- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Either a war has to be fought, or it doesn’t. In his speech on Afghanistan last week, President Obama tried to split the difference.

According to Mr. Obama, the war has to be fought, which is why he is committing 30,000 additional troops, But at the same time, the war doesn’t have to be fought, which is why he’s going to begin withdrawing them in a mere 18 months (and conveniently, 18 months before the next presidential election.)

What he was really saying: He has to bulk up in Afghanistan, but he’s just not that into it.

Most ominously, Mr. Obama spoke not of winning, but of national limitations. He spoke not of what we can do, but of what we cannot. Constrained by two wars, a weak economy, and his own deficit-busting spending, Mr. Obama continually referred to the limits of what America can accomplish.

Although nobody wants a Pollyanna, we reject a president telling us to keep our expectations low and our vision small. We know we have limitations, but we don’t want to hear the president fence us in with them.

The American president is supposed to inspire us to transcend those limitations, to achieve and soar, to innovate, think out of the box, and find a way around constraints. That’s the American way: big and optimistic. The president is supposed to be upbeat and positive, because no matter how difficult the challenges, he believes in America’s strength to overcome them. He’s supposed to be Oprah, not Debbie Downer.

That’s why we look to him to stir the national soul with words and actions about the power and beauty of the United States, not give us small-bore, narrow comments that could be spoken by any local mayor.

Image No. 1: I heard from a famous old-school entertainer, who, in her heyday, ruled Hollywood, New York and Las Vegas. She was appalled by Mr. Obama’s speech. She was aghast at his transparent, political toying with the end-game timeline.

She was horrified by his mechanical and emotionless delivery. If this were to be a cri de coeur, a rallying cry to the nation in wartime, where was the fire, urgency and passion that a commander in chief must convey to his people, his nation’s allies and enemies, and the troops under his command? In her frustration, she uttered her own cri de coeur - “Bring back my country to me.”

Image No. 2: The morning after the speech, a photograph widely circulated of three West Point cadets awaiting the president’s arrival. One of them had his head buried in a book. No, it wasn’t Heidi Montag’s “How To Be Famous.” The young cadet was reading “Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man.”

The baby-faced Army cadet was sending the wavering, split-the-baby, heart-not-really-in-it commander in chief a message: Even if the president isn’t that into Afghanistan, those doing the fighting certainly are.

Their boss may have been splitting policy hairs, but the cadets have the fight in them, the drive to win, and the urgency to defend their country in its dire hour of need. No wonder MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called the United States Military Academy “the enemy camp” that night.

Image No. 3: Total war. During World War II, our soldiers were tasked with smashing the enemy. Unlike his hero, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mr. Obama seems unwilling to embrace that concept.

Germany was beaten after World War I, but it didn’t take long for it to rise again as a much more malignant threat. The end of World War II was not to be a compromise; it was to come about from the total annihilation of the enemies’ ability and will to make war.

Right now, our soldiers are hamstrung by rules of engagement that require them to Mirandize captured terrorists, call military lawyers in Washington to pre-approve drone strikes, and canvass the battlefield with plastic baggies for evidence collection. War zones are now treated as crimes scenes, and our soldiers are forced to conduct combat like it’s an episode of a crime-scene investigation series on TV.

This is part of the Obama administration’s dangerous reorientation of the conflict away from war and toward criminal justice. Our soldiers are fighters, not dogcatchers. If Mr. Obama were serious about winning the war, he would unleash our military.

In choosing to speak of national limitations rather than victory, Mr. Obama grew even more aligned with President Jimmy Carter, who encouraged our enemies with hapless and halfhearted policies and talked of “national malaise.” Weak presidents are neither respected nor electorally rewarded by their publics.

Mr. Obama is just not that into Afghanistan, but our enemies certainly are into it, and his too-clever-by-half strategy will only make them more so.

Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.

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