One could come up with many criticisms of President Obama’s speech last night at West Point announcing his Afghanistan strategy.
Why, if he was willing to commit 30,000 troops, would he not go all the way and commit the 40,000 troops that General McChrystal was asking for? Why would the president give a deadline to remove the troops in a speech that needed to show resolve about defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan? And, in giving a deadline of 18 months, why would he give one that approaches so quickly? As John McCain said in a press release after Obama’s speech, “Success is the real exit strategy.”
And how to account for the economic part of the speech? How is it that a president who wants to spend a trillion dollars on healthcare and who signed a pork-laden $787 billion stimulus bill is suddenly worried about the cost of a policy that directly relates to the government’s first obligation to protect its citizens?
One might also question the delivery. Whatever the merits of the speech, it certainly wasn’t one of the more rhetorically brilliant pieces of oratory that the president has given.
Yes, there are plenty of criticisms that could be made of President Obama’s speech. And there are some questions that still must be answered by the president. But what matters most is that the president has declared, definitively, that America is shooting for success in Afghanistan and that he will provide the resources that the military needs to achieve that end.
This is tremendously important and heartening, and all Americans should stand behind the president in this important mission. What happens in Afghanistan is directly related to American security. The president apparently recognizes this. And he is now acting to prevent Afghanistan from falling into the hands of the Taliban, which would once again provide al-Qaeda a safe haven to plan and plot against the United States like they did before 9⁄11. Perhaps even worse, a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan could be used to destabilize a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The president’s decision will almost certainly alienate a large portion of his base and therefore the decision he made is politically risky for him. It is, however, the right move in defense of the safety and security of the United States. Conservatives in the opposition cannot always act as obstructionists. So far, much of the president’s foreign policy has merited criticism. But when the president is right, conservatives need to stand behind him. In this case, while President Obama is skewered by many on the Left, conservatives should vocally stand with the president in support of one of the most vital missions in the terror war.
In that vein, conservatives must also criticize poor behavior in their ranks. While former Vice President Dick Cheney has made many important and accurate statements since leaving office, his interview in the Politico yesterday, right before the president’s speech, was in poor taste. While he may have been correct on much of the substance, it was wrongheaded to call the president “weak” just as he was preparing to make a major policy declaration on Afghanistan. At the very least, the former vice president could have waited until hearing President Obama’s plan.
It may have taken too long, but in the end the president made the right call, or at least close to the right call. Conservatives must now stand with the president in supporting this important mission, even if they provide constructive criticism from time to time on elements of Obama’s plan with which they have disagreements.
Jamie Weinstein is a columnist for The North Star National. He can be contacted through his blog, JamieWeinstein.com.