Peter Wehner is among the smart commentators who are of the view that “the decision President Obama made was better than the speech he gave.” Pete explains:
What will matter, long after his address is forgotten, is that Barack Obama gave Generals McChrystal and Petraeus, two of our greatest military minds, the troops (30,000, plus additional allied troops) and strategy (counterinsurgency) they need to prevail in Afghanistan.
I agree that the decision was better than the speech. The speech was poor; the decision was mediocre — a compromise between a strategy that would have maximized our chances for victory and one that would almost certainly have led to our defeat.
But, as Pete recognizes in his post, the dichotomy between word and deed is not a complete one. Our success in Afghanistan may well depend on the extent to which Afghans perceive us as determined to succeed. The decision to begin withdrawing 18 months from now goes a long way towards demonstrating lack of the kind of resolve that would induce Afghans wholeheartedly to support our efforts.
But Obama’s words — such as his unnecessary discussion of how much pain foreign wars are inflicting on our economy — added to the problem. It’s one thing for Obama to say that we have imposed a timetable, subject to conditions on the ground, in order to focus the Afghan government on the urgency of the situation. It’s another to add, in effect, that these wars have become too burdensome for us to sustain for more than a few years.
The first statement is bad enough because, although it contains the “conditions on the ground” loophole, it nonetheless creates major uncertainty in the minds of Afghans about the strength of our commitment. The second statement essentially resolves the uncertainty in favor of the view that are not a reliable partner over the mid-to-long haul.
So does the fact that Obama feels constrained, both by his Party’s left and his own inner leftism, to announce his decision in such hesitant, defensive tones.
UPDATE: Some are pointing out that we began leaving Iraq about a year after the surge. But President Bush did not announce in advance that we would do so.