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Born in the USA: For Obama, decision time on Afghanistan is now

<nistan is at a crossroads. It has been since eight years since the US invaded the country to rid it of Al Qaeda and prevent further attacks on US soil. President Obama’s top commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, has urged Obama to sign off on a troop surge of 40,000 additional forces, much like the strategy followed in Iraq under General Petraeus. Obama’s Vice President, Joe Biden, has argued against additional forces and instead believes the administration’s focus should shift to Pakistan, which poses a greater threat to US security. While Obama’s options vary significantly, one thing is clear: Obama needs to make a decision soon.

The war in Afghanistan is not getting better. In fact, McChrystal’s original proposal for a troop buildup stemmed out of the fact that he saw the situation as deteriorating and unwinnable if the course does not change. The fraudulent Afghan elections also dealt a blow to our efforts, as it is impossible for a government to enact reforms if its people see it as being illegitimate and corrupt. McChrystal is hoping that an increase in troops will allow him to push back the Taliban and Al Qaeda and keep the Afghan government out of their hands.

President Obama’s national security team, on the other hand, is moving in a different direction, stressing that the US should build off of recent successes in Pakistan and focus on defeating Al Qaeda in the northern tribal region, which has always acted as a safe haven. The national security team also believes that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not prose a direct threat to the US. Even within Obama’s cabinet, though, opinions are varied. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates both feel that the Taliban and Al Qaeda remain linked and would provide havens to terrorists again if given the opportunity.

President Obama is facing a tough decision, and one that will have political repercussions no matter what he decides. If he opposes his top general in Afghanistan, Obama will open himself up to criticism by Republicans and those who believe that the military knows best when fighting wars. If Obama chooses to send in more troops and follow McChrystal’s plan, then he will renege on one of his campaign promises and goals of scaling down the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Deciding whether or not to send young men and women into war is probably the hardest decision a president can make. Even if Obama sends more troops into Afghanistan and they are successful beyond his wildest dreams, some of them will not return home. Furthermore, Obama did not choose to put himself in this situation. He inherited this war and these circumstances.

Setting this aside, Obama needs to come up with a new, coherent strategy, and soon. General McChrystal said during a speech in London last weekend, “Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support.” Chaplains of two US battalions that have spent nine months fighting in Afghanistan have reported that American soldiers are depressed and disillusioned. The chaplains say many soldiers feel that they are putting their lives on the line for a futile mission. One soldier, Raquime Mercer, said, “We’re lost — that’s how I feel. I’m not exactly sure why we’re here. I need a clear-cut purpose if I’m going to get hurt out here or if I’m going to die.”

While General McChrystal was widely criticized for making his views public in the aforementioned speech and not going up through the chain of command, his speech did do at least one constructive thing. McChrystal underscored the urgency of the situation and brought it to the forefront of Obama’s mind, so much so that he met with Obama privately aboard Air Force One after the speech. Who knows how urgent Obama would have considered the matter had the speech not happened and the situation in Afghanistan not made public.

However, now the only thing the speech could have done is expedite the process of Obama’s decision-making, in a situation that is certainly time-sensitive.

Obama needs to present a coherent and new strategy in order to reverse the course in Afghanistan, boost our troops morale and convince them that they are fighting a worthwhile cause. Obama’s decision, no matter what it is, should be given to General McChrystal as soon as possible so that the General can implement it and try to stop the bleeding. Lastly, Obama needs to make a decision on Afghanistan so he can move on and try to deal with other threats to the US and our allies, namely Iran, which is enriching uranium and is closer than we previously thought to having a nuclear weapon. Obama’s meeting this past Wednesday regarding Afghanistan was only his third with his full national security team. He has planned two more, but his press secretary made it clear that he is still several weeks away from a decision. For our current situation, several weeks are a long time.

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