Command Assumed

For all the wrong reasons, and entirely by accident, President Obama may have finally committed himself to victory in Afghanistan.

It has been a particularly bizarre time in these strange wars in which we have been engaged this past decade, as fissures between our political, diplomatic and military branches were widened into a gaping crisis by a recent Rolling Stone article. But the crisis as well as the fissures, contrary to popular misconception, were the result of the president’s failure of leadership, not Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s.

By engaging in an extended period of dithering, allowing subordinates and outside parties to excessively and publicly meddle and influence the process, and by finally settling on a three-quarter meadure with a deadline for purely political reasons, the president demonstated that he was not serious about the war in Afghanistan, nor was he in charge there. When he finally, after all that, allowed a pop-culture magazine’s hit piece to dictate his actions … responding by firing his general rather than exerting some leadership by bringing his fractious factions together, cracking heads and getting them all onside … the president inadvertantly committed himself to victory, or at least defaulted to it, appointing the one man who carries more political weight than he does, someone who is committed to winning and has done so before in the face of great military odds and political opposition.

By naming David Petraeus as the theater commander in Afghanistan, Obama effectively ceded control of the war that he had been unwilling to seize control of himself.

So, thanks to a colossally poor exercise in presidential wartime leadership, the soldiers who are fighting and dying to prevent Afghanistan from becoming not just a base of terrorist operations but a major victory for Islamic extremism, now face an improved prospect for success, with deft, experienced, unquestioned command. Barack Obama has, by accident, created circumstances under which the war might not ony be winnable, but under which there is little he can do with any political credibility to prevent a win.

But don’t just take my word for it. Historian Richard F. Miller, a former combat embed in Iraq and Afghanistan and a scholar of battlefield oratory who has studied the speeches of both Obama and Petraeus … among others dating well back into antiquity … parses the general’s July 4 speech in Kabul. In Assumption on the Fourth of July, Miller concludes that Petraeus has signalled he doesn’t intend to lose this one.

Miller’s scholarly works on war words include his new release, FIGHTING WORDS: Persuasive Strategies for War and Politics and In Words and Deeds: Battle Speeches in History. Previously, Miller, scathingly, on Obama’s Afghan surge speech.

Posted on 7 Jul 2010
Crossposted on

Photo: flickr/isafmedia

One thought on “Command Assumed

  1. Guest says:

    You write that Obama created a deadline for withdrawal in Afghanistan “purely for political reasons,” as if that were not a legitimate component of the Afghan war strategy that merits consideration. As the Vietnam War and the Iraq War have shown, U.S. action abroad need the support of the American people in order to be sustained. That support is waning. It would be irresponsible of Obama as Commander in Chief to simply ignore that reality. As for Obama not being serious about the war in Afghanistan, how could that possibly be true? What Democratic president wants to be seen as losing Afghanistan, the only place that can legitimately be seen as the main source of the 9/11 attacks against our country? And had he not fired McChrystal for what seems to many to be insubordination (what was McChrystal thinking when he was talking to the reporter, for crying out loud?), he would be criticized by all his critics as being even less of a leader and too weak to control the military. I see so many criticisms about the President's policy, but never do those critics go out on a limb and suggest a viable alternative. Indefinite occupation of Afghanistan? More CT and less COIN? More COIN and less CT?

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