Times contributing writer Matt Bai defended Obama's "dithering" over strategy in Afghanistan (a conflict he called "a war of necessity" in August) as maturity in his Sunday Magazine essay "Escalations: How Afghanistan might be Vietnam - and Obama the real Kennedy." Bai's rationale? It shows Obama has "the capacity to take his time."
Judging from a recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post, war-weary American voters are divided almost evenly on a course of action. The only thing they agree on is that they want the president to act soon.
Obama's response to all this, instead, has been to slow down and reassess what had seemed, back in the spring, to be a steady march toward escalation. In doing so, according to the poll, he has disappointed a fair number of voters who used to support him on Afghanistan. But Obama has also demonstrated, not for the first time, two things about his emerging governing style that contrast sharply with that of his predecessor. The first is that he means to draw a distinction between useful campaign rhetoric and the realities of governing, even if it makes him look inconstant. The second is that he doesn't seem especially bothered by the perception that he's dithering. Bush often seemed to measure leadership by the number of seconds it took to make a decision. Obama displays a different kind of spine - the capacity to take his time, even when allies and critics are pounding at the door.
National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru succinctly mocked Bai's spin: "Flip-flopping: It's the new selflessness."