Friday, December 4, 2009

WOW, looked who stepped out of the shadows to embrace Obama's Afghan War ... OK. Let's see this as Three Steps Out the Door of Bush's Wars.

Obama Can Win in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday night deserves to be cheered. Over the objections of his vice president and despite opposition from his political base, the president is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorists.

But praise for Mr. Obama's decision needs to be qualified. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had said he could use as many as 40,000 troops, a figure he arrived at after carefully evaluating what would be needed to accomplish the mission Mr. Obama assigned him in June.

Mr. Obama hopes NATO can make up the difference between troops he's sending and the top number Gen. McChrystal asked for. So far, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has rounded up 5,000 additional forces that can be sent to Afghanistan, but they may not have the combat capabilities Gen. McChrystal needs.

Mr. Obama also announced he would begin withdrawing the surge troops in 18 months. While he didn't specify the pace and end date of that drawdown and made it conditional on where things stand at the time, setting an arbitrary date will likely embolden our enemies and raise questions about our commitment to the war.

The president's tone was defensive as he implausibly argued that his lengthy review hadn't delayed anything, because all the options he considered included sending new troops next year. But because of the inaction over the past three months the military will now be put under extra stress in order to deploy troops before the spring fighting season.

Mr. Obama did match the surge with a reaffirmation of the comprehensive counterinsurgency plan he announced March 27. But the president's staff explained his policy better in background briefings than Mr. Obama did in his speech.

Mr. Obama missed a chance for a grace note when, while finally acknowledging the success of the Iraq surge, he couldn't admit he was wrong to oppose it or bring himself to praise President George W. Bush for ordering it. And in a bow to his party's antiwar fringe, Mr. Obama wrung his hands over the economy and domestic concerns, which came across as out of place in a foreign policy speech.

Middle Eastern leaders are probably trying to understand why Mr. Obama talked about the importance of a stable Pakistan, while discouraging talk of nation- building in Afghanistan. They may ask what happened to the candidate who wrote in the Washington Post in July 2008 that "The Afghan people must know that our commitment to their future is enduring, because the security of Afghanistan and the United States is shared."

Still, Tuesday's speech should improve Mr. Obama's standing at home. It wasn't just former Vice President Dick Cheney who disapproved of what he called the president's dithering on Afghanistan. So did the American people: Mr. Obama's job approval on Afghanistan slid to 35% immediately before his speech this week, from 56% in July.
Yet the American people seem poised to accept Mr. Obama's action. In late November, 47% told Gallup they supported a troop increase in Afghanistan, while only 39% backed a reduction. This was up from 42% in favor and 44% opposed about two weeks earlier. Unleashing his military and national security team to swarm Congress and TV talk shows will help his case.

The Democratic Party's antiwar faction is upset over the president's decision. It's almost as if they didn't think Mr. Obama meant it when he said of Afghanistan during the presidential campaign that "this is a war we have to win" and a "war of necessity."

It is not simply grass-roots malcontents or backbenchers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan," House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey called it "a fool's errand," and Sen. Arlen Specter denounced the surge as a "venture not worth so many American lives or the billions it will add to our deficit."

Fortunately, the antiwar left has little power to stop the president from making good on his commitments. Notwithstanding Mr. Obama's vote against funding the war in Afghanistan in May 2007, the White House can win a battle over war funding by standing with a coalition of victory-centered Republicans and Democrats who don't want their president embarrassed.

Only a failure of presidential nerve or an unwillingness to make further midcourse corrections as the need arises will keep Mr. Obama from achieving the goals he has spelled out.

Victory can still be won. It won't be quick and it won't be easy, and it will take active leadership from Mr. Obama. But it is now within his grasp.

Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of the forthcoming book "Courage and Consequence" (Threshold Editions).

About Karl Rove
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.
Before Karl became known as "The Architect" of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.

Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon Schuster.
Email the author at or visit him on the web at
Or, you can send him a Tweet@karlrove.

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