A reader writes:
David Brooks is twice wrong in his column, and the second of his errors is much the more dangerous. By strong implication, David urges the President not only to reach a prompt decision on troop levels in Afghanistan, but to "fixate" on the "simple conviction ['that the war is winnable'] and grip it ... unflinchingly". David cites the examples of Lincoln and Churchill, but they prove the opposite. Both Lincoln and Churchill famously held to their strategic goals through thick and thin, Lincoln's being the preservation of the Union and Churchill's being the destruction of the Fascists. But both of those war leaders were just as famously completely flexible as to the measures which would lead to success. As Lincoln said: "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." Churchill bordered on the impetuous in trying different tactics in his determination to defeat Hitler.
Obama's task is to devise the best strategy to cope with and defeat the terrorists, but then he must also educate and persuade the American people and our allies that neither a swift nor complete "victory" is attainable in this conflict, but that "victory" lies in isolating and outlasting the jihadists. I believe America will follow Obama whatever the cost, but only if he can articulate a strategy that leaves room for treating the traditional concept of "victory" in Afghanistan as the chimera it may be, and points the way towards how best to deploy America's resources, military, diplomatic and economic, throughout the region and indeed the world. Fixating on a "simple conviction" is what mired us in Iraq and turned our attention from Afghanistan/Pakistan. We need a broader view, flexible enough to track reality - as Lincoln and Churchill taught us. David's urging would deflect Obama - and America - from this more important task.