Americans deserve answers about Afghanistan from President Obama

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, November 28, 2009

The selection of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for President Obama's announcement of his new Afghanistan war strategy is media manipulation worthy of Michael Deaver, the legendary image protector of Ronald Reagan. What better setting than an audience of military cadets to project Obama as the reluctant warrior and commander in chief who, because of circumstances not of his making, is forced to commit the nation's finest to a war not of his choosing?

Makes for a great visual, too.

It's also a good way for Obama to get his war message across to national security think-tankers who have been banging their spoons for escalation, to Republicans who demand that he give the generals what they want, and to conservatives who say he is a ditherer, not a doer.

Tuesday night's event should go down well with the cadets. But what about the millions of Americans across the country who will be tuned in?

Many will be older and grayer than the cadets, and they are past the point of being impressed by dramatic photo ops and symbolic poses. They don't want orchestration; they want answers.

That's certain to be true of jobless viewers. The nation's unemployment rate is at 10.2 percent, a 26-year high. These people will be waiting to hear Obama explain how adding to the $10 billion monthly price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan will help them find work. African American men, 17.1 percent of whom are unemployed, want a word from Obama on this.

The White House has said that every increase of 1,000 troops will cost $1 billion. So if the administration sends 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan, as rumored, that's an additional $34 billion.

"Where's it going to come from, Mr. President?" the unemployed and their families will want to know. Obama needs to address that question. This country has an accumulated debt of $12 trillion that is forecast to rise to $21 trillion in 10 years.

Picturesque events that help shape Obama's image as commander in chief can take him only so far. He needs to come down to eye level and explain his Afghanistan strategy to the people who must pay for this war: the salary and wage earners who struggle to buy food and pay their bills.

Yes, the administration will float bonds to bring in the cash to buy munitions, but that debt belongs to the American people, not to the White House.

The people all across our country -- not just Washington's political, military and media intelligentsia -- deserve a plausible explanation.

True, most of the folks who will watch on Tuesday are not schooled in military strategy and tactics. They aren't likely to have the erudition of civilian and military experts who toss around such terms as "asymmetric warfare" and "conventional force strategy."

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