
    TWoPolitics Said:
    7:57 pm 

    Is there anybody out there that knows how to run a war?

  21. 21
    Silvio Said:
    7:15 am 

    Pres BO made a tough call….I”m Ok with sending the troops.

    The July 2011 timetable will be a problem for our troops cutting deals on the ground;

    and

    Obama himself.

    He is very likely to break this promise and that will be the end of his relationship with the left.

    I agree with you that this is going to be very hard and that we should support the president.

    I do.

    I supported Clinton when he acted against Bosnia or bombed Iraq in 1998 (both times going around the UN Sec Council)

    In the end, the July 2011 timeframe will be a problem with the left because he will have to break it!

  22. 22
    Thomas Said:
    12:17 am 

    “Then there are the consensus builders like Obama. George Bush #41 and Jimmy Carter are recent examples there. All three men seemed to revel in listening to every possible permutation of policy and then guiding their advisors toward a decision they could all support.”

    I’ve never read this blog before, and you may be a so-called conservative, however your quote above shows that you lack the fundamental knowledge of what it takes to lead a nation as a President. By the time Obama, Bush #41 and Carter finally got to a decision “they could all support” it was watered down, late in coming, and for all three of them, usually weak. America needs strong leaders, capable of making their own decisions and setting a course for this country based upon their values and beliefs, not those decisions arrived at by appeasement to their subordinates.

  23. 23
    funny man Said:
    4:28 pm 

    Thomas,
    when it came to foreign policy Bush #41 was a lot better than #43 especially if you are a conservative. I don’t see anything wrong with weighing all options, discussing them and then making a decision.

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