"Time To Get Out of Afghanistan" read the headline over the Washington Post column by George Will — not your everyday dove. It's an early voice in what soon may be many, as American public opinion turns against the war in Afghanistan.
For President Obama, it's getting to be quagmire time. Like President Johnson in Vietnam, he is faced with having to prosecute his predecessor's war.
Having only just last spring adopted a comprehensive new strategy, the president has called upon Gen. Stanley McChrystal for another reassessment of what it will take to turn the tide against an increasingly sophisticated insurgency. The report has not been made public. The issue of what further American troops are required beyond the additional 21,000 authorized in March is apparently being kicked down the road for a few months.
The president tiptoes around the edge of a fateful decision. "Serious," "Deteriorating," say his commanders, as the toll of roadside killings and suicide bombings mounts. As President Nixon signaled a gradual U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam by saying he was "Vietnamizing" the war, so Obama would undoubtedly like to "Afghanistanize" this war. But the weakness of the government of President Hamid Karzai and the instability of Afghan forces do not afford him that opportunity.
Obama has tried his best to establish forward momentum. During the campaign, he promised to refocus efforts at "finishing the war." In March came his "comprehensive new strategy" based on a partnership with the Afghan people.
"Success is achievable," McChrystal says. But the price tag remains hidden. Undoubtedly, it would involve a surge of new forces, a tactic that worked in Iraq. Whether it would work in Afghanistan is not clear. But over Obama's decision looms the fear of the quagmire — being sucked into a war he may not win but can't afford to lose, amid the growing criticism of those who, like George Will, say it's time to get out.