The Circular and Conflicted Commentary on Obama and Afghanistan

Commentary on Obama's plan shows how torn Americans are about the war.

By + More

By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I don't know anyone who feels they know enough about Afghanistan. And so a lot of the commentary today strikes me as very circular and conflicted. People are torn. This morning, Andrew Sullivan had a thoughtful essay on the president's speech last night at West Point, and his Atlantic colleague Marc Ambinder had lunch with the president yesterday and got some insights on Obama's thinking. Here's a quote from the president at lunch, in which he linked Americans' anxiety about the economy with their assessment of the war:

The American people are having a really tough time right now, in their own lives. We've got the highest unemployment rate since the early 80s, people are deleveraging from massive amounts of debt, there's a lot of anxiety out there about losing your healthcare, losing their house, losing your job, not being able to finance your kid's college's education and so one speech is not going to suddenly persuade them that investing a lot more blood and treasure in an Afghanistan is an attractive proposition.

My goal in the speech tonight is to explain to the American people why we have to finish the job and why the strategy I'm putting forward is not only the best possible strategy for our national security and has the best prospect of stabilizing Afghanistan but also has the best prospect of getting our troops home in some realistic timeframe.

One paragraph Sullivan wrote while watching the Fox coverage after the speech mirrors my own ambivalence on the president's strategy, and I think a lot of other people's too:

I just don't believe that Afghanistan will be in much better shape in 2011 than it is now, or that withdrawal in 2012 will have any greater a chance of avoiding subsequent implosion than withdrawal now or withdrawal from Iraq in 2010.

So I am left with this deep ambivalence and concern. But we are at war and he is the president and he has committed the troops. I'll do with this what I did with the 2007 surge: support the troops once the decision is made ... And I fervently hope and pray this strategy succeeds in ways that the Iraq surge has not yet succeeded. And I just as fervently pray that the uncertainties and risks of those two countries do not destroy this president as they destroyed the last. And that they do not take this country with him.