He really doesn’t want to do this.
A bigger, deeper, longer involvement in Afghanistan, that is. With every passing week, Afghanistan seems more and more a fool’s errand, and Barack Obama is no fool. He may end up saying yes anyway -- the forces pressing him in that direction may simply be too powerful to resist -- but before he does, he’s making clear that he absolutely detests the prospect.
It’s nothing he’s said; he’s voicing all the standard commander-in-chief phrases about the courage and decency of America’s fighting men and women. About their record of “perseverance -- not just when it was easy, but when it was hard.”
It’s nothing he’s said. But it’s everywhere he’s been.
To the Air Force base in Dover, a middle-of-the-night witness to coffins coming home.
To Fort Hood in Texas, consoler-in-chief after sudden, shocking violence.
To the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, paying tribute to generations of the fallen -- and then to Section 60, Arlington’s famous Section 60, walking grim-faced among the latest rows of polished headstones.
A self-guided tour of pain and loss. And for the nation he leads, a stunning visual aid: the connection between command and consequence made exquisitely, excruciatingly clear.
Call it Obama body language.
He gets it. That doesn’t mean he has to like it.
He hates it. That doesn’t mean he won’t decide to do it.
But before he decides anything, he wants to consider everything, and hear from everyone. He’s read the history books, and the eyewitness accounts; he knows how often the road to hell has been paved with questions unasked. With assumptions unchallenged. With doubts unexpressed.
Not this time, he’s saying. He wants to hear it all.
He wants to know how we’d be going in -- what mix of fighters and trainers and builders -- and exactly what we’d be trying to accomplish there, and exactly how the additional manpower he’d be sending would make that possible.
He wants to know where the additional troops would come from, and how many deployments they and their comrades in arms could endure before they could no longer endure anything.
He wants to know whether we’d have an Afghan government capable of working with us, willing to clean up its act, able to regain the trust of the Afghan people.
He wants to know what help we could expect from our other allies, and for how long, and just how patient our own public would be as the years drag on and the casualties mount.
He wants to know what the endgame looks like, and how we’ll know when we’ve reached it, and what we’ll do if we can’t.
Before we commit to going in any further, he wants to know if we’ll still have a plausible way out.
All these things Barack Obama wants discussed. Debated. Considered from every angle. The pressure to decide is enormous -- but so are the repercussions. Despite the squawking of the chicken hawks and the cable cowboys, he refuses to be rushed.
Months of talk on this end to avert years of potential tragedy on the other? It’s a trade he’s more than willing to make; Obama body language tells us so.
If the latest reports are accurate, Barack Obama wants an answer to Afghanistan that no one has yet given him. He may want an answer that doesn’t exist, that can’t exist. In which case, he’ll come face to face with two more questions.
Is he strong enough to go to war anyway?
Is he strong enough not to?
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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.