Published October 06, 2009
At the conclusion of the 1939 movie, "Gone With the Wind," Vivian Leigh, playing Scarlett O'Hara, defers decision on what to do about the major crisis in her life with the phrase, "After all, tomorrow is another day." Unfortunately, the Obama White House seems to have adopted Scarlett's decision-making process for the war in Afghanistan. Note to the O-Team: Kabul isn't Tara and Americans are dying while the commander in chief dithers.
On Wednesday, September 30, a full month after General Stanley McChrystal submitted his "assessment" of the situation in Afghanistan, President Obama convened a three-hour meeting of his "national security team" in the White House Situation Room to "discuss next moves." According to information subsequently provided by the White House press office, General McChrystal "participated in the meeting" via an encrypted video link and no decisions were made.
Less than 24 hours later, the commander in chief boarded Air Force One and headed, not to meet with his commander on the field of battle, but to Copenhagen, Denmark, to meet with the International Olympic Committee. His mission: Convince the IOC to select Chicago as the site for the 2016 summer games. Apparently, winning Olympic gold for Chicago is more important than winning a war.
That's not just my opinion, that's the sense of many who have put their lives on the line in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, as the "Sit Room" meeting was ongoing, I was with a grievously wounded Navy SEAL at the National Regional Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. His concern was not for his own life-threatening injuries, but on his mates, carrying on the fight without him.
Later that evening a military officer in Kabul offered this evaluation: "This is only the second time that the president has talked to General McChrystal. We still don't have any decisions. We don't know what we're going to get or when we will get it. What we do know is that what we have isn't enough to win." According to press reports, General McChrystal told the meeting participants that the situation in Afghanistan is "serious" and "deteriorating."
The White House press secretary now says that Wednesday's meeting is the beginning of a "thorough review of the options and strategy" for Afghanistan and that at least "three more strategy sessions have been scheduled." That's not good news. Time is not an ally in this fight. Indecision is an enemy in every war. The trip to Copenhagen is an unnecessary distraction.
The O-Team's vacillation is proving costly on the battlefield and politically damaging here at home. The primary opponents to doing what needs to be done in Afghanistan are leaders in Obama's own party — on Capitol Hill and in Vice President Joe Biden's office.
On the eve of this week's belated White House "review session," 50 Democrats in the House of Representatives signed a letter urging the president not to send any additional troops to Afghanistan until he crafts "a well-defined military exit strategy." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, already on record opposing any troop increase in Afghanistan, says there is "no appetite" in Congress for "escalation."
Vice President Biden supports a "less is more" counterterrorism campaign using Special Operations troops, air strikes and unmanned aerial vehicles to attack Taliban targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, this is precisely the "offshore" approach pursued by the Clinton administration after the 1993 Al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center. The effectiveness of this strategy was evident on September 11, 2001.
On March 27, following a "careful policy review," Obama proclaimed Afghanistan and Pakistan as "the central front in the War on Terror," announced a "comprehensive new strategy" for the region and ordered 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan; increasing the number of Americans there to 68,000 by the end of this year. A month and a half later, he made General Stanley McChrystal — an advocate of pursuing a counterinsurgency campaign — the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. On August 17, the president declared, "This is not a war of choice; it 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 could plot to kill more Americans."
Those statements were true then and they are true today.
The counterinsurgency strategy for how to win in Afghanistan has been carefully prepared by General McChrystal. If Obama wants to be remembered for something other than playing politics with the Olympics, he needs to bring General McChrystal to Washington and have him testify before Congress — and soon.
In "Gone With the Wind," Scarlett O'Hara's hesitancy and uncertainty made her an engaging character. Those qualities don't work in the role of commander in chief.
As for whether Chicago gets the Olympics, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.