MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And Im Michele Norris.
For months now, President Obama has been considering major changes to his strategy for Afghanistan. The general in command there wants a big increase in the size of the U.S. force. Others say a smaller force would be better. It is the presidents decision to make, and his aides say he has not made that decision yet.
As NPRs White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports, in addition to the strategic options, Mr. Obama is also weighing the human cost of war.
DON GONYEA: Every president says the same thing that the hardest and most profound part of the job is sending American troops into combat as commander in chief. Its knowing that however his decisions play out in the grand scheme of things, militarily and geo-politically, they will cost American lives.
(Soundbite of song, Taps)
GONYEA: Yesterday, President Obama attended the annual Veterans Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.
President BARACK OBAMA: In this time of war, we gather here mindful that the generations serving today already deserves a place alongside previous generations for the courage they have shown and the sacrifices that they have made.
GONYEA: The day at Arlington was overcast, the rain heavy at times. Following his remarks, the president made an unannounced stop, in a part of the cemetery where the headstones marked the graves of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Obama and the first lady wandered in between the rows. They stopped to hold brief conversations with unsuspecting individuals and groups paying their respects to lost family members and friends. It was just the latest in a series of close-up encounters with the price of war that the president seems to have actively sought out in recent weeks.
(Soundbite of ABC news report)
Unidentified Man: With the looming decision of how to proceed in Afghanistan on his mind, the president made his first trip to the Delaware airbase.
GONYEA: Thats an ABC news report describing the presidents middle of the night trip last month to the tarmac in Dover, where military planes bring the remains of U.S. soldiers back to American soil. More recently, Mr. Obama visited wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And just two days ago, he spoke in Texas at the memorial service for those killed in the shootings at Fort Hood. Senator Jack Reed is a Democrat and a West Point graduate. In 2008, when President Obama was still in the Senate, the two men made a trip to Afghanistan together.
Senator JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island): He understands that the cost of war is not just in the budget, but in the lives of so many American soldiers and sailors, marines, airmen, their families and any leader has to consider that. Its not just a question of, you know, pins on a map. Its a human endeavor.
GONYEA: Presidential historian Robert Dallek, meanwhile, says that just as the human cost is on display at Arlington, the historical stakes are too. Dallek says there are lessons the president can take from mistakes in the way the U.S. handled the war in Iraq, and Vietnam and Korea before that. He says what makes war decisions so daunting is that you can never know enough. Thats what past presidents have learned.
Mr. ROBERT DALLEK (Presidential Historian): Youre making your best judgment, your best guess. But so many of these estimates and assumptions have been so wrong in the past that its got to make it all the more sobering for President Obama to make this judgment now.
GONYEA: As sobering as the thoughts the president is likely to have as he recalls the people hes met in recent weeks at Dover and Arlington, at Walter Reed and at Fort Hood.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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