Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Who speaks for the war in Afghanistan?

It is striking to me how little President Obama says about the war in Afghanistan. The situation reminds me a bit of Iraq late in President Bush’s term. Bush had no credibility on the issue, so had to rely on General Petraeus to become the face and voice of the war. It wasn’t fair to ...

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It is striking to me how little President Obama says about the war in Afghanistan.

The situation reminds me a bit of Iraq late in President Bush's term. Bush had no credibility on the issue, so had to rely on General Petraeus to become the face and voice of the war. It wasn't fair to Petraeus, maybe, but someone had to do it, and Petraeus did, most notably in the September 2007 Senate hearings that effectively quashed congressional sentiment for a quick withdrawal.

But that isn't the problem now. I think Obama has a good deal of credibility on foreign policy and national security issues, perhaps more than any Democratic president since FDR (although the extraordinary narrowness of the backgrounds of Obama's White House national security team continues to worry me -- basically they are Hill rats and political hacks). Maybe there just isn't that much to say about the war. But I think there is.

It is striking to me how little President Obama says about the war in Afghanistan.

The situation reminds me a bit of Iraq late in President Bush’s term. Bush had no credibility on the issue, so had to rely on General Petraeus to become the face and voice of the war. It wasn’t fair to Petraeus, maybe, but someone had to do it, and Petraeus did, most notably in the September 2007 Senate hearings that effectively quashed congressional sentiment for a quick withdrawal.

But that isn’t the problem now. I think Obama has a good deal of credibility on foreign policy and national security issues, perhaps more than any Democratic president since FDR (although the extraordinary narrowness of the backgrounds of Obama’s White House national security team continues to worry me — basically they are Hill rats and political hacks). Maybe there just isn’t that much to say about the war. But I think there is.

If the Petraeus parallel held, either General Mattis (the Centcom commander) or General Allen (the commander in Afghanistan) would step in. But Mattis apparently has been muzzled by President Obama, and Allen still seems to be getting accustomed to the white-hot glare of global publicity. I actually think the gag on Mattis is a mistake — the American people like straight talk, even if it doesn’t play well in Washington.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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