Later today the President will meet with key members of his national security team in the latest session focused on crafting an effective US strategy for Afghanistan.
Walking by the White House yesterday the extra crowd control barriers were out on Pennsylvania Avenue. They will be needed for a while. The anti-war protesters will be back.
On August 17 the President told the Veterans of Foreign Wars,
The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight and we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a — this is fundamental to the defense of our people.
This is consistent with Mr. Obama’s discussion of Afghanistan during the campaign and in his March policy statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But according to the polls the American people do not agree with the President. An early October poll found 57 percent of Americans opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Opposition is even stronger among Democrats.
Thursday Glenn Thrush and Manu Raju reported in Politico, “If President Barack Obama decides to send more troops to Afghanistan, he risks setting off an internal party struggle on a foreign policy issue that may well define his performance as commander in chief.”
It is very difficult for a democracy to go to war — or stay at war — without a significant political consensus in favor of the war.
Even so, after his Tuesday meeting with Congressional leadership, the President made it clear that whatever the outcome of the current strategy considerations, there would be no reduction in the current US troop commitment to Afghanistan.
The war will continue. The President’s policy remains the same.
Here’s how he articulated the policy in March,
I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That’s the goal that must be achieved.
In March the President also said, “To achieve our goals, we need a stronger, smarter and comprehensive strategy.” Policy is implemented through strategy. Policy is the destination. Strategy is the map.
Two days after his inauguration, the President appointed Richard Holbrooke as US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In mid-June President Obama appointed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as US (and NATO) military commander in Afghanistan. He also appointed new ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan. All of these individuals, and many others as well, have been asked to contribute advice on a strategy to implement the President’s policy.
It is not a simple issue of accepting or rejecting Gen. McChystal’s advice. The outcome is a strategy that combines the best of military, diplomatic, economic, and political possibilities.
Because this is a democracy, the President’s policy must be articulated and executed in a way that respects — especially if it does not neatly reflect — public sentiment. Given majority opinion and the stance of his own political party, this will not be easy. I hope someone at the White House saw Chris Bellavita’s Thursday post (immediately below).
It has been said that leadership is about doing the right thing, while management is about doing things right. In my judgment, the President has already demonstrated leadership. He has chosen the right policy. But strategy is also needed. Doing things wrong can undermine the best policy.
Overnight the President was named to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. According to the BBC, “Asked why the prize had been awarded to Mr Obama less than a year after he took office, Nobel committee head Thorbjoern Jagland said: ‘It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve’.”
The Nobel Committee is responding to the President’s policies (well beyond Afghanistan). I expect the President is embarrassed, even a bit annoyed. He knows that intention is easy compared to execution.
We need an effective strategy that deals with realities in Afpak and contributes to a long-term sustainable solution. He is not yet satisfied we have one.
Saturday October 10 Update:
Obama hears general’s troop request for Afghanistan (New York Times)
Axelrod defends deliberative approach (Lincoln Journal Star)
40,000 more troops proposed (Financial Times)