What distinguishes Obama's hopes for Afghanistan from Bush's much-despised aspirations for Iraq? At his press conference following the G-20 summit, Obama sounded like a neoconservative. "... I reject the notion that the Afghan people don't want some of the basic things that everybody wants -- basic rule of law, a voice in governance, economic opportunity, basic physical security, electricity, roads, an ability to get a harvest to market and get a fair price for it without having to pay too many bribes in between. And I think we can make a difference, and the coalition can make a difference, in them meeting those aspirations ..."
The "Come home, America" president is in full nation-building mode now. In that 2007 speech, he had predicted that only the removal of American troops would permit Iraq to thrive: "... it must begin soon. Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Iraqis to take ownership of their country and bring an end to their conflict. It is time for our troops to start coming home."
No more. Whereas candidate Obama was contemptuous of Bush's "open-ended" commitment in Iraq, President Obama is now walking back his promise to leave Afghanistan by July 2011. "There has been a lot of obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave," he said. "My focus right now is how to we make sure that what we're doing there is successful, given the incredible sacrifices that our young men and women are putting in." The July 2011 departure date is inoperative -- like the promise to close Guantanamo by January 2010.
I am not confident that the surge will work as well in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq. But I am sure that the president owes his predecessor an apology.