Now is time for Obama to channel Winston Churchill’s wartime spirit

In 1942, Winston Churchill famously stated, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Now is the time for President Barack Obama to embrace these words and rally our countrymen around his commitment to achieve success in Afghanistan. 

After nine years of war in Afghanistan, I understand that some Americans might be weary of an increased commitment. That is why we need clear, consistent, and confident leadership from the commander in chief on steering our efforts toward victory — rather than ending the conflict in Afghanistan. This is not an easy task, nor does it come with a guarantee. A recent leadership change will require even stronger leadership and resolve from the White House.       

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From the outset, I have supported the president’s strategy and decision to surge 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Afghanistan to implement a robust, fully resourced counterinsurgency campaign. Under this approach, our efforts are rightly focused on separating al Qaeda and the Taliban from the local Afghan population and establishing the necessary conditions to deny such terrorists and extremists sanctuary or the operating space they so freely enjoyed prior to the September 11th attacks. 

While we have some difference on the margins, I believe this is the right approach. And, the mission must continue, whoever is at the helm of our military efforts.    
Many in Congress have used Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s removal as another opportunity to brand our mission in Afghanistan a failure and sound the horn of retreat. It would be a mistake to allow them to succeed. We cannot lose sight of the broader perspective: our brave military men and women, and their civilian counterparts, are in the midst of a tough fight that is critical to U.S. national security. 

General David Petraeus, who was recently nominated to be the new commander of U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan, recently testified before the House Armed Services Committee, “over the past year or so, we [the United States] and our [international partners] partners have worked to get the ‘inputs’ right….to build organizations, command and control structures and relationships….put the best civilian and military leaders in charge….have deployed the substantial additional resources…needed to implement the plans that have been developed”. 

Some may question why we didn’t have the inputs right over the last nine years. That is a fair question. But, as we look back over the course of the Afghan campaign, it is important to reflect upon how the character of the war in Afghanistan has evolved over time as the threat has morphed and evolved. It has shifted from a U.S.-led counterterrorist effort against al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters to a primarily focused stabilization effort that was handed-off to NATO in 2003 to the more recent multi-faceted counterinsurgency campaign.

The previous administration realized the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating, and President Obama made the difficult decision to invest even more of our precious blood and treasure to ensure Afghanistan is our nation’s main effort. President Obama has failed to build upon those actions with an effective plan to communicate directly to the American people on why Afghanistan remains important to our national security.  He has also failed in a counterinsurgency tactic that only he can fulfill: the demonstration to the Afghan people that we are committed to helping them achieve peace and security.

The president has a responsibility to convince the American people, the people of Afghanistan, skeptical colleagues within his own party and the international community that the path to stabilizing Afghanistan can only be accomplished by first separating the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other extremist groups from the Afghan population — either through blunt military force or other means. The decision by the commander in chief to deploy nearly 100,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan is critical for achieving this requirement. Our troops, operating alongside their Afghan partners, should be able to create the necessary space to allow our mission to move into its final stages with the creation of credible Afghan National Security Forces that can protect the government and the local populace.

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The timeline for success in Afghanistan cannot be dictated by arbitrary political clocks here in Washington; it must be driven by the operational clock in Kabul, Kandahar, and the Afghan countryside. We all hope and pray this goal can be accomplished by July 2011, but the president must adhere to his recent comments that conditions on the ground will dictate the pace of any withdrawal next summer. 

As the president reminded our nation last April, “The safety of people around the world is at stake.” His stark words were reminiscent of Churchill’s; the essential difference is that the prime minister’s resolve and management of the war matched his rhetoric. President Obama has most of the rhetoric right. We’re still waiting on the rest. Now is the time for President Obama to channel Winston Churchill’s wartime spirit and rally our nation and our troops to victory in Afghanistan.

Rep. McKeon serves as the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.