Shadow Government

Kudos for the calling card in Kabul

In previous posts and musings, I have gently chided President Obama for allowing the perception that he is slighting the Commander-in-Chief role to take hold. I also worried that White House political advisors would come to believe avoiding national security was a shrewd political move. And I expressed some concern about the roll-out of Obama’s ...

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

In previous posts and musings, I have gently chided President Obama for allowing the perception that he is slighting the Commander-in-Chief role to take hold. I also worried that White House political advisors would come to believe avoiding national security was a shrewd political move. And I expressed some concern about the roll-out of Obama’s Afghan strategy, which I think confused as much as it clarified.

With all that nattering and niggling, it would be churlish if I did not praise President Obama and his team for the quick trip to the war zone over the weekend.  It is praiseworthy on a number of accounts:

  • First, they get credit for pulling off a surprise visit.  For a White House that has seemed in disarray and riven with internal factions, a surprise trip shows that they still have good internal discipline at the staff level.
  • Second, the President’s meeting with the troops was effective and apparently well-received. In war-time the commander-in-chief’s role as communicator-in-chief, not only to the general public but especially to the military rank and file must not be ignored.
  • Third, the President apparently administered some tough love to Afghan President Karzai. Relations with the Afghan leader are a critical factor in the ultimate success of the mission. Those relations suffered enormously last year and it is good to see President Obama take seriously his role in putting the relationship on a more productive trajectory.

When I heard about the trip, I hoped that President Obama might also include Baghdad on his itinerary. The situation there is especially delicate and the Iraqi political leaders will probably need high-level help if they are to avoid lasting and damaging political paralysis. The Baghdad drop-by did not happen, but Obama’s quick Kabul visit may be a welcome harbinger of a renewed focus on the wars he is leading.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.
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