Opinion at the top seems divided between the not-so-commanding general and that military mastermind, Joe Biden. The general, Stanley McChrystal, has asked for more troops, recognizing the need to assure security in that ungovernable land if the Afghans, like the Iraqis, are finally going to take responsibility for their own defense. But the vice president, as usual, has opted for a policy that is as simple and easy as it is wrong: a Rumsfeldian war-on-the-cheap fought long-distance. Victory Through Drones! Never mind that his approach isn't succeeding; it sounds good politically, and isn't that what counts? Any problems, anywhere, can be blamed on George W. Bush.
The great danger now is that Barack Obama, after this latest re-re-review, will approach war the way he does so many other issues: just split the difference in an attempt to please all competing factions. As if this were just another federal grant. And the country could wind up with a Korean-style stalemate that will drag on, and drain on, forever.
Better to abandon the field now than engage in that kind of defeat on the installment plan. But a clear-cut decision would be uncharacteristic of this president. It grows harder every week, every month, to think of this commander-in-chief as a commander at all. As a wartime leader, Barack Obama is making a great community organizer.
No wonder Americans' sense of unease deepens. The polls say most of us feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. It happens. Presidents don't always stay popular. See Bush, George W.
Or maybe Truman, Harry S., who was even less popular when he left office.
Are we headed for a repeat of 1980, when Jimmy Carter was handed a resounding defeat by Ronald Reagan? Why? Surely not because Barack Obama is all that bad. Is it just that he's not all that good? But no mere mortal could have lived up to the messianic aura this young president brought with him into office. Even if Americans feel the country is headed in the wrong direction, Barack Obama is still well liked. And why not? He's a likable sort. Kind of like Willy Loman, that ever-hopeful salesman.
Is there hope for this president? Of course there is, as there is for all of us. Maybe if the Republicans do well in the midterm elections next year, he'll get the message and snap out of it -- and become more a Harry Truman, less a Jimmy Carter. That way, even if he proved unpopular, at least it would be because he made decisions -- not avoided them.
Unfortunately, there's a mushy core of ideology at this president's center that may prove impervious to experience, or even to the midterm election results.