Reporter's Note: President Obama ran on, among other things, a pledge to refocus America’s military to take on a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Now, however, troubles in that country are making the equation as tough as a pop quiz in algebra. Thank goodness I’m staying away from the calculators, and just working on my English lessons…with a letter a day to the White House.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/09/21/afghanistan.mcchrystal/art.mcchrystal.afp.gi.jpg caption="Gen. Stanley McChrystal, right, arrives at a U.S. base in Logar Province, Afghanistan, last month."]
Tom Foreman | Bio
Dear Mr. President,
The mix of politics and military power has always been like my third cousin’s wedding when he was on parole: Tricky at best. (Just kidding…he was never paroled. Ha!) When modern folks bandy about that old quote, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” the big stick can be a ballistic missile. Which, I think, must be making your job particularly tough this week.
Here we are with the latest assessment from General Stanley McChrystal saying, in effect, we’ve been in Afghanistan for eight years, we’ve lost more than 800 American troops, and now we need another new plan; one that focuses more on building the Afghans up rather than hunting the Taliban down. One that would give the Afghans a working economy, a functional infrastructure, and a sound, well-financed military so they can finally defend own interests.
I talked with some pretty knowledgeable folks about this and they all seemed to agree on two things. First, that this course of action would require committing a lot of our people for a long time to send an unambiguous message to the Taliban and all their pals: We are here to support the Afghan people in the formation of a working and stable democratic government. We will spend as much money and time as it takes. We’ve not leaving.
The problem lies in the second point my experts raise: A pretty large percentage of America’s voters and elected leaders do not seem to have the stomach for such a commitment. Not with memories still fresh of those dark, seemingly aimless days in Iraq only a few years back. Not when our goals in Afghanistan seem at least a little hazy to many Americans.
You know better than I that deciding what to do there is going to be one of the hardest and most important decisions you make this year. Here is my only advice: Take you time. Listen to what your troops and their leaders say. Consult with the people you trust the most. (Yes, you can call me even late…) Then make the best decision you can.
I suspect that big stick feels mighty heavy on your shoulder at times like this.
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