Headline of the Year

Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, but thanks to their recent headline, the Associated Press may be the first news organization to take first prize for headline of the year. About an hour ago, while munching some leftover chicken, a stunning headline streaked across my laptop: “Official: Obama wants his war options changed.” At first, I thought –hmmmmm….. at least he isn’t asking to have his diapers changed.

But, the breaking news is that the president has asked his national security team to change his war options. Maybe it’s time for Mr. Obama to change his own war options.

After all, the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue also happens to be commander-in-chief. Making decisions about troop incease, reduction, withdrawals, deployments, and timelines are part of the job description. Mr. Obama forgot more than I’ll ever know about leadership, so why is he allowing himself to be led around by the nose by the Pentagon, and the Defense Department?

Since when is a president pulled between generals? Who cares what Stanley McChrystal wants? In the end, McChrystal will be a stale footnote in a high school history book, so whether Obama heeds the general’s advice to increase troops in Afghanistan by another 40,000, or 100,000, or whether U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan,and former general Eikenberry wants a time out for Karzai, who cares?

For all of his clout, we didn’t have a president McNamara, but Kennedy. McNamara was a guiding force, it’s true, but JFK was prepared to pull the plug, McNamara or no McNamara, that’s what presidents do.

Now, Mr. Obama is reportedly asking General McChrystal for another rewrite of the surge script for which McChrystal may even need to bring in a script doctor as Houdini would be hard pressed to tweak such a huge investment of American military in any way that doesn’t lead to another disastrous misadventure.

And, while it’s good that the president has moved away from a focus on benchmarks which, so far, have produced only hemorrhoids in Iraq to timelines instead, the term exit strategy isn’t code for fleet enema. Had JFK lived long enough to see his timeline for withdrawal of troops from Vietnam enforced, hundreds of thousands of American and Vietnamese lives would have been saved. There’s a president who may have asked his team what his options were, but decided to change them himself

Often during these strange and difficult times, I think of the great JFK line: “A mistake doesn’t have to become an error unless you refuse to correct it.” And, it’s not too late to correct this one.

Instead of looking to his national security team, and generals for tips on how to proceed in Afghanistan, President Obama will be better off looking to himself, and the American people.

His judgment was his calling card during the 2008 presidential campaign. It was his good judgment that led Mr. Obama, as a young senator back in 2002, to speak eloquently in opposition to the war in Iraq. It didn’t fail him then, and he must not allow it to fail him now either.

JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.


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JAYNE LYN STAHL is a widely published poet, essayist, playwright, and screenwriter, member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA.

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