By now, President Obama is probably tired of hearing people quote him that old saw about knowing you must be right when both sides in an argument disagree with you.
How strange it must be for him to hear the Democrats’ arch nemesis, Karl Rove, with only a few caveats, voice his approval of the Afghanistan strategy the president announced Tuesday night.
Imagine Obama’s discomfort when hearing that organizations like the Parliament of World Religions, which met last week in Melbourne, Australia, had denounced him. Rabbi Michael Lerner said the group was “in partial mourning for the dream of a new world that President Obama promised, and decisively torpedoed” with his speech at West Point.
Painted as a lefty idealist by conservative critics, Obama once again has shown he is above all pragmatic. He has carefully calculated a route that he believes will bring peace to Afghanistan and stability to Pakistan, while acknowledging that neither goal may be achieved before U.S. troops start coming home.
His flexible exit date predictably raised the ire of knee-jerk Obama haters. While commending Obama’s plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) dumped on the goal to begin reducing U.S. troop strength by July 2011. If the date is subject to change, “then it makes no sense … to have announced the date,” McCain said.
But the senator also said, “The exit strategy should be dictated by conditions on the ground,” which practically mirrored Obama’s words in his West Point speech: “Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.”
It appears that it’s not so much the exit as it is the designation of an exit date that concerns McCain. He and other Republicans say that gives the Taliban incentive to sit tight and wait for U.S. troops to leave. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, assured the lawmakers that coalition forces won’t be sitting tight as well.
It made sense for Obama to specify an exit goal, and not just to appease those fellow Democrats who are being very vocal in opposing his escalation of the war. The message is more importantly addressed to the people of Afghanistan, who time and again over the decades have shown how much they despise occupying forces. Just as in Iraq, they need to know that is not our intent.
And, as Obama stressed at West Point, it is important for the Karzai government to know the clock is ticking, too. “The days of providing a blank check are over,” Obama said. “We will support Afghan ministries, governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people.” That’s a sound strategy that will allow our eventual exit.