Afghan conflict

After sitting on his hands for three months, President Barack Obama told the American people on Tuesday night that he will send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the main focus of our new deployment will be to develop the capacity of the Afghan national army — an institution some argue does not truly exist.

As to the troop deployments, so far so good: The president says al-Qaida is not subdued and may be planning new attacks against us, which is perfectly credible.

Mr. Obama is to be congratulated for defying the pacifist wing of his own party and committing our forces to victory over this aggressor — we hope.

Because then the president said something very odd. He will start pulling our troops out of Afghanistan in the middle of 2011, once “the job is done.”

But if Americans talk too much too soon about winding down the war, The Associated Press reported earlier Tuesday, “Afghans fear the Taliban will simply bide their time until the Americans abandon the country. …

“Similarly, in neighboring Pakistan, too much talk of a finite U.S. troop presence gives commanders little reason to help fight Afghan militants — the very people they might eventually need to embrace as allies if the international community fails to secure Afghanistan and the Taliban retake Kabul,” The AP reports.

“Mentioning an exit strategy at the height of fighting is premature,” said Hamid Gailani, majority leader in the Afghan parliament. Mr. Gailani hopes Mr. Obama’s expected military buildup will be accompanied by a political plan that fosters economic development for his impoverished nation.

“If he speaks of a surge on the one hand and of an exit strategy on the other hand, it will not make any sense to people,” Mr. Gailani said.

So why did the president do that?

Because Mr. Obama appears to view the war primarily through the lens of domestic American politics.

His leftist base has no patience with this conflict and wants out. Thus, Mr. Obama “triangulates.” He splits the difference between war strategies, concerned not so much with which one will defeat our enemies, but rather which one will protect a Democratic majority in national elections 11 months from now.

To pretend that no such domestic concerns should enter the president’s deliberations would be unrealistic. On the other hand, if American lives are now being sent into the breach without a wholehearted commitment to victory, what does that say about our current leadership?

A lawyer whose previous strategic experience has been limited to staging municipal garbage demonstrations in Chicago has just set our nation’s course in war. Our military forces are more than able. Will they truly now be set loose to do the job and win? Or do they have to fear being hauled up before a court-martial if they give some terrorist a bloody lip?

Time will tell.

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