Once again, Tom Brokaw leads with a negative question for Senator Barack Obama: Why haven’t you been to Afghanistan, if you really think that it is the central front on the war on terrorism, before now? (That’s not quite as bad as “Have you stopped beating your wife?”– but close.) Again, Obama does a very good job getting out of this negative frame. He explains that he hasn’t been down at the corner barbershop playing dominoes. He states what he has been doing.
I would urge Obama to step back from phrases like “We must win in Afghanistan.” This type of phrase echoes of discourse on Iraq. All sorts of questions arise. What does “winning” mean? Will defeating the Taliban lead to a formal surrender with Mullah Omar (who is still on the loose) handing over his sword or AK-47 to our General on the ground?
Instead, Obama needs to talk about our goals. Afghanistan needs to develop a viable economy which exports something other than heroin. Farmers must have a reason to plant something other than poppy. We need to help the Afghans build roads, schools, and a real economy. I have no idea how to deal with the local tribal leaders who are used to having an enormous amount of power over their own regions, but these leaders must be made to work within the framework of their constitution.
Obama shows a national audience that he has command of foreign policy. His plan isn’t wimpy. Instead, it is aggressive and thoughtful.
If Obama made a mistake during this discussion it might have been with the phrase, “We know where they are.” However, he did qualify it by saying that military commanders have told him that they are… I don’t know. We’ll see if Senator John McCain and his gang will make something out of this.