September 22nd, 2009
08:46 AM ET

Dear President Obama #246: Should I stay or should I go?

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
AC360° Correspondent

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.



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    I'd like to see a timetable for if we stayed how long it would be before we project the exercise will be finished and our goals fulfilled – 1 year, 18 months, 5 years? If its 2 years or less we might want to finish up what we went over there to do in the first place.

    September 22, 2009 at 5:58 pm |
  2. john montgomery

    Who's helping the people in Georgia besides the Red Cross? Sounds like another Katrina,being from N.O. i remember the Biloxi Air Base with those big C-130's were too busy to come in and help to assist it would have been a lot better for the people ,maybe not so many lives would have been lost. john

    September 22, 2009 at 1:43 pm |
  3. Mari

    President Obama is between a rock and a hard place.

    IF he withdraws our Troops and leaves Afghanistan, the GOP will brand him a ...... failure.

    IF he orders the Troops to stay & escalates the war, we will continue to lose Troops, continue to waste money we do not have, continue this endless war of ...... eight years! Its another Vietnam!

    I pray that God will guide President Obama, to do what is best for our Nation. Only people who have no clue about Afghanistan's history, want this war to continue! The Taliban (whom the U.S. trained & armed, thank you Ronald Reagan) has been a force in Afghanistan for over 20 years. It is the people of Afghanistan who are ultimately responsible for their future. The U.S. must stop being the policeman of the world. We can't afford it!

    Please President Obama bring our Troops home and end this senseless war!

    September 22, 2009 at 1:28 pm |
  4. Jose from Brazil

    How much of America's economy depend on the war industry? Would a simple retreat not produce a backlash home, increasing unemployment and making things worse?

    At least there, the army may shoot at will at the mountains, spend a lot of equipment without much damage. The tropps don't even see the enemy.

    When things get better home, maybe it will the time to bring' em home.

    September 22, 2009 at 1:02 pm |
  5. Enough

    Can't vote "present" on this one Obama!

    September 22, 2009 at 12:38 pm |
  6. Ratna, New York, NY

    Dear Tom,

    It takes time and patience to play a game of chess. And even it is as serious as 100.000 people's life at stake -we have put aside the ones who once were in charge in putting these people there- and it is all still all figuring out a strategy to take the most precious chess piece out of danger to withdraw.

    I knew that this process was not going to be easy. Just withdrawing straight-forward is not an option at this point and will create yet another chaos.

    The Universe works this way: things have to be put straight back again before we can safely withdraw!

    September 22, 2009 at 9:59 am |
  7. Conserve' in USA

    What are we doing in Afghanistan? President Obama is looking more like GWB every day. I bet you left are fit to be tied. See, it doesn't matter if you are democrat, republican, or independent. It all comes down to the government spending too much money.

    September 22, 2009 at 9:29 am |
  8. Enough

    Sorry Obama...........NO voting "present" on this one.

    September 22, 2009 at 9:04 am |