The president and commander-in-chief went up to West Point to lay out his new/old/same/different strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Finally.
The result: more mixed signals than any broken stoplight could produce. Go. Caution. Stop. All flashing at the same time. Charge! But retreat soon. In this War of Necessity, he who hesitates is lost, but look before you leap. Accentuate the negative, eliminate the positive, and generally mess with Mr. In-Between.
Let's hope our enemies are half as confused as our allies by this flurry of contradictory orders, not to mention the generals who are supposed to carry them out.
Only a White House apparatchik or NPR correspondent might find the president's strategy clear and convincing. Barack Obama seems out to rally the country by confusing it. Or as a sage observer commented some time ago: For if the sound of the trumpet be uncertain, who shall prepare himself for the battle?
Maybe this speech was supposed to frighten our enemies; it is more likely to embolden them. Especially the president's promise to withdraw American troops by 2011, or at least start to. To sum up, last Tuesday night the president and commander-in-chief mounted his warhorse and rode off in all directions.
How confused is his battle plan? Let us count the ways:
--First the president berated the previous administration for having caused the problem. This is his standard intro no matter what the subject of his speech, whether foreign wars, the domestic economy or anything in between. This time he complained that his predecessor had not fully met the requests for reinforcements from the commanders in the field, preparatory to explaining -- after almost a year of deliberation, meditation, consultation and general futzing around -- that he wasn't going to fully meet his commanding general's request, either.
You might think this a dilatory kind of leadership from a commander-in-chief; the president's admirers call it thoughtful, balanced statesmanship. His handpicked general, Stanley McChrystal, requested four additional brigades; the general is to get three and the president's best wishes. For 18 months, anyway, and then the president wants them back. Which lets al-Qaida and the Taliban know just how long to lie low before the coast is clear again. Then they can mount their next offensive.