During the month of November, while President Barack Obama was dithering on whether or not to embrace General Stanley McChrystal’s strategy for winning in Afghanistan, something unexpected happened in American public opinion on the war. According to Gallup, the American public switched from 42% for and 44% against sending more troops to Afghanistan, to 47% for and only 39% against a troop build up. It is unclear why the American people came to support an increase in troops last month, but it is safe to rule out strong leadership from the White House as the cause. Hopefully the President’s incoherent address to a muted West Point audience will not reverse America’s growing support for victory.

Too Few Troops: As we noted yesterday, when General McChrystal provided President Obama his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan in August, he identified three troop levels each with a corresponding level of risk that the mission could fail: 1) an additional 20,000 troops that would run a “high risk of failure“; 2) an additional 80,000 troops that would be a “low risk option” that has “best chance to contain the Taliban-led insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan“; or 3) an additional 40,000 to 45,000 troop “medium risk option.” President Obama’s 30,000 troop increase falls squarely between the “high” and “medium” risk options. Nowhere in his address did Obama explain how a medium or high risk of failure in Afghanistan could possibly be acceptable to the American people.

Counterproductive Time Line: In the very next sentence after announcing he would send only 30,000 more troops, President Obama then informed al Qaeda and the Taliban exactly how long they would have to survive before Obama began to withdrawal: July 2011. It is difficult to comprehend why Obama would have designated such an early date to begin withdrawing U.S. forces, when most observers acknowledge it will take at least 3 -4 years to fully train and equip the Afghan National Army to a level sufficient to the task of taking on the Taliban. The announcement of a withdrawal date only provides a psychological advantage to the Taliban who will convince their recruits that the American will is lacking and thus they can just “wait us out.” Promising firm dates for troop pullouts is an entirely political move that has everything to do with placating the leftist base of the Democratic Party and nothing to do with the national security interests of the American people.

Confusing Our Allies: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Brussels later this week to meet with NATO Foreign Ministers in the hopes of securing additional troop commitments from our allies. However, President Obama’s decisions to only partially meet his commander’s request for 80,000 troops and establish an arbitrary deadline for withdrawal will undermine her efforts. Europe’s various commanders-in-chief managed to stave off repeated requests from President Bush for additional troops and equipment; so, why would they not just wait the clock out on President Obama?

We hope that the President’s plan will succeed, and Americans should do everything in their power to ensure that it does. But if it does not, then we must remember the choices that were available to the President for this fateful decision. He had the chance to turn this war around; if he does not, the result will be his responsibility alone.

Quick Hits:

  • According to Gallup, only 35% of Americans currently approve of President Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan, down from 56% in July.
  • Describing President Obama’s Afghanistan speech, MSNBC personality Chris Matthews described the United States Military Academy at West Point as “the enemy camp”.
  • The director of Britain’s University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit is stepping down pending an investigation into allegations that he hyped the case for man-made climate change.
  • Just months after President Obama personally fired the CEO for government owned General Motors, current GM CEO Fritz Henderson resigned unexpectedly yesterday.
  • House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) will outline a pro-growth jobs plan at 2 p.m. today. You can watch and ask the Congressman questions on Facebook.