What’s Obama’s strategy at this point for Afghanistan? Unclear. Having first neglected for months to speak directly with the man he asked for advice, General Stanley McChrystal — as we learned from a 60 Minutes interview with McChrystal in September — Obama has now spent months discussing and discarding options. Could this also be having its effect on troop morale?
If he can’t make up his mind, then one thing he could do, at the very least, is go there. He could buck up the troops. He could rub shoulders, stand with them for at least an hour or two, maybe dish up some soup in the lunch line, give a soaring speech and display for their benefit and the world’s, that as commander-in-chief of these men and women risking their lives under his command, he is not AWOL. Whatever the elaborate and protracted nature of his decision-making, he could underscore with his presence that Afghanistan is as much a priority to him as it is to the troops serving there. When Obama was campaigning for office, he obviously understood quite well the importance of putting his feet on the ground and looking presidential in Afghanistan. It is more than fitting that as president, he should do the same. By all means, take whatever security precautions are needed, make it a surprise visit, bring along the rest of the army if necessary — but go.
Right now, Obama is touring East Asia, heading from Tokyo to Singapore on Saturday, then to Beijing on Sunday, and Seoul on Wednesday, before coming home. As the crow flies, the distance from Beijing to Kabul is about 2,600 miles; Seoul to Kabul is about 3,200. I’m not sure what distances the actual air routes would entail, but Obama as president of the United States has the resources to sort these things out, and he and his entourage travel in considerably more comfort than do the troops. In his protracted ponderings of what to do about Afghanistan, now that he is president, and responsible for much more than campaign photo-ops, it might even help him to go take a look for himself.