Foreign Policy Blogs

Conservative Support and Obama's Attention

With Afghanistan presidential election marred with claims of fraud that may force a another turn at the polls, or at least a recount, and with the long term American presence in the country facing a growing, and at times loud, critical audience back in the States the Obama administration could use some clarity and some support.  While the President is getting some of this, and it is mainly coming from his right.

Dan Senor and Peter Wehner, both former officials for the last Bush administration, have called the conflict in Afghanistan, not ‘Obama’s War’, but ‘Our War’.  They explain further….

In this decade, Democrats were fierce opponents of President Bush’s Iraq policy, going so far as to declare the war lost and doing everything in their power to stop the surge—which turned out to be enormously successful—from going forward.

Our concern is that this tendency for the party out of (executive) power to pull back from America’s international role and to undermine a president of the opposing party will gain strength when it comes to President Obama’s policy on Afghanistan.

The president deserves credit for his commitment earlier this year to order an additional 17,000 troops for Afghanistan, as well as his decision to act on the recommendation of Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to replace the U.S. commander in Afghanistan with Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

These were tough and courageous decisions. The president’s actions have clearly unsettled some members of his own party, who hoped he would begin to unwind America’s commitment in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama not only ignored their counsel; he doubled down his commitment. There should therefore be no stronger advocates for Mr. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy than the GOP.

This idea of war in Afghanistan being ‘Our War’ goes beyond Obama, beyond the GOP, beyond politicians in Washington DC.  All Americans are in one way or another responsible for what goes on there and the men and women over there doing the real work need our support.  This of course does not mean that all should support the war effort there without being critical, not at all.  It means that we cannot pawn it off as someone else’s problem, Obama’s, Bush’s, Democrats, Republicans, the Afghan government, Pakistan, etc.  That is not how you solve a problem.

President Obama also received a very public show of support for his Afghan strategy through the medium of an Open Letter to him by numerous elites orchestrated by the Foreign Policy Initiative.  Here’s a short portion:

Since the announcement of your administration’s new strategy, we have been troubled by calls for a drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan and a growing sense of defeatism about the war.  With General McChrystal expected to request additional troops later this month, we urge you to continue on the path you have taken thus far and give our commanders on the ground the forces they need to implement a successful counterinsurgency strategy. There is no middle course. Incrementally committing fewer troops than required would be a grave mistake and may well lead to American defeat.  We will not support half-measures that repeat the errors of the past….

Mr. President, you have put in place the military leadership and sent the initial resources required to begin bringing this war to a successful conclusion. The military leadership has devised a strategy that will reverse the errors of previous years, free Afghans from the chains of tyranny, and keep America safe.  We call on you to fully resource this effort, do everything possible to minimize the risk of failure, and to devote the necessary time to explain, soberly and comprehensively, to the American people the stakes in Afghanistan, the route to success, and the cost of defeat.

One can definitely argue against the policies that these folks and Obama have advocated, but they are a voice that is growing fainter and fainter as the war drags on, and will be crucial if Obama intends to fully implement Gen. McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.  Obama’s going to need all the support he can get if wants to succeed long term in Central Asia.

That being said, if Obama truly intends to go full bore in taming the instability in Afghanistan and giving its nascent government room and time to grow, and he has shown he’s willing to do so by his nearly 20,000 troop surge already, he’s going to need more domestic support than just these mostly prominent conservatives.  With poll numbers showing support for the war falling below 50%, Obama is going to need to show the American people we have a plan and the capability for success.  For this to work, he’s going to have to use some political capital and media savvy to promote the mission, something he for the most part has failed to loath to do so far.  Tonight, I got home late and immediately checked tonight’s the text from the Obama’s major national address for mentions of the war in Afghanistan.  This is the only thing I found and it shows the President is still failing to be up to the challenge.

“Add it all up, and the (health care) plan I’m proposing will cost around $900 billion over ten years – less than we have spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars…”