Michael Gerson

The military-civilian gap on Afghan policy remains wide. There is little doubt that Biden and America's ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, remain skeptical of the mission. And there are reasons for skepticism, including Afghan corruption and lack of effective administration.

But one of the largest reasons for pessimism is created, or at least tolerated, by the president himself -- the discord among administration officials. This was supposed to be the process presidency -- thoughtful, careful and deliberative. But Obama turns out to be a poor manager of people. Leaders such as Biden, Petraeus, Eikenberry and Mattis may be individually impressive. Together, they seem like an orchestra of one-man bands.

A team of rivals requires a decisive president. But Obama had ended up splitting differences that ought not to have been split. He supported the military's strategy and troop request, while accepting a deadline for beginning withdrawal that is now just 12 months away -- a deadline regularly reaffirmed by White House officials and Democratic congressional leaders. This approach has a contradiction at its core. One of the main military priorities in Afghanistan is to peel off that portion of the bad guys -- called by American strategists the "10-dollar-a-day Taliban" -- who might be won over by a combination of intimidation and outreach. But why should these rebels tie their fate to a retreating power?

A successful counterinsurgency campaign is founded on a paradox: The only way to leave successfully is to convince the enemy you will not flee precipitously. During the worst of the Iraq War, Mattis tried to persuade an Iraqi that America would not cut and run. "I told him," the general said, "I had found a little piece of property down on the Euphrates River and I was going to have a retirement home built there. I did that because I wanted to disabuse him of any sense that he could wait me out."

Many Afghans now require similar disabusing. In this conflict, Americans of every political background should rally to the president -- who in turn needs to rally the world with a more certain trumpet.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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