Michael Gerson
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There is, however, a problem on the American side of the equation. The pursuit of this strategy would require two years of hard fighting to keep the Taliban on the defensive, and then a serious American economic, political and military commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014. The public constituency for this level of engagement is limited and shrinking -- though opposition to the Afghan War, at present, seems more an expression of weariness than outrage.

Pursuing the approach outlined by Obama's national security officials will require an active, sustained campaign of public persuasion by Obama himself. While in government, I saw such campaigns. Obama is not currently engaged in one.

At nearly every stage of Obama's Afghan War, he has surrounded even reasonable decisions with a fog of ambivalence. His initial Afghan policy review was a botched mess of vicious infighting, leaked classified material and mixed messages. His decision to pursue the Afghan surge seemed more of a reluctant concession than the expression of a firm conviction. His public statements on the war and its aims are rare -- mainly made in response to reporters' questions. Obama often pairs expressions of resolve with language of internal conflict and hesitance -- indicating a leader of at least two minds. And some people in his administration always seem willing to float an off-the-record trial balloon of accelerated retreat -- a circumstance Obama seems content to tolerate.

It is a contradiction historians will struggle to explain. Obama has made broadly responsible decisions on Afghanistan. He bears the private burdens of wartime leadership with dignity as he comforts the families of the fallen. He has a strong national security team, a serious military strategy and measurable successes to highlight. But with a nation in need of rallying, his public voice is weak.

It was said that Winston Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle." Obama, for whatever reason, holds it in reserve. And he is proving that it is possible simultaneously to show credible judgment and poor leadership.

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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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