FPI Director William Kristol: A War President

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In his Monday open letter/cri de coeur to the man he supported for president, Michael Moore asked Barack Obama:

Do you really want to be the new "war president"? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple.... Please say it isn't so.

Well, it is so. President Obama went to West Point, said it was an honor to be with young soldiers who embody what’s finest about our country, described approvingly and patriotically America’s historic achievements in the “noble struggle for freedom,” and spoke as a war president. A good thing, too. Because when you’re at war, you need a war president.

There were unfortunate aspects of Obama’s speech: the foolish eagerness to tell us he’s as eager as can be to get us out of Afghanistan as soon as he can; the laying down of a pseudo-deadline for beginning a process of transitioning our forces out in July 2011, combined with the claim that the pace and duration of the withdrawal is to be conditions-based – a typical example of Obama trying to be too cute by half; the silly harrumphing that “it will be clear to the Afghan government – and, more importantly, to the Afghan people – that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country,” as if we were there to help the Afghans become “responsible for their own country” again, as opposed to fighting for reasons of vital national interest.

Still: By mid-2010, Obama will have more than doubled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he became president; he will have empowered his general, Stanley McChrystal, to fight the war pretty much as he thinks necessary to in order to win; and he will have retroactively, as it were, acknowledged that he and his party were wrong about the Iraq surge in 2007 -- after all, the rationale for this surge is identical to Bush’s, and the hope is for a similar success. He will also have embraced the use of military force as a key instrument of national power.

At the press briefing this afternoon by two senior administration officials, a questioner pointed out that the government of Iran “regards the U.S. government's policy of surging forces as following Bush policy” and that the Iranian regime sees “no change in U.S. policy.”

One senior administration official responded:

One reason that this policy may seem to Iran as consistent with previous policies is that it's founded on the same national interest, and that is that, fundamentally, at the very core of this, is the U.S. national interest to protect America and America's allies. And the threat that emanates from this region, centered on al Qaeda, persists.

So that's why there -- it's easy to understand Iran's perspective perhaps that there is some continuity here in the U.S. policy. That's because the interest is consistent.

“The interest is consistent.” That’s the heart of the matter. It’s encouraging that Obama seems to understand this fact.

On Jan. 20, 2009, in his inaugural address, President Obama said, “And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, ‘Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.’” He might have repeated that confident assertion tonight. Perhaps he can repeat it in his next speech as war president.

Originally published on the Washington Post Post Partisan Blog.

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