Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen tried to defend President Obama’s war strategy. They ran into a buzzsaw of criticism. With a war plan as cockamamie as this one, that should not have been surprising. But it certainly was refreshing to see some elected officials, albeit ones not in the executive branch, act like grown-ups.

ABC News reported:

“Odd,” ‘’troubling” and “unnerving” were among critical comments by senators pressing for an explanation of the announcement by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that American combat missions will end Saturday.

“Your timing is exquisite,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said sarcastically, alluding to Gadhafi’s military advances this week. . . .

Gates said no one should be surprised by the U.S. combat air pullback, but he called the timing “unfortunate” in light of Gadhafi’s battlefield gains. He noted that the air attacks are a central feature of the overall military strategy; over time they could degrade Gadhafi’s firepower to a point that he would be unable to put down a renewed uprising by opposition forces, he said.

Mullen and Gates stressed that even though powerful combat aircraft like the side-firing AC-130 gunship and the A-10 Thunderbolt, used for close air support of friendly ground forces, will stop flying after Saturday, they will be on standby. Mullen said this means that if the rebels’ situation become “dire enough,” NATO’s top commander could request help from the U.S. aircraft. The U.S. also has used Marine AV-8B Harrier attack jets as well as Air Force F-15 fighters and B-2 and B-1 long-range bombers. . . .

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested the pullback might jeopardize congressional support for the Libya mission.

“The idea that the AC-130s and the A-10s and American air power is grounded unless the place goes to hell is just so unnerving that I can’t express it adequately,” Graham said. “The only thing I would ask is, please reconsider that.”

Asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., whether he was confident that NATO could sustain airstrikes alone, Gates replied, “They certainly have made that commitment, and we will see.”

It is fair to ask whether the administration is actually trying to win this war. If three senators can figure out the central flaw (beating a retreat before we’ve accomplished much of anything), then certainly Moammar Gaddafi and the rebels can see Obama’s lack of seriousness. Why would Gaddafi leave Libya if we are going first? And more important, what is the purpose of our intervention if not to ensure success for the mission?

This portends poorly for the July decision on Afghanistan. A significant pullout of troops risks the gains we have made since the president ordered a troop surge. However, he reportedly bristles at the notion that we should make only minor reductions in our troop strength. The Post reported:

[S]ome senior officers and military planning documents have described the July pullout as small to insignificant, prompting deep concern within the White House.

At a meeting of his war cabinet this month, Obama expressed displeasure with such characterizations of the withdrawal, according to three senior officials with direct knowledge of the session. “The president made it clear that he wants a meaningful drawdown to start in July,” said one of the officials, who, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.

Once again, one has to ask: Is the president uninterested in prevailing in a war?

Bob Woodward has characterized Obama as a “reluctant commander in chief.” That certainly has been the case in his agonizing over both Libya and Afghanistan. But now the question remains: Is he an irresponsible one? Perhaps Obama does not recognize the blow the U.S. would suffer from a defeat in either locale. Maybe he considers humiliation in war less dire than the continued criticism and growing cost of these operations.

Someone should ask Obama how committed he is to victory; that we should be fretting over his answer is a telling sign of this president’s declining credibility on the world stage.