"When John McCain said we could just 'muddle through' in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights," Barack Obama thundered as he accepted the Democratic nomination for president in Denver last year. "John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the gates of Hell. But he won't even go to the cave where he lives."
It was a shabby bit of rhetoric, even for a campaign. Insinuating that McCain, of all people, didn't have the intestinal fortitude to take the fight to bin Laden was not only absurd on its face, it smacked of overcompensation coming from the former community organizer whose greatest foreign policy passion prior to his presidential bid had been nuclear disarmament.
But the line did what it needed to do: communicate that Obama had the sort of true grit required to fight the good, i.e. popular, war in Afghanistan. That war may or may not be good anymore, but it is most certainly not popular. And so what was for Obama a "war of necessity" has become a de facto war of choice. At least that's the sense one gets as the president is suddenly searching for a politically palatable strategy other than the one he announced months ago.
Now, I think it would amount to both breathtaking cynicism and, far worse, bad policy for Obama to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban and al-Qaida. That goes for the "Biden plan," which would amount to little better than a public relations effort whereby we would score regular symbolic victories while steadily losing the war.
But if it's sincere, I welcome Obama's willingness to rethink his position on an issue in which he invested so much political capital and machismo.
Obama came into office swearing he was a pragmatist who would support any approach that worked. He liked to invoke Franklin Roosevelt as his lodestar, for Roosevelt championed "bold, persistent experimentation." Discussing the economy, Obama told "60 Minutes": "What you see in FDR that I hope my team can emulate is not always getting it right but projecting a sense of confidence and a willingness to try things and experiment in order to get people working again."