Is Time Running Out in Afghanistan?

President Barack Obama met with about 30 members of Congress Tuesday. The subject was what to do in Afghanistan, something we’ve written about more than once.

In recent weeks, those fighting US troops in remote regions of the country have become more emboldened, and that means more US troops are dying. That in turn ratchets up pressure on the President to do something to turn the tide of this unpopular war. Ironically, Afghanistan was at first the war we were “supposed to fight”. That’s where Osama bin Laden was finding safe haven, and the public found that chase worth pursuing even as support for the war in Iraq waned.

Now, President Obama must decide whether to anger lawmakers in his own party, many of whom don’t want to see an increase in troop deployment, as top NATO and US troop commander Stanley McChrystal favors. For some, there are the twin issues of money and time. Consider this from Sen. John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I think a lot of senators and congressmen need to ask themselves how much money they are willing to put on the table for how long and for what strategy”.

Long story short, that means if President Obama follows Gen. McChrystal’s strategy, he will have the backing of Republicans, not a critical mass of Democrats. He’s taken off the table, for now, the idea of reducing troop strength. The question is whether he wants to commit to the kind of mini nation building necessary to stabilize Afghanistan’s government. That component turned out to be a disaster in Iraq, and there are no guarantees it will work any better in Afghanistan.

Make no mistake. This is the most important foreign policy decision President Obama will make during this, the early part of his tenure. Get it wrong, and he’ll be hammered not only by Republicans, but by his base as well. Americans seem to be getting tired of war, in particular wars that seem to be going on forever with little chance of clear cut victory. Without public support, the Congress won’t back an expansion of the war on the ground. If President Obama chooses to follow the recommendations of the military, he’s risking a serious political setback, as serious as not getting healthcare reform done.

I wish there was a way for the US to declare victory and simply leave Afghanistan to its people. American lives are being lost, and that ought to be our primary concern. Sadly, he political will likely trump the moral, and the US will be in Afghanistan for a long time to come.

What do you think? Should President Obama increase troop strength in Afghanistan, keep it at current levels, or start a staged withdrawal?
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