Attempting to build upon his health care bill momentum, President Barack Obama finally provided U.S. service men and women in Afghanistan what they deserved long ago: a visit from their commander in chief. The carefully scripted and timed visit followed similar unannounced trips by George W. Bush to war zones. Flawless as always at the podium and in front of the teleprompter, the president was on message. After spending enormous political capital on health care, President Obama wishes to remind Americans that he has not abandoned other issues, particularly Afghanistan, the cornerstone of his foreign policy.
However, since being elected to office, Obama’s road to Kabul has been long and rocky, marked by intricate twists and turns. His stop-and-go approach did not reflect his campaign-mode sense of urgency. With the launch of his Afghan surge, the president managed to get back on track, but reluctantly and not very compellingly.
As commander in chief, Obama has an obligation to remind the American public that we are a nation at war, not just on any given day but every day. It is not a task that can be outsourced to the media on a daily basis. Providing the necessary resources is essential. Providing confident and assertive rhetoric to sustain public support is just as critical. Above all, It must be an oratory that the nation’s chief executive truly believes in. The president must ensure that Afghanistan does not become the forgotten war once again. During the Bush years, Afghanistan was overshadowed by Iraq. As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to change this. Candidate Obama consistently emphasized that Afghanistan was the source of 9/11. As president, he has correctly claimed it is a war of necessity.
Hopefully, the president’s surprise visit to Afghanistan does not eventually amount to a photo-op designed to score political points. After all, American soldiers have been tasked to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans. The least they could expect from their commander in chief is for him to win the hearts and minds of the American public on Afghanistan.
Marco Vicenzino is director of the Global Strategy Project in Washington, D.C. He provides global political risk analysis for corporations and regular commentary on foreign affairs for publications/media outlets worldwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.