From tonight onward, the relevance of George W. Bush to the foreign policy of the United States begins to diminish like a lifting winter fog to the vanishing point. This war in Afghanistan is Barack Obama's war, and he traveled to West Point to boldly claim that ownership before some of the young men and women who may soon face death under the terms of his order.
President Obama's team, transported nearly whole from its triumphant political campaign, has a sure-handed mastery of the image, the words, the brand. So there was no mistaking any intention whatsoever in tonight's speech upon the Hudson - and any continued carping about inherited warfare and the failed policies of a predecessor in office conflicts with the image of strength and decisiveness the President projected at the U.S. Military Academy.
To put it bluntly: he was not forced into this decision. The failures of the opposition party are no longer all that relevant to what happens now. The Afghanistan policy - more fully understood, in my view, as the Pakistan-Afghanistan policy - is the Obama Administration's policy. It is not some moth-eaten hand-me-down hybrid forced on a unwilling President.
Liberals, who have long deluded themselves into believing Obama was a fellow traveler (in John Heileman's words), have got to find a way to accept this - to understand that President Obama is both the best and the brightest and a practical centrist to the core of his being. (This stands in stark contrast, of course, to the sheer lunacy of the hard right, which insists on branding the Administration as socialist). Progressives who somehow intuited an anti-war politician, a near-pacifist, based on Obama's opposition to Bush's Iraq misadventure must finally understand that this is a President who won't shy away from ordering military action.
Indeed, the President's national security and diplomatic team is resolutely interventionist - committed to military strength and its strategic use - even if they're not wild-eyed exceptionalist cowpokes like the previous Cheneyites. The key words in tonight's address were these:
“We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.”
This is about the danger from that region to American interests and lives. While I may believe Afghanistan to be an unwinnable quagmire that only cost lives and dollars with short results, that it's useless to try and prop up what Bob Herbert calls "ragtag and less-than-energetic Afghan military" and the corrupt regime, President Obama has decided differently. Clearly, the U.S. does have a national security interest in the immediate future of Pakistan and Afghanistan - and so, I might add, does the civilized world.
As David Sirota writes in a tough post tonight (he seems somehow personally hurt that Obama has decided to retain the mantle of "wartime President"), the punditry around this decision is tiresome:
Why do so many pundits and pro-Obama activists continue to focus on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this decision is for President Obama, rather than on how "hard" and "difficult" and "trying" this will be for the soldiers who are killed? Doesn't Obama get to make this decision, and then go home to the comfortable confines of a butlered White House, while thousands of Americans will be sent 7,000 miles from home to face their potential deaths? Isn't the latter "harder" than the former?
I suspect the President himself would agree. Of course this wasn't an easy decision, but it was the President's decision - and the decision he ran so hard to make. Yes, he took his time and that's to his credit. And now it's his war.
And because he acts in your name and mine, it's still ours.