Why did President Obama suddenly take a surprise trip to Afghanistan? The answer lays as much in domestic politics in the United States as in progress in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
President Obama has a vexing question. What does one do when one is president of the United States and ones popularity is in a tail spin? Barack Obama will never admit it openly, but he must realize that in his heart of hearts that health care reform, the crown jewel of American liberalism for the past century, recently passed, has become a battle cry of much of the American people against him. Obama’s attempts to sell the initiative after the fact has been met with skepticism and derision.
So the president has done what many other presidents have done, which is to attempt to change the subject, at least temporarily.
The subject President Obama chooses to change to is, for him, a good one. Throughout the wreckage of his presidency, Afghanistan is a bright spot. Barack Obama seems to have stumbled on something resembling a good strategy for dealing with the insurgency in Afghanistan, adopting much of the surge strategy that worked so well for President Bush in Iraq. As a result, the Taliban and its Al Qaeda allies are being steadily ground down by the Coalition war machine.
Indeed, former President Bush must be reflecting on the age old maxim that imitation is the best form of flattery. President Obama may blame every bird that falls on the policies of his predecessor, but when it comes to the things he does that seem to be working, he can thank former President Bush for showing him the way.
Indeed, in 2003, with the insurgency in Iraq just starting to bite, President Bush himself pulled a surprise visit to the Iraqi war zone, showing up as an unexpected guest at a soldiers’ Thanksgiving feast. The visuals that resulted were powerful, to say the least.
President Obama got some good visuals of his own. There he was with President Karzai, laying down the law about what has to be done about corruption in Afghan politics. As an old Chicago pol, President Obama knows quite a bit about that subject and no doubt had some helpful suggestions for the Afghan leader.
And President Obama got some good air congratulating an audience of cheering American warriors for a job well done, as well he should. If things were going badly in Afghanistan, the president’s poll ratings would be even worse than what they are.
Unfortunately for President Obama, he still will return home to an America bitterly divided, largely as a result of his presidency. The health care reform bill is, if anything, growing more unpopular with every passing revelation of a hidden provision. Unemployment persists. Many of the president’s other policies, such as in the Middle East, has become frightening. And Obama has done himself no good in cancelling a popular space exploration program called Constellation.
Barack Obama has a lot of work to do if he is to save his presidency. Foreign trips are not going to suffice. He actually has to solve problems. Unfortunately it may already be too late.
Source: Obama rallies troops on first Afghan trip, Peter Graff, Reuters, March 29th, 2010