The Obama administration has committed to ending the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2014. Basically, the White House is conceding that there will be no victory over the Taliban.
In December 1952, President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower fulfilled a campaign promise and personally observed the fighting in Korea. His commander on the ground, General Mark Clark, wanted to escalate the conflict, enlisting troops from Formosa and attacking the Chinese mainland. He had also suggested the use of atomic weapons should be considered.
Eisenhower surveyed the Chinese and North Korean defensive positions and the mountainous terrain (how different would the world be today if his little scouting plane had been shot down?) and met with South Korean leader Syngman Rhee. He listened late into the night as Clark made his case for a reinvigorated assault. Then Eisenhower overruled his commander on the ground and did what he originally intended: He sought a peace settlement.
On Sunday, General John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said, “There is no daylight between the commander on the ground in Afghanistan and the commander in chief.”
Eisenhower was the most famous general of a victorious world war. It's doubtful any commander -- on the ground or above it -- could have successfully challenged him in the public arena.
President Barack Obama is not a decorated wartime commander. Although the war in Afghanistan is increasingly unpopular, he may still need political cover for what, like Korea, is essentially a retreat. Allen just provided a generous dollop.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)