BARACK OBAMA IS STRIVING MIGHTILY to pass the commander-in-chief test by
proposing that U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, where we are on the verge of a
decisive victory against al Qaeda and Iran's "special group" proxies,
and reinforce the NATO mission in Afghanistan, where at best we're only holding
our own. Setting aside the timeless military wisdom that great captains
reinforce success, it's instructive to compare Obama's plan for Afghanistan
with that of his rival, John McCain.
First, the Obama approach, as outlined in his "New Strategy for a New
World" speech today: redeploy two additional U.S. combat brigades into
Afghanistan, get greater contributions and fewer restrictions from our NATO
partners, accelerate the training of Afghan security forces, "invest in
alternative livelihoods to poppy-growing," bolster the Karzai government
and pressure the government of Pakistan to pacify the Pashtun tribal belts
along the border. Nothing wrong with any of this--although "standing up
for the aspirations of the Pakistani people" is no substitute for some
very tough love directed at the Pakistani army--but a little underwhelming for
a "war we must win" that Obama argues is the real central front in
the Long War. Obama is not aiming to win, but to "finish" the war.
By contrast, the McCain approach, as outlined in brief remarks this morning:
three brigades, not two. A clear counterinsurgency strategy, modeled on the
success of the surge in Iraq (a method that Obama still contends is a failure).
A coherent campaign plan, synchronizing not just military but U.S. and NATO
civilian efforts as well, again modeled on the plan devised by Gen. David
Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker in Baghdad. A request not just for more troops
and fewer caveats from NATO, but a demand for unity of command. An accompanying
Afghan surge, doubling the size of the Afghan National Army--not only a proven
fighting force but the one true expression of Afghan nationalism and the most
competent institution of the Kabul government. McCain seems less interested in
"finishing" the war than winning it.
The differences are not small ones, and reflect a
distinction between the kind of staff-driven, laundry-list mush that sees the
immensity of a problem and a leader-driven set of priorities that sees a
solution. It is the distinction between Obama's opposition to the Iraq surge
and McCain's support for it: not just the courage to make the tough choice, but
the clarity to follow the right course. It's also the distinction between
winning the war and simply ending it.