George W. Bush waged preventive war in Iraq regarding (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Obama is waging preventive war in Afghanistan to prevent it from again becoming "a staging platform for terrorists," which Somalia, Yemen or other sovereignty near-vacuums also could become. To prevent the "staging platform" scenario, U.S. forces might have to be engaged in Afghanistan for decades before its government can prevent that by itself.
Before Tuesday, the administration had said (through White House spokesman Robert Gibbs) that U.S. forces will not be there "another eight or nine years." Tuesday the Taliban heard a distant U.S. trumpet sounding withdrawal beginning in 19 months. Also hearing it were Afghans who must decide whether to bet their lives on the Americans, who will begin striking their tents in July 2011, or on the Taliban, who are not going home, because they are at home.
Many Democrats, who think the $787 billion stimulus was too small and want another one (but by another name), are flinching from the $30 billion one-year cost of the Afghan surge. Considering that the GM and GMAC bailouts ($63 billion) are five times bigger than Afghanistan's GDP ($12 billion), Democrats seem to be selective worriers about deficits. Of course, their real worry is how to wriggle out of their endorsement of the "necessary" war in Afghanistan, which was a merely tactical endorsement intended to disparage the "war of choice" in Iraq.
The president's party will not support his new policy, his budget will not accommodate it, our overstretched and worn down military will be hard-pressed to execute it, and Americans' patience will not be commensurate with Afghanistan's limitless demands for it. This will not end well.
A case can be made for a serious, meaning larger and more protracted, surge. A better case can be made for a radically reduced investment of resources and prestige in that forlorn country. Obama has not made a convincing case for his tentative surgelet.
George Orwell said the quickest way to end a war is to lose it. But Obama's half-hearted embrace of a half-baked nonstrategy -- briefly feinting toward the Taliban (or al-Qaeda, or a "syndicate of terror") while lunging for the exit ramp -- makes a protracted loss probable.