No one expected Obama to do a Henry V or a Churchill. But Obama could not even manage a George W. Bush, who, at an infinitely lower ebb in power and popularity, opposed by the political and foreign policy establishments and dealing with a war effort in far more dire straits, announced his surge -- Iraq 2007 -- with outright rejection of withdrawal or retreat. His implacability was widely decried at home as stubbornness, but heard loudly in Iraq by those fighting for and against us as unflinching -- and salutary -- determination.
Obama's surge speech wasn't a commander in chief's, but a politician's, perfectly splitting the difference. Two messages for two audiences. Placate the right -- you get the troops; placate the left -- we are on our way out.
And apart from Obama's own personal commitment is the question of his ability as a wartime leader. If he feels compelled to placate his left with an exit date today -- while he is still personally popular, with large majorities in both houses of Congress, and even before the surge begins -- how will he stand up to the left when the going gets tough and the casualties mount, and he really has to choose between support from his party and success on the battlefield?
Despite my personal misgivings about the possibility of lasting success against Taliban insurgencies in both Afghanistan and the borderlands of Pakistan, I have deep confidence that Petraeus and McChrystal would not recommend a strategy that will be costly in lives, without their having a firm belief in the possibility of success.
I would therefore defer to their judgment and support their recommended policy. But the fate of this war depends not just on them. It depends on the president. We cannot prevail without a commander in chief committed to success. And this commander in chief defended his exit date (versus the straw man alternative of "open-ended" nation-building) thusly: "because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own."
Remarkable. Go and fight, he tells his cadets -- some of whom may not return alive -- but I may have to cut your mission short because my real priorities are domestic.
Has there ever been a call to arms more dispiriting, a trumpet more uncertain?
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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