Obama vs. Biden

Paul Greenberg

1/5/2011 12:01:00 AM - 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.

Naturally, just as this president was coming to grips with reality and his responsibilities as commander-in-chief, enter Joe Biden. Much like the porter in "Macbeth," the vice president tends to appear in the middle of the action to provide the audience with a little comic relief. But there wasn't anything funny about his lines this time as he declared that the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan next summer would be anything but token -- and the United States would be out of that country completely by 2014 "come hell or high water."

Our enemies were doubtless delighted to hear it, since the likeliest result of setting such deadlines is Hell for the Afghans left behind. If the Americans are going to leave by a date certain, why should they stick their necks out? Better to make the best deal they can with the terrorists.

Our vice-president hasn't said anything so brilliant since he proposed splitting Iraq into three squirming parts, one for each major ethnic/religious group, and inviting the bloodiest vivisection of a country since India was partitioned in 1947. Happily, there was no need for all that once the Surge took hold, any more than American foreign policy needs Mr. Biden's helpful little comments now.

If this president wants to assure both Afghans and Americans that he means what he said earlier this month -- "We will never waver from our goal of disrupting, dismantling and ultimately defeating al-Qaida" -- here's one way he can boost the credibility of both American foreign policy and his own: Find another running mate come the next presidential election. One who won't embarrass him so regularly. The way Harry Truman dropped Henry Wallace from his Cabinet at the beginning of the Cold War after Mr. Wallace had made one unhelpful comment too many about the course of American foreign policy. It was a clear signal that the new American president was serious about defending freedom.

The country can never get enough such messages. And neither can the enemies of freedom.