Esteemed professor and fellow AI board member Eliot Cohen recently appeared on the Hugh Hewitt Show (transcript) to discuss Obama’s Afghanistan speech last week.The interview is worth reading in full, and emphasizes a few core Via Meadia points, including the need for the President to do a better job explaining to the country why we are fighting the war:
Well, I’m sure the White House would undoubtedly debate it. But look, for me, here’s the critical thing. I think an essential part of presidential leadership in wartime is explaining why you’re at war, why you think you’re going to succeed, and you know, how you see the road ahead as well as also the road that you’ve traveled. This is really the first time that he’s spoken on Afghanistan since that West Point speech. And there were a lot of other occasions when he should have done so, when he could have done so. And what this speech was about was really, we’re getting out of here. And the rhetoric is one of you know, we’re here just before the dawn, the people are tired of war, there’s a new light coming, this thing is coming to an end. Well, for sure it’s not going to come to an end for the Afghans. I mean, there’s nobody in Afghanistan who actually thinks this is the end of the Afghan war. I do think the message that he was trying to project is, to use his wording, that we’re going to leave Afghanistan responsibly. And I think that his message to the American people is very much one of I’ve wound down these two awful wars that I inherited, and I’ve done so in a responsible way. And in the general, he’s going to be trying to run on a foreign policy record which is superficially more plausible than his economic record, although I would argue in the end it really isn’t.
This is an important point that is often overlooked by those looking at Obama’s handling of the Afghan War. All too often, reporters and journalists look at poll numbers showing falling support for the war and conclude that Obama is making the right choice in giving the public what it wants and sticking to an early withdrawal deadline. But this misunderstands how support for a war is built. Despite repeated claims that Afghanistan, unlike Iraq, was a “war of necessity” that deserved our full attention, the President has spent remarkably little time reminding the country of its importance. Without the strong backing of the President it is small wonder that support for the war is low—if the man charged with carrying it out doesn’t consider it important enough to discuss, why should the rest of the country?This is a shame. Our mission in Afghanistan is far from over, and it is still too soon for us to leave. Unfortunately, it looks more and more like we will be leaving, and soon.