Beinart marvels at Obama's disastrous – but shrewd – approach to Afghanistan:
As policy, Obama’s surge was a mess. But politically, it worked wonders. Had Obama opposed any surge back in 2009, when the public—and the GOP—had far more stomach for war than they do now, the political consequences might have been brutal. … Instead, Obama kicked the can down the road, delaying the public admission of defeat until now, by which point America’s failure is so obvious that barely anyone bothers to object. Essentially, he played rope-a-dope, giving Petraeus & Co. the chance to prove what one suspects Obama already believed: that counterinsurgency in Afghanistan had no chance.
Finally, a Democrat who knows how to play the politics of national security and win.
But political victories can carry a human price. According to iCasualties, more than 1,300 Americans have died in Afghanistan since Obama took office, more than twice the number that died under George W. Bush. And since it is highly unlikely that Afghanistan’s future will be significantly different because America withdrew its combat troops in 2013 instead of 2009, one can reasonably ask: what did the United States accomplish during those four years that can possibly justify their deaths? It’s disturbing that Barack Obama doesn’t have a good answer to that question. It’s even more disturbing that politically, he doesn’t need one.
Paul Miller is less forgiving:
If Obama sincerely believed the war was either unimportant or already lost, he had a moral responsibility to the soldiers under his command to order their immediate withdrawal; or, contrarily, if he believed the war was still important and winnable (which it is), he had a responsibility to go "all in" and give the troops everything they needed for victory. He did neither, seeking to do just enough to get credit for trying while avoiding an even larger commitment that would have dominated his presidency.
The moral component of politicking a war is acute here. But we shouldn't attribute magical foresight to the president. I see little here that is more troubling than the surge in Iraq. That too was effectively a face-saving strategy to stabilize the country enough to get out. Americans died to invade and occupy Iraq; they also died to put a nice gloss on a still-unresolved sectarian conflict. At least, in Afghanistan, we leave Karzai, for as long as he survives. In Iraq, Americans died to install one of their most formidable foes and killers, Moqtada al Sadr, in the center of the new government.
This is Obama at his coldest. Which is very, very cold.