Speaking as one who has been critical of most of President Obama’s domestic initiatives this year, I find myself in the curious position of having to praise him three times in one week. First, he moved to finally provide long overdue improvements to the nation’s power grid. Then he worked with Congressional leadership to shut down foreign tax dodge schemes. (Sadly, with Charlie Rangel’s name on it.) And now, in the wee hours of the morning, he visited Dover Air Force Base to witness the return of the remains of American troops killed in combat.
I have a bad feeling that some of our conservative and Republican supporting friends are going to attack this as some sort of cheap political stunt or “using the bodies of our heroes for political gain,” but those of us who have been there might see it otherwise. The President is in the midst of wrestling with a very important decision regarding our future course in Afghanistan, and this is one aspect of that weighty choice which should never be far from his mind.
I have, unfortunately, had to attend a number of military funerals, including three in my own family. It is a powerful and moving experience which reminds us of the real price we pay in war and the debt and honor we owe to those who volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way in the defense of our country. It’s a very different experience than simply watching it on television or reading lists of casualty numbers in the newspaper. I’m glad that Obama took the time to fly out to Dover and witness this in person. He should also make time to go to the funerals of some of these men if the families choose to invite him.
The President owes us a comprehensive answer on what his plans are in Afghanistan. And I, for one, am glad that he is being deliberative and careful on this, so I’m willing to give him a reasonable amount of time to research and arrive at a decision. When he does reach a conclusion, I must insist that he be able to answer three questions for us, and they come straight from the Powell Doctrine.
1. What is our end goal in Afghanistan and what would constitute victory?
2. What resources do you require to achieve that victory? (And then we give him roughly twice that amount.)
3. Once that victory is achieved, what is your exit strategy to get us out and roughly when should we expect that to happen?
If the President can not succinctly answer all three of those questions, then we need to stop paddling around in circles in Afghanistan and get the hell out of there. And the biggest question for most Americans, I believe, is the first of the three. Are we still there for the express purpose of defeating those who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001? Do we have some updated, plausible plan which will do further serious damage to AQ, (realizing we can never eliminate them entirely) finally capture/kill Osama bin Laden, or otherwise vastly reduce the threat of international terrorism? If so, then I may get behind a plan to continue or even expand our involvement.
But if the plan has now morphed into some sort of long term exercise in nation building, then I say we begin packing up our things right now and get the hell out of there. Robert Gibbs told us last night that the President is nearing the end of this decision process. I, for one, will be waiting to hear what those answers are. But in the meantime, this was a worthwhile trip for the President to make and I’m glad he did it.
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