The more things change, the more they stay the same.

After taking plenty of time to think, US President Barack Obama has announced that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

In what will no doubt been seen as one of the critical moments of the Obama presidency, he also vowed to begin bringing home American troops in mid-2011, arguing the United States was not interested in an open-ended commitment to the conflict, adding “the days of providing a blank cheque are over”.

Criticism of the speech came from both sides, quickly.

New York Times opinion writer Thomas L. Friedman disagrees with Obama’s plan on the grounds that it relies on too many “moving parts” to be successful:

I’d prefer a minimalist approach, working with tribal leaders the way we did to overthrow the Taliban regime in the first place. Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan.

Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei write that Obama and his senior aides have seen their political mortality in the aftermath of the speech, which will divide his party and cost seats in November’s mid-term Congressional elections:

Confronting the complexities and dangers of the Afghan escalation has ushered in a new, more grounded reality for a White House that has gotten far on Obama’s charm, Congressional might and a campaign cockiness aides carried into the West Wing.

That’s over. White House officials now are bracing for brutal months ahead, filled with second-guessing on the war plan and mounting casualties, along with deepening unemployment and a legislative slog on financial reform and climate change.

On the other hand, a Wall Street Journal editorial supports the policy and calls for a “political surge” to rally support:

We support Mr Obama’s decision, and this national effort, notwithstanding our concerns about the determination of the President and his party to see it through. Now that he’s committed, so is the country, and one of our abiding principles is that nations should never start (much less escalate) wars they don’t intend to win.

Glenn Beck from Fox News is true to form:

Thank God we have such a talent in office. There are so many pressing issues and if we didn’t have a raw genius like Obama, how else would we be able to ignore so many experts in their respective fields?

The United Kingdom, principal ally in the Afghanistan effort, isn’t impressed either. Simon Jenkins writes in The Guardian that Obama doesn’t have the stomach to stay the course:

Barack Obama’s announcement of an Afghan “surge” is his frantic bid to rescue what promises to be a stumbling re-election campaign that must start in 2011. It oozes with his desperation not to be in Afghanistan. The question is how best to disengage. As in Vietnam and as the Russians found, withdrawal tends to be possible here in Afghanistan only after the generals on the ground have been given a last chance to claim victory.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, former vice-President Dick Cheney attacked Obama for “projecting weakness” in an interview with Politico:

I begin to get nervous when I see the commander-in-chief making decisions apparently for what I would describe as small ‘p’ political reasons, where he’s trying to balance off different competing groups in society.

And in her new role as GOP spokesperson against Obama, Meghan McCain (daughter of failed Republican candidate Senator John McCain) isn’t backwards about coming forwards on The Daily Beast:

Let me be frank — I am angry. I am angry and frustrated, in a way I haven’t been in a long time. During the election, I remember the biggest fear I had about an Obama presidency was his lack of experience in foreign policy and specifically with the military. (Even as recently as two weeks ago, he showed astonishing insensitivity and naïveté when he joked with soldiers in Korea, “you guys make a pretty good photo-op”). As the fighting in Afghanistan continues to escalate, I can’t help but believe that soldiers are being left behind both by this administration and the media.

Purporting to speak for the people, Michael Moore’s open letter to Obama warning him not to become the new “war president” clearly fell on deaf ears at the White House. Moore begged Obama not to destroy the hopes and dreams of the many millions of voters.

You will teach them what they’ve always heard is true — that all politicians are alike. I simply can’t believe you’re about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn’t so.

We the people still love you. We the people still have a sliver of hope. But we the people can’t take it anymore. We can’t take your caving in, over and over, when we elected you by a big, wide margin of millions to get in there and get the job done. What part of “landslide victory” don’t you understand?

Just in case you missed the speech, made yesterday at the US Military Academy at West Point, you can watch it here.

Peter Fray

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