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Obama's decision an act of leadership

By Ed Rollins, CNN Senior Political Contributor
  • President Obama's decision to send more troops not popular with Democrats, says Ed Rollins
  • He says the move was an act of leadership to protect U.S. national security
  • Obama will need real bipartisan support for his decision, he says
  • Rollins: Making the speech before West Point cadets was appropriate

Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

(CNN) -- After months of review, President Obama has made a decision that will not please the base of his party. The majority of Democrats in Congress are opposed to expanding or prolonging the war in Afghanistan. Many Americans share their concern.

This decision to send 30,000 additional troops into combat, which I support, will be second-guessed for the rest of his presidency. And if it doesn't go well, it may cost him his presidency.

For a man who began his campaign as the "anti-war" candidate, this had to be a gut-wrenching decision. Critics will argue President Obama should have learned the lessons of Vietnam and remembered how that war destroyed Lyndon Johnson's presidency .

President Obama was only in elementary school during that period, but many of the leaders in Congress grew up as part of the George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party. The anti-war movement was their introduction to political activism. They are furious that their president is continuing the Bush war effort. Many will call it folly, and some will call it reckless. I call it leadership.

Many of my Republican and conservative brethren will not agree with that, but this is the same decision that a President McCain would have made -- or that former Vice President Dick Cheney, one of the most severe critics of this administration, would have made.

I don't know whether this policy will work, but I do know that doing nothing will fail. The status quo will allow terrorism in that region to grow and again endanger our homeland and that of our allies.

We need to remember that this is not Obama's war or Bush's war. This is America's war.

We began this war with our British allies and other NATO countries within weeks of September 11, 2001, under the title of "Operation Enduring Freedom."

This is not Obama's war or Bush's war. This is America's war.
--Ed Rollins

Obviously, the mission to capture Osama bin Laden was not successful. The mission to topple the Taliban government in Afghanistan that protected and encouraged him was successful. Unfortunately, the Taliban have regrouped and still pose a threat in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

The war has gone on much longer and has been more expensive than we anticipated. The president has put a deadline of three more years with this commitment. To create an army of 300,000 to 400,000 Afghans might take longer, but certainly in three years we will know whether the government of Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people are stepping up to do their part.

For the first time in his presidency, an Obama decision will need to get real bipartisan support (a majority of Republicans will support him). The strategy is set, and the tactics are now handed to our great military to execute it. The president, in his most significant role as commander-in-chief, will be the ultimate decision maker.

I was pleased the president made this speech at West Point. Some critics say he was just using this historic military installation like a campaign backdrop. I disagree.

Tuesday night, he looked in the faces of the young men and women who are training to be the next generation of military leaders, and he told them their mission. Among the nearly 4,500 cadets there, most will endure a tour or more in Afghanistan after graduation. They are the ones who will lead the troops to success or failure.

They will be among the leaders and trainers who must build and motivate an Afghan army to defend that region from the terrorist threat to all of us. Unfortunately, some of these young men and women will also be the casualties that will occur over the next few years. And maybe even some of them will join the 74 former graduates of West Point who have won our nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor.

But they will all be heroes, and their lives will all be changed by this continued and expanded mission.

West Point is our oldest military academy, founded in the infancy of our nation in March of 1802. Among its graduates have been two presidents, Ulysses S Grant and Dwight David Eisenhower, and many of the most significant generals to lead our nation, including both sides of the Civil War and every other war this nation has been engaged in.

The leadership of this present war -- including CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of the multinational force in Iraq; Gen. Raymond Odierno; and the new commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McCrystal -- are also graduates of West Point and lived by its motto: Duty, Honor, Country.

No one articulated the meaning of those words better than Gen. Douglas MacArthur, one of America's greatest generals and a former superintendent of West Point, in his farewell address to the corps of cadets on May 12, 1962:

"Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn. Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean."

He went on to say words that are as meaningful today as they were four and a half decades ago.

"The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.

"This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

The president didn't sell this concept in this first speech even though it was a strong speech. He will need to continue to talk to the American public more often than he may want and work the Congress constantly. But it's now more than words -- it's actions. And, as it was when we started, the goal is still an enduring peace.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.