Unable to figure out why the President “is” sending troops to Afghanistan, Charles Krauthammer concludes a column about his quandary by reaching across the aisle… for a melodramatic cheap shot:
Sen. Kerry, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, asked many years ago: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Perhaps Kerry should ask that of Obama.
“He is out of Afghanistan psychologically,” says [Bob] Woodward of Obama. Well, he may be out, but the soldiers he ordered to Afghanistan are in.
Some will not come home.
The shape of our current discussion – including the opening for political attack like the above from the right – was obvious by the end of last year, long before Woodward’s new book exposed the degree of the President’s frustration with his generals, his defense secretary, and the Afghans. Assuming Woodward’s assessment is accurate, Obama’s strategy was in part a compromise, a last chance for someone to change his mind – the chief alternatives having been a blank check, or an abrupt reversal and retreat amidst all-obliterating political and civilian-military confrontation.
If, as Woodward’s Obama seems to have believed all along, the Afghanistan war effort cannot achieve its furthest objectives at an acceptable cost, then the fundamental “mistake” wasn’t his, but the responsibility for reversing it is. In this pessimistic context, the controlling rationale remains the same “Surge to the Exits”/”framework for withdrawal” option implicit in Obama’s escalation with timetable. It was never likely to be very satisfying, since acknowledging the impossibility or unlikelihood of clear-cut victory is never satisfying. Yet it may cost many fewer lives and pose less risk to the full range of vital American interests than the apparently open-ended escalation in search of undefined ends favored by professionally “horrified” conservatives.
This latter group sees nothing but cowardly duplicity in the President’s conduct. “It is not only unwise; it is contemptible,” says Peter Wehner, agreeing with Jennifer Rubin’s agreement with Krauthammer – all of them so consumed with admiration for each other and antipathy for Obama that they have forgotten their own share in the country’s and that future “last man”‘s predicaments. So Krauthammer’s perplexing identification with the young war protester and future presidential nominee starts to make sense: Today’s hawks seems just as prepared as John Kerry once was to exploit the dead for political purposes.
No one “asks” a soldier “to die.” Soldiers are ordered, in a strong sense by all of us, to do what we deem necessary – not given requests to be assessed in light of their opinions on strategy, their sense of the commander-in-chief’s mindset, or concern for their own safety. What the last man serves and what consecrates his sacrifice is not the quality of a war plan or any particular objective. It’s precisely what Kerry long ago was defiling, and self-styled conservatives like Krauthammer, Rubin, and Wehner today are conspicuously, unwisely and contemptibly, preparing to defile: The nation itself.