Afghanistan Speech A Defining Moment For Obama

As Korea became President Truman's war and Vietnam became President Johnson's War, so Afghanistan becomes President Obama's war. There have been nine solemn sessions of military and civilian advisers, bridging differences about the way ahead, at least for now. And the president will address the nation as the reluctant but committed leader.

The papered-over differences between military and civilian, between open-ended and tied to performance, between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency are apparent in the various leaks and briefings that have dotted the path toward the new strategy.

It will take months to get the planned reinforcements in place, and more months to train Afghan troops and police, and more months to deal with the wave of corruption. And all this time, the Taliban and al-Qaida will not be sitting still. One defense official was quoted as saying, "We have to start showing progress in six months on the political side or the military side, or that's it."

There are ways out if our troops find the mission impossible — "off ramps," they are called in one document. But it is inconceivable that American forces would just go away if the going gets too tough. Surely we would hear a call for a military surge to support our troops.

War leader Obama is likely to find, as Johnson did in Vietnam, that the pressure for escalation is great. The understanding among Obama advisers about conditional employment of troops may not stand up under heavy enemy pressure.

Reluctantly donning the toga of war leader, Obama may be nearing the defining moment of his presidency so far.

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