President Obama is in Afghanistan and now speaking to the troops. Good for him. There is no substitute for presidential leadership. There is no substitute for active presidential engagement and involvement on the world stage.
Yet even though serving as commander-in-chief is his number one responsibility, Obama has too often seemed uninterested in being a wartime leader. His clear focus has been on healthcare and other domestic “priorities.”
Thus, in his Dec. 1, 2009 speech at West Point Obama famously declared that “our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended: because the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.”
What a difference a year — and an electoral drubbing — makes! “As we begin this holiday season, there’s no place I’d rather be than be here with you,” said Obama to the troops.
Given the change now taking place in Washington, I have no doubt that Obama means that! But it’s important that he said that — and that America’s friends and enemies, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, heard him say that, and more:
As President of the United States, I have no greater responsibility than keeping the American people secure. I could not meet that responsibility — we could not protect the American people; we could not enjoy the blessings of our liberty — without the extraordinary service that each and every one of you perform, each and every day…
And we will never let this country [Afghanistan] serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again. That will never happen. This part of the world is the center of a global effort where we are going to disrupt and dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies, and that’s why you’re here.
That’s why your mission matter so much. That’s why you must succeed: Because this effort is about the safety of our communities back home and the dignity of the Afghan people who don’t want to live in tyranny.
This needs to be more than just feel-good rhetoric designed to buck up the troops. It needs to guide Obama’s every action as president. The exercise of American military power abroad, and the forward deployment of our forces — and especially our ground forces — is an integral part of protecting the homeland and maintaining the peace.
Is there risk associated with our military actions and forward deployed posture? Absolutely. But the far greater risk lies in reverting back to a “fortress America” in this age of instantaneous communication, the Internet, jet travel, international commerce and weapons of mass destruction.
Yet the siren songs of retreat and withdrawal exist on both the far left and the far right. Obama must resist their entreaties. Going to Afghanistan as he has in a big and public way is an important first step. May there be many more such steps to come.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He writes and blogs for a variety of publications, including FrumForum, the American Spectator and The Daily Caller. Follow him at his personal blog, ResoluteCon.com, and on Twitter @JohnRGuardiano.