Current survey data show that Americans are much more enthusiastic about our military presence in Afghanistan--to the tune of 30 percentage points--if it is framed as an attempt to weaken terrorists' ability to attack the United States, rather than an attempt to build a stable democracy. Obama should repeat the first of these rationales over and over again. He should never mention the second one in a speech to the American people.I'm sure the professors don't mean to suggest that if Obama's goals still include nation-building, he should cover it it up for political purposes. As a matter of fact, President Bush made exactly the same mistake in Iraq. Although he and his neoconservative advisers envisioned a war aimed at replacing Saddam Hussein with the Middle East's second democracy, they presented it to the American people, who are wisely averse to nation-building efforts, as a step to protect our national security against Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction. When it became clear that there had been no immediate threat, Bush insisted that the Iraqi people and the world were still better off without Saddam Hussein. They undoubtedly were, but that wasn't a good enough reason by itself to go to war.
That's why the fundamental question for Obama in Afghanistan (irrespective of what his speech says when he announces his policy) remains whether the threat to our interests posed by terrorist forces and enablers in the country is sufficient to justify a large presence of ground troops.
Hat tip to Mike Cheever