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Young Hamlet's Agony

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Friday, October 9, 2009

The genius of democracy is the rotation of power, which forces the opposition to be serious -- particularly about things like war, about which until Jan. 20 of this year Democrats were decidedly unserious.

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When the Iraq war (which a majority of Senate Democrats voted for) ran into trouble and casualties began to mount, Democrats followed the shifting winds of public opinion and turned decidedly antiwar. But needing political cover because of their post-Vietnam reputation for weakness on national defense, they adopted Afghanistan as their pet war.

"I was part of the 2004 Kerry campaign, which elevated the idea of Afghanistan as 'the right war' to conventional Democratic wisdom," wrote Democratic consultant Bob Shrum shortly after President Obama was elected. "This was accurate as criticism of the Bush administration, but it was also reflexive and perhaps by now even misleading as policy."

Which is a clever way to say that championing victory in Afghanistan was a contrived and disingenuous policy in which Democrats never seriously believed, a convenient two-by-four with which to bash George Bush over Iraq -- while still appearing warlike enough to fend off the soft-on-defense stereotype.

Brilliantly crafted and perfectly cynical, the "Iraq war bad, Afghan war good" posture worked. Democrats first won Congress, then the White House. But now, unfortunately, they must govern. No more games. No more pretense.

So what does their commander in chief do now with the war he once declared had to be won but had been almost criminally under-resourced by Bush?

Perhaps provide the resources to win it?

You would think so. And that's exactly what Obama's handpicked commander requested on Aug. 30 -- a surge of 30,000 to 40,000 troops to stabilize a downward spiral and save Afghanistan the way a similar surge saved Iraq.

That was more than five weeks ago. Still no response. Obama agonizes publicly as the world watches. Why? Because, explains national security adviser James Jones, you don't commit troops before you decide on a strategy.

No strategy? On March 27, flanked by his secretaries of defense and state, the president said this: "Today I'm announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." He then outlined a civilian-military counterinsurgency campaign to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And to emphasize his seriousness, the president made clear that he had not arrived casually at this decision. The new strategy, he declared, "marks the conclusion of a careful policy review."

Conclusion, mind you. Not the beginning. Not a process. The conclusion of an extensive review, the president assured the nation, that included consultation with military commanders and diplomats, with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, with our NATO allies and members of Congress.


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