After Abraham Lincoln was first elected president in 1860, slave states began seceding from the Union.  Lincoln had not been elected to public office since 1846, the year he began serving his first and only term in Congress.  But during the intervening years he had, as Professor Sean Wilentz explains, become "[a] shrewd courtroom and political strategist . . . ."  He understood, upon ascending to the presidency, that he needed time to persuade moderate southerners of his moderation and also to get the executive branch in order.  He likewise wanted to wait for "the secession fever finally to break."  In his first inaugural address, he emphasized: "Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time."  These words contained volumes of wisdom.

The current occupant of the White House tries self-consciously to pattern his presidency after the legendary Lincoln. President Obama insisted, when taking his oath of office for example, to lay his hand on the same Bible Lincoln utilized in his inauguration. Interesting.

Shift the focus now to Afghanistan.  In August, 2009, General Stanley McChrystal, the American field commander there, informed Defense Secretary Robert Gates that additional troops were needed immediately to win the war in that country.  "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) - while Afghan security capacity matures – risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." In short, "while the situation is serious" – McChrystal stated – "success is still achievable."  To that end, he requested up to 40,000 additional U.S. troops.

Mr. Obama has not yet responded to this request, because he apparently has not decided what to do. The troops wait; the secretary of defense waits; the commander waits; and the world waits.  One wonders whether this harrowing temporizing represents a kind of misguided obeisance to Lincoln.  Might it be that Obama is reasoning as follows: "great men take ample time to consider matters of war, and so I must do so because I am a great man"?  His press secretary, Robert Gibbs, reminded White House correspondents of what flawed leaders, like former President George W. Bush, do – they rush in improvidently to places like Iraq.  Listen to Mr. Gibbs responding to Dick Cheney's accusation that Obama is "dithering" on Afghanistan:  "What Vice President Cheney calls dithering, President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public.  I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously."

If Mr. Obama is attempting to emulate Lincoln, he is not doing a credible job of it.  The "secession fever" and the war in Afghanistan are not even close to apposite situations. The cause of freedom had everything to gain by strategically waiting with Lincoln, but it has everything to lose by doing so with Obama. He himself has asserted that the Afghan war is one "of necessity."  If this be true, then winning the war is urgent.  There is only one conclusion to draw:  his dilatory response to the general's request demonstrates indecisiveness at best and abject weakness at worst.

Are there other conclusions to be inferred?  Yes.  Mr. Obama fears the left wing of his own party.  He is afraid that, if he escalates troop levels in Afghanistan, he will alienate people like George Soros, a result that will leave him not only vulnerable on the left, but will probably occasion major setbacks for his administration in mid-term Congressional elections. History demonstrates that Lincoln continued actively building a consensus regarding unionism and antislavery during every succeeding day of his presidency, whereas Obama seems paralyzed for fear the consensus that catapulted him into the presidency will disintegrate. This, I am sorry to point out, is one difference between a leader and a pretender.

Aside from Obama's fear of the left, there is something else distinguishing him from Lincoln.  Obama finds it inordinately challenging to make a decision like the one before him in Afghanistan.  Such decisions, I suspect, are uncomfortable for him at many levels.  Sure, he is articulate and poised, but he is far from strong. The weakness he has projected to the world in dealing with Afghanistan and other third world countries is nothing short of remarkable.  His naïve idealism is worthy of applause in an Anne Frank, but is not the least to be treasured in a tough-minded international statesman. 

It is appeasement that President Obama seems to inspire, a sorry state of blind confusion.  Why else are we being reminded by members of his administration that Hamid Karzai's election was fraudulent?  Who cares?  Our problem with Afghanistan is not about democracy, but international security!  A Taliban government in Afghanistan would be disastrous to world peace.  Who gives one hoot in hell whether Karzai rigged his August election?  Show me an election in the United States that has been fair and honest, and I will show you five that were not.  Coming from Chicago, Mr. Obama's odes to democracy seem laughable.  Somewhere perhaps the ghost of Mayor Richard J. Daley is addressing a meeting of the League of Women Voters on the proper conduct of an election, but I doubt it.

This country could use another Abraham Lincoln.  President Obama is correct about that.  But he himself is hardly the man.

October 24, 2009