What Barack Obama calls reflection, Dick Cheney calls dithering. Come to think of it — a little more dithering by Cheney's administration might have saved us a lot of pain.
Be that as it may, the president is wrestling with an agonizing decision on how to Afghanize the conflict, to borrow phrasing from the Vietnam days. Five widely advertised deep-study sessions of his war council have evidently not resolved the problem. Another session is scheduled for Friday.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has conducted war games simulating at least 40,000 more troops, as proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, or 10,000 to 15,000 more troops, as proposed by civilian advisers. That apparently did not resolve the dilemma.
What the White House faces is only partly a military strategy problem of how to apply rules of counterinsurgency and/or counterterrorism. It is also a problem of how heavily to bet on a shaky Karzai regime that may look different after the scheduled Nov. 7 runoff election.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's newest best friend, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who spent several days talking to Karzai, vouches for him. Kerry assured the Council on Foreign Relations that Karzai is ready to clean out the Augean stables of corruption in his government. The Senate's Foreign Relations chief urged a "sustained, long-term commitment to the Afghan people."
That may come in time. But first, Afghanistan needs some measure of security and stability, and that brings us back to the painful dithering. As American casualties mount, President Obama faces the ultimate question: getting more deeply involved in the conflict at the risk of losing support from an increasingly disheartened American public, or getting less involved and risk facing the blame for letting Afghanistan go down the drain.
There's a lot to dither about.