Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Afghanistan: Now What?

I didn’t watch the speech President Obama gave last night at West Point (video and transcript here); I had a prior commitment. I am not an expert on military strategy, nor do I claim to be a political wizard who can parse what the president plans into what they mean for his and his party’s future in the eyes of the voters, although I am very sure that that element was taken into consideration at some level just as much as the military planning was. After all, that is part of what being a “war president” is, too.

Here’s a sample of some of the reactions by the usual suspects, ranging from Joan Walsh at Salon, who called the speech “uninspired”; William Kristol, who praises it with faint damns; Andrew Sullivan looks at it in terms of the reaction by the GOP and its media ally (Fox), and has a compilation of reactions from a stable of pundits.

I think it’s way too soon to make any predictions about what the new course means in terms of anything, least of all the president’s political future or what he owes to his base. Regardless of my own personal feelings about war — I’m unalterably opposed to it — the president’s duty is first to our national security and to the men and women who secure it and protect us. I may be a pacifist, but I’m also a realist that recognizes that not everyone else is a pacifist. I also realize that the president was left with a military situation that left him with options that ranged from bad to the truly catastrophic, not just for America but for the people in the place where the fighting is actually taking place.

The president said last night, “Afghanistan is not lost.” I truly hope he is right. It would be easy to sit here and second-guess the president based on my own agenda of what I think he should do, but then, like every other sideline observer from Michael Moore to Dick Cheney, I have nothing to lose if I am wrong. But the soldiers and the people of Afghanistan do, and that’s who the president was talking to last night.