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A Lack of Will

September 1, 2009

George Will’s column in which he argues for pulling out of Afghanistan has triggered many responses from conservatives opposing his view. The French Cowboy, too, firmly believes that victory in Afghanistan is possible. But I’m strongly pessimistic as to the likelihood of such an achievement with a commander-in-chief who positively refuses to talk about ‘victory’ in the context of the war. In this sense, I sympathise with Monsieur Will. But else, I believe that his column is exactly the type of opinion President Obama and his team are welcoming, because since – judging the CiC’s choice of terms – ‘victory’ cannot be the administrations goal, defeat it must be. Writings like the one from Monsieur Will help the administration to accustom the nation to the thought of leaving Afghanistan without really having accomplished anything.

Obama’s agenda is a domestic one. His foreign policy consists of siding with the wrong party in disputes and in photo-ops, but little else. For Obama, Afghanistan is a side show which he can use to improve his image among the more hawkish voters. But the French Cowboy doubts that Obama’s ambitions concerning the war go beyond that. I find it most likely that Obama is going to pull out of the war either when the nation’s in the mood for it or when Afghanistan can be sold as a success – whatever comes first. As long as his poll numbers don’t suffer because of it, Obama probably doesn’t mind the war too much. But I think he is hoping for Americans’ breath to be shorter than required for such a challenging task so that the unpredictable and risky factor that is such a war can be taken off Obama’s to-do list. The end result will be sold as a great success (as is currently the stimulus bill) and what critics don’t like will be blamed on Bush’s strategy (as is currently the deficit).

It wouldn’t be good for Obama if the war continued on like this for long and he obviously lacks the will to make a genuine effort towards victory (this would demand for risky decisions and the road to victory can often look like the road to disaster – not at all good for a man who wants to stay in power). So it would be best for the administration if voters began to prefer a pull-out out of mere exhaustion (not because of anti-president hysteria as was the case with Iraq and Bush). If such a sentiment can be combined with a little progress on the ground that can be spun into a feel-good ending of the war, that’s all the better. So, a pro-pull-out column by a rather conservative author can only be good for Obama, even if only to test the waters for such an idea in that otherwise unknown entity called the political right.

The French Cowboy, for his part, wished that Americans showed a strong determination to finish the war in Afghanistan victoriously and that somehow this resolve will inspire the president to aim for victory himself. Maybe a weak and disinterested commander-in-chief can be carried by the stamina of the public and an excellent military that considers itself made for nothing less than victory.

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