Friday, December 4, 2009


Damned if he did, damned if he didn’t – that’s where U.S. President Barack Obama found himself this week on the issue of putting a timeframe around the new “surge” of American troops into Afghanistan. As the guy who campaigned on shifting priority from “the wrong war” (Iraq) to the origin of the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11, he didn’t need to sell his intention so much as his vision for completion. And therein lay the rub – without a date it’s an open-ended quagmire; with any kind of timeframe it’s war with a deadline, and that only helps the enemy. So, purely from a communications standpoint, I think he did about all he could in his prime-time address to the nation this week, putting a target date of July, 2011 out there but referencing it in couched ways including when “our troops will begin to come home” and declaring that “just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition (to Afghan Army soldiers) responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.” That gives him the wiggle room to respond to unforeseen events, if necessary, which is wise. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did her part back-stopping the boss as well, fielding questions at a Senate hearing by saying “I do not believe we have locked ourselves into leaving. It is intended to send a message about resolve and urgency.” Frustrating as that may be to critics and pundits, I think it passes the test of reasonable positioning with regard to a war that has been as unpredictable as it has been hard-fought to date.

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