If you are Barack Obama, you simply argue that Bush picked the wrong war.
And so, Obama constantly preached that Iraq was a war of choice, while Afghanistan is a war of necessity. In this manner, Obama used his hawkish stance on Afghanistan to his great advantage.
For example, accepting the Democratic nomination in Denver, Obama declared: 'When John McCain said we could just 'muddle through' in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights."
Americans who had grown skeptical of weak liberals (see Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, et al) were relieved to finally have a liberal who was smart and tough. He was smart because he was for the right war.
But a year later, after winning the presidency, Obama was sounding a bit less pugnacious, when he told ABC this summer: "I'm always worried about using the word 'victory,' because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur."
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Aside from getting his history wrong (Herihito never signed a surrender to MacArthur), it is clear the once bellicose Obama has changed his tune a bit.
As President Obama weights whether or not to give General Stanley McChrystal the 40,000 additional troops he says are needed to avoid "failure" in Afghanistan, one hopes the president will make the right decision for America, without regard for whether or not it is consistent with his campaign promises. One would hate for a president to do the wrong thing merely in order to be consistent.
Having said, that, while the decision of whether or not to further engage in Afghanistan is an extremely serious one to consider, it is not a difficult analysis to conclude that Obama's campaign rhetoric was not fully thought out. It was, in fact, a smart political ploy for which naive voters handsomely rewarded him. But it was not a profile in courage.
Politically speaking, talking tough on Afghanistan was like much of Obama's campaign rhetoric -- meaning it was sagacious but disingenuous. Talking tough about Afghanistan gave Obama the political cover needed to pacify the left on Iraq, while simultaneously holding the middle.
It does us little good to point out that Obama's tough talk on Afghanistan was merely a campaign gimmick, so all that is left to do is hope and pray he makes the right decision -- and this is not an easy decision to make. A dove stance could mean allowing terrorists to use Afghanistan as a training ground for another 9-11, while a hawkish stance could result in our getting bogged down in another Vietnam. Afghanistan, after all, is not friendly terrain.
Obama has called Afghanistan a "war of necessity," but is it still a war of necessity? That is the question Obama now faces.
My gut tells me Obama's campaign rhetoric will be abandoned. He will not make the mistake Lyndon Johnson made by allowing his domestic policy to be bogged down by an intractable war. Time will tell what that means for the nation...
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