"This is not a war of choice," Barack Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 17. "This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people."
But that was nearly seven weeks ago. Now, it appears that Obama is about to ignore the advice of Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whom he installed as commander in Afghanistan in May, after relieving his predecessor ahead of schedule. McChrystal, who came up as a Special Forces officer, is an expert in counterinsurgency. Not surprisingly, in his Aug. 30 report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he recommended a course that seems certain to require a substantial number of additional troops.
During the first three weeks of September, Obama held one meeting on the "war of necessity." Then, on Sept. 20, Obama appeared on five talk shows to push his health plan. The next day, Bob Woodward published a story in The Washington Post based on a copy of McChrystal's report, which the newspaper later posted in redacted form. Woodward made it clear that McChrystal would request more troops. When questioners pressed him about the war, he said he was rethinking his Afghanistan strategy.
The rethinking looks a lot like a rejection of his general's recommendations. McChrystal said last week that he had spoken to Obama exactly once since he was appointed. But many people, notably Vice President Biden, seemed to be speaking against his recommendation in a three-hour meeting Obama held with advisers on Thursday, Oct. 1.
According to The Washington Post, "senior advisers" challenged some of McChrystal's key assumptions. "One senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting, said, 'A lot of assumptions -- and I don't want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions -- were exposed to the light of day.'"
Sounds just a bit condescending, doesn't it? Among the assumptions, wrote the Post reporters, is "that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaida." That's the same assumption Obama made in his speech to the VFW 44 days before.
On the day of the White House meeting, McChrystal was in London to speak to a foreign-policy group. He was asked whether Biden's approach, to downsize the number of troops and focus on killing selected terrorists, could work.