What the scandal reveals

On Thursday, Obama insisted the change in command is not a change in strategy, but it's hard for even a casual observer who sees how badly the war is going not to question whether Petraeus would ever be bound to the July 2011 transition date Obama announced last year as a turning point at which our troops could begin to come home. In recent testimony before Congress, Petraeus said the beginning of such a transition would have to be conditions-based, words Obama has thus far refused to use. But once Petraeus accepted the job, how could the date mean what it did before? Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen held a press conference Thursday to reiterate that everyone is on board with the strategy, which has not changed. It sounded like unity of rhetoric, but it is hard to believe Petraeus, Gates or Mullen want any date for transition or withdrawal that isn't based on conditions on the ground.
 
Perhaps it is an exercise in face-saving for Obama, who knows the war in Afghanistan is foundering, the American public opposes it and there is no hope of a successful strategy emerging from current conditions and concluding next July. Though Obama made the best possible choice in replacing McChrystal with Petraeus, the McChrystal episode weakened him, and it made him appear alone.
 
As I wrote in my column this week, Obama is becoming increasingly isolated from his own party, the American people and even the rest of the world. As he heads to the G-20 meeting in Toronto this weekend, he is urging more stimulus from countries embarking instead on cuts. The deficit and debt woes our allies are feeling mirror those of Obama's own party members in Congress, where the Senate has all but given up on attempting to extend unemployment benefits and state aid aimed at mitigating enormous public-sector layoffs since the packages would increase the deficit.
 
A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week showed Obama is now earning his lowest-ever job approval since taking office. With the spotlight back on the unpopular war in Afghanistan, Obama will have to find a way to connect with the military brass executing the strategy, with Democrats who no longer want to fund it, allied nations who no longer want to fight it and an American public that increasingly favors withdrawal.


WILL LIBERAL DEMS FUND THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN? Ask A.B. returns Tuesday, June 29. Please join my weekly video Q&A by sending your questions and comments to askab@thehill.com. Thank you.