The president of the United States, whether it’s Barack Obama or George W. Bush or Charlie Sheen, has one chief job here: to make sure that Afghanistan does not fall back under Taliban control. That’s a president’s bottom line, period. Imagine that you are the president and one day—let us say a day during the year when you’re seeking reelection—the headlines blare that the Taliban are back in Kabul, just as they were in 1996. You are in all likelihood finished politically. More importantly, you have arguably exposed your country to further harm. That would be any president’s bottom line, more than a “war-weary” public, more than your electoral base, more than anything. And let’s face it, it’s especially true for a Democrat.
So I cut Obama more slack on this question than a lot of people do. There will be complaints that drawing down 33,000 troops by the end of 2012 means that 66,000—more than when he took office—will remain. Those people complaining aren’t the president. I am happy to second-guess the guy on debt-ceiling negotiations, where I fear he’s going to give away the store and try to call it bipartisan accomplishment, but I’m hesitant to second-guess him on this one. Virtually anyone sitting in the Oval Office would be sizing this up the way he is.
I’m glad he was forthright enough to mention that we need to negotiate with the Taliban. That’s the key piece here in many ways. I hope he sticks with that when the Republicans start their inevitable shallow carping about it.