Tonight, Lyndon Baines… excuse me! Barack Obama will speak to the American people from West Point announcing his commitment of 34,000 additional US troops (in response to a request, months ago, from the field commander for 40,000).
It has clearly taken considerable behind-the-scenes debate within the administration, and soul searching on the part of the commander in chief, to arrive at the decision to (more or less) continue the American commitment to defeating Fundamentalist Islam in Afghanistan. The president is in the unhappy position of half-heartedly attempting to save face by unwillingly pursuing a military effort he would rather avoid, in the face of crumbling support and, inevitably in the end, vigorous opposition from his own political allies and base.
Byron York explains the problem.
A Gallup poll last week asked Americans about four possible options in Afghanistan. Would they prefer to see the number of U.S. troops increased by 40,000, as top military commanders proposed?
Would they prefer to see the number increased, but by some smaller amount? Would they prefer the number remain unchanged? Or would they like to see the United States begin to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan?
Fifty-seven percent of Democrats want to reduce the number of troops, and another 10 percent want to see troop levels remain the same. Thatâ€™s 67 percent â€” two-thirds â€” of Democrats who want the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to go down, or at least go no higher. Which means two-thirds of Democrats likely oppose the presidentâ€™s decision to send more troops.
And yet, in the 2008 presidential season, from the Democratic primaries to the general election, Democrats felt required to promise to step up the war in Afghanistan. Was it because the Democratic base that now opposes escalation supported it back then? No. A Gallup poll in August 2007 â€” in the midst of the Democratic primary race â€” found that just 41 percent of Democrats supported sending more U.S. troops to fight in Afghanistan.
If the base didnâ€™t support it, then why did candidates promise it? Because Democratic voters and candidates were playing a complex game. Nearly all of them hated the war in Iraq and wanted to pull Americans out of that country. But they were afraid to appear soft on national security, so they pronounced the smaller conflict in Afghanistan one they could support. Many of them didnâ€™t, really, but for political expediency they supported candidates who said they did. Thus the party base signed on to a good war-bad war strategy.
â€œOne of the things that I think is critical, as the next president, is to make absolutely certain that we not only phase out the Iraq war but we also focus on the critical battle that we have in Afghanistan and root out al Qaeda,â€ Obama said at a Democratic candidatesâ€™ debate in New Hampshire in June 2007. The war in Iraq, Obama continued, â€œis an enormous distraction from the battle that does have to be waged in Afghanistan.â€…
Other top Democrats adopted the get-tough approach, at least when it came time to campaign. In September 2006, as she was leading the effort that would result in Democrats taking over the House and her becoming speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi said George W. Bush â€œtook his eye off the ballâ€ in Afghanistan. â€œWe had a presence over there the past few years, but not to the extent that we needed to get the job done,â€ Pelosi said. The phrase â€œtook his eye off the ballâ€ became a Democratic mantra about the supposed neglect of Afghanistan â€” a situation that would be remedied by electing ready-to-fight Democrats.
But now, with Democrats in charge of the entire U.S. government and George Bush nowhere to be found, Pelosi and others in her party are suddenly very, very worried about U.S. escalation in Afghanistan. â€œThere is serious unrest in our caucus,â€ the speaker said recently. There is so much unrest that Democrats who show little concern about the tripling of already-large budget deficits say theyâ€™re worried about the rising cost of the war.
It is in that atmosphere that Obama makes his West Point speech. He had to make certain promises to get elected. Unlike some of his supporters, he has to remember those promises now that he is in office. So he is sending more troops. But he still canâ€™t tell the truth about so many Democratic pledges to support the war in Afghanistan: They didnâ€™t mean it.
Those of us who remember Vietnam can tell you how all this is going to play out. Nobody destroys democrat presidencies better than democrats.