Paul Greenberg

Can the Barack Obama who was a senator just a couple of years ago be the same one who's now president? Some of us can recall a time when Sen. Obama was saying the Surge would never work in Iraq. Ready to throw in the towel, he had nothing good to say about the way the president at the time, George W. Bush, was conducting the war against terror on any front -- whether it was the Surge, the Patriot Act, spying on the enemy via wiretaps, tracking international phone calls, holding al-Qaida types at Guantanamo.

Sen. Obama was agin it all. President Obama has pretty much adopted it all, or been obliged to. And he's extended the Surge to Afghanistan, as well -- under the same general whose counsel he used to dismiss, the sage and patient David Petraeus, architect of victory. Even if the president still shies away from using that forbidden word.

His administration also avoids any mention of the War on Terror in official statements. But actions still speak louder than words, and this president's policies bear a remarkable similarity to his predecessor's. It's been quite a makeover, and all for the better. Even though he still can't bring himself to admit it.

Let us now praise politicians smart enough not to believe their own election-year rhetoric. And in this case Barack Obama leads all the rest. Happy new year, Mr. President, and may your learning curve continue to accelerate. Nobody ever thought you were dumb.

This president -- and commander-in-chief -- has also been edging away from the deadline he set for American withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was hazy to begin with. At first the American withdrawal was set for next July, but last month the Obama administration joined our NATO allies in putting off the time when Afghan forces will be "assuming full responsibility for security" until the end of 2014. Even then, according to the statement that concluded the NATO summit at Lisbon, this "will not equate to withdrawal of troops."

No deadline for American withdrawal should have been set in the first place, for it only encourages the enemy to hold out till the Americans get out of their way.

The message that both friends and foes need to hear from Washington is that the United States is in this struggle For the Duration, as Americans used to say in a war we were determined to win, not just end. As it turned out, we would do both, though it was anything but simple or easy.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.