NPR logo Obama's Afghan Doubts Mean No New Troops But What Of Those There Now?

Obama's Afghan Doubts Mean No New Troops But What Of Those There Now?

U.S. soldiers stand atop their armored MRAP vehicles before a mission in Afghanistan's Wardak Province. Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo hide caption

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Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo

As he reconsiders the way forward for the U.S. in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama has come up with a new formulation to explain his thinking.

Viewers of "The Late Show with David Letterman" heard it last night when he said:

And what I'm trying to do at this point is to make sure that, both on the military front, on the diplomatic front, on the civilian front, training Afghan military and police, that on all these elements that we've got a coherent strategy that can work, because the most important duty I've got is, before I send some young men and women in uniform over there — and I'm answerable to their parents, and if they don't come back, I've got to write a letter to them saying that their child has sacrificed on behalf of America.

Before I make those decisions, I've got to make sure that the policy in place is worthy of their sacrifice. (Applause.) And that's something that we're going to take — (applause) — that's something that we are going through work through systematically in the coming weeks and months. We're not going to make a decision about any further troop deployments until we know what exactly is our strategy, what are the tactics, how will troops be used. Can we justify taking those steps? And I'm going to be asking some very hard questions.

What's interesting about this statement is that even though the president doesn't want to now send any additional troops to Afghanistan because he's not sure the current policy would be worth their deaths, he does have more than 60,000 U.S. troops already there.

They are constantly at risk, walking very dangerous patrols or driving down dirt roads with buried improvised explosive devices. August was the deadliest month for U.S. troops with 47 Americans dead.

Based on the president's public statements, it's not unreasonable to reach the conclusion that he and his national security team aren't sure the current policy is worthy of the ultimate sacrifice of these troops either.

If that's true, then one could reasonably ask: what makes troops already deployed to Afghanistan more expendable than those not yet given their orders to go?

And if you're one of those U.S. service members in Afghanistan fighting a war that is being completely re-evaluated by the administration, how does that affect you? Does it make you question why you're doing what you're doing?

All this brings to mind the 1971 words of Sen. John Kerry when, as a young Navy veteran back from Vietnam. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he asked: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"