Debra J. Saunders

Perhaps domestic politics have made it necessary for Obama to utter this phrase: "The days of providing a blank check are over." Alas, this line suggests a lack of willpower in Washington. And it doesn't help American troops when this president just can't seem to stop telegraphing that the American public is bumping up against the limits of its endurance.

Enter Obama's timeline to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July 2011. Team Obama has argued that the timeline puts pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, when it clearly exists to take some pressure off Obama.

But the political pressure can only get worse. More than 900 American troops have lost their lives in Operation Enduring Freedom. Their sacrifice must not be in vain.

As the number of U.S. casualties approaches a thousand, there will be intense press coverage of the benchmark as critics question whether the war is worth the sacrifice. Obama will need to project his belief in this mission if he wants to maintain popular support for the war.

Finally, am I sick of Obama -- who campaigned hard for this job -- blaming every problem on George W. Bush and the implication that the war in Iraq enabled Osama bin Laden to get away? Absolutely.

As if to reinforce that notion, on Nov. 29, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations released an executive summary, "Tora Bora Revisited: How we failed to get bin Laden and why it matters today."

It's an interesting report, one that hints that the war in Iraq is the reason Osama bin Laden got away from Tora Bora by noting that "(Gen. Tommy) Franks was well into planning for the next war -- the invasion of Iraq."

It's a bogus connection. Bin Laden slipped out of the mountains in December 2001. The Iraq war began in March 2003. Clearly, Tora Bora was a catastrophic blunder, and there is no way to factor how many American lives this failure may have cost.

While bin Laden wrote his last will and testament, there were fewer than 100 American commandos in the area, begging for reinforcements. The brass said no, lest too many U.S. troops provoke a backlash. Official policy pushed intelligence operatives to work with the local militias, who proposed the 12-hour cease-fire that saved al-Qaida lives by allowing them to flee.

Yes, Bush was commander in chief at the time and his generals were in charge. But those who oppose the Obama Afghanistan troop surge should realize that their alternative -- a light American footprint with fewer U.S. troops working with more Afghan troops -- has more than a passing resemblance to the Tora Bora formula.

Obama says he wants to finish this fight -- to do so, he needs a heavy footprint.

Debra J. Saunders

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