AWOL on Afghanistan

Posted: Oct 02, 2009 3:50 PM
AWOL on Afghanistan

Around the house, leaks are a major problem. They can even lead to structural damage if they aren't dealt with.

The same is true in Washington, of course. But here, leaks can also be beneficial, getting out information that someone wanted to keep bottled up. Consider the front-page story in The Washington Post on Sept. 21. The newspaper obtained and wrote about the 66-page report Gen. Stanley McChrystal (President Obama's hand-picked commander) had submitted to explain what he thinks he'll need to do to prevail in Afghanistan.

"Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible," the McChrystal report says. Time, it's fair to say, is of the essence in Afghanistan.

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But you wouldn't know that by looking at the Obama administration's timetable. "Until I'm satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there -- beyond what we already have," the president told NBC News on Sept. 20.

Americans are dying in Afghanistan. Yet in the first three weeks Obama had the report, he held only a single meeting with his national security team. It wasn’t until Sept. 29 that Obama began a round of "five scheduled intensive discussions with the National Security Council, as well as field commanders and regional ambassadors, on Afghanistan," his National Security Advisor James Jones told the Post. And while Afghanistan is important, Jones added, "We have a lot of other things on the table as well."

Such as health care "reform"?

During September, Obama found time for a major address on health care to a joint session of Congress. "Well, the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed," Obama declared. “Now is the season for action." Lawmakers responded.

In recent weeks, the Senate Finance Committee has been marking up a reform bill. Well, actually, not a whole bill. There hasn't been time to write it all down. It’s actually kind of an outline of a bill. The details will be added after senators approve the bill.

One reason for the haste is that American lives are supposedly at stake. Sen. Max Baucus, who's in charge of the phantom bill, cites one study that, "found that every year in America, lack of health coverage leads to 45,000 deaths." He added, "No one should die because they cannot afford health care. This bill would fix that."

Well, first, the supposed "45,000 deaths" statistic is questionable. Columnist Robert Samuelson recently dismantled it. Second, if this bill is so important, why doesn’t it take effect until 2013?

The fact is that lawmakers are racing to pass measures they haven't even written down. because they don’t understand them yet. Once they do, they'll be astounded at the wide-ranging changes they’ll have made to the health care system. Meanwhile, a bill passed in haste this fall will sit around until after two more congressional and one more presidential elections, by which time voters will have forgotten who to blame for the bad policy.

Not long ago, liberals championed our mission in Afghanistan, and blamed the Bush administration for any failures there.

"They have taken their eye off the real ball," presidential candidate John Kerry told The New York Times in September 2004. "They took it off in Afghanistan and shifted it to Iraq." A year later, then-Sen. Joe Biden added, "The administration took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and diverted our attention and resources to Iraq prematurely."

Even Obama himself, as a candidate last year, claimed, "We've got to see this in a bigger context, which is that our invasion of Iraq resulted in us taking our eye off the ball. We should have been focused in Afghanistan, finishing off al Qaeda." At least they all got the liberal talking points correct.

But now, our president has time for health care reform, time to chair meaningless United Nations Security Council meetings, even time for a fruitless trip to Denmark to lobby for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Chicago. Having been swatted down, in person, by international elites, Obama may be tempted to paraphrase Sally Field: "They don't like us. They really don't like us."

Still, even with all this other important stuff going on, the least our president could do would be to sketch a plan for military success in Afghanistan. "Either accept [McChrystal's] assessment or correct it, or let's have a discussion," an unnamed Pentagon official complained to the Post. "Will you read it and tell us what you think?"

Time's-a-wasting. We need our president to put his eye, well, back on the ball.

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