David Brooks on Obama as a war President
Friday, October 30, 2009
David Brooks is a reliably squishy columnist. He is put on the right side of the slate by the leftists who run the NY Times, but he is at most one step right of center and really only in comparison to the progressive crowd there. Every once in a while he hits a true note though and that was today. His topic was Obama as Commander in Chief and his question was does he have the necessary determination for that role. It is easy to see he didn't want to be a war President, all of his tough talk on the campaign trail aside. He sees this as a distraction from his transformation of our government and the rebirth of America in a Post-American world. CinC is the toughest job in America and Brooks wonders if Obama is up to it. He talked to as many military experts as he could.
These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.
Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence.
But they do not know if he possesses the trait that is more important than intellectual sophistication and, in fact, stands in tension with it. They do not know if he possesses tenacity, the ability to fixate on a simple conviction and grip it, viscerally and unflinchingly, through complexity and confusion. They do not know if he possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree.
Their second concern is political. They do not know if President Obama regards Afghanistan as a distraction from the matters he really cares about: health care, energy and education. Some of them suspect that Obama talked himself into supporting the Afghan effort so he could sound hawkish during the campaign. They suspect he is making a show of commitment now so he can let the matter drop at a politically opportune moment down the road.
Finally, they do not understand the president’s fundamental read on the situation. Most of them, like most people who have spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, believe this war is winnable. They do not think it will be easy or quick. But they do have a bedrock conviction that the Taliban can be stymied and that the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be strengthened. But they do not know if Obama shares this gut conviction or possesses any gut conviction on this subject at all.
I concur with all of that and share the exact same fears and concerns, and see the same problems that the lack of resolve and dithering
The experts I spoke with describe a vacuum at the heart of the war effort — a determination vacuum. And if these experts do not know the state of President Obama’s resolve, neither do the Afghan villagers. They are now hedging their bets, refusing to inform on Taliban force movements because they are aware that these Taliban fighters would be their masters if the U.S. withdraws. Nor does President Hamid Karzai know. He’s cutting deals with the Afghan warlords he would need if NATO leaves his country.
Nor do the Pakistanis or the Iranians or the Russians know. They are maintaining ties with the Taliban elements that would represent their interests in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.
His last thoughts are telling and speak to the heart of the worries all who support the military have.
So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.
I can't remember reading anything in the NY Times I ever agreed with more. It feels like I wrote it, and I did rant it. Make the call sir!