Well, he's done it. Despite last week's stop-and-think moment when planning for more troops was temporarily off the table, President Obama has authorized 17,000 additional soldiers and marines for the war in Afghanistan.
In his address to the nation, Mr. Obama made one his first public swipes at the Bush administration, referring to a request for more troops from US Commander in Afghanistan General David McKiernan as "months old" and going on to say, "this increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires."
But, of course, this is far more serious than needling a past administration that seems to have willfully ignored Afghanistan to concentrate on the muddle of Iraq.
Analysts and strategists are telling Mr. Obama that more forces alone will not defeat the trenchant, vicious and wily Taliban and the other assortment of insurgent groups. Several reviews are underway about future strategy. Indications are they are all heading towards the same recommendations and conclusions: this war cannot be won by heft alone. Indeed, the war may not be "winnable" and the best that can be hoped for might be stability and strategic security in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
Mr. Obama seemed to acknowledge this in his address avoiding any discussions of "victory" and "defeat" instead using words like "contribute" and "stabilize" to describe the troop involvement and deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama phoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to let him know of the decision. This is the first discussion that the two presidents have had since the inauguration, and it is no secret that Mr. Obama and those closest to him are highly critical of Mr. Karzai's weak governance and his inability - or lack of will - to take on rampant corruption and criminal activity within his government.
Mr. Karzai knows only too well that he is on the slippery slope to the naughty boy's corner. In recent days he has criticized the Obama administration, accusing it of poor judgment after Mr. Obama accused Mr. Karzai's highly centralized government of being "very detached from what's going on in the surrounding community."
The Afghan president this week requested to take part in the overhaul of US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr. Obama agreed. Mr. Karzai is facing elections in August and Washington insiders are indicating that no one should be surprised if the new administration backs a different candidate. They need to feel they have someone they can trust if they are sending more troops into the war.
NATO defense ministers meet in Poland this Thursday and Friday and Robert Gates is expected to hit the pressure button for NATO to contribute more forces. It is understood that NATO is happy to discuss sending more forces to oversee the August elections, but that most European countries would not be happy sending more troops to war.
Afghanistan is now Obama's war. Despite the disasters and miscalculations of the Bush administration, it will be part of Obama's legacy, that which defines him. It's extraordinary pressure for a man who has always been the smartest guy in the room now taking on the hardest war of them all.
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