Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- The decision on President Obama's Afghanistan strategy -- expected during the next few weeks -- finally seems close. After a process attacked as dithering and praised as deliberative, all the serious options appear to include a larger American commitment.

America's best military minds have argued that rescuing the situation in Afghanistan requires a decisive shift in strategy and an increase in resources. The Afghan population needs more protection, which would make local leaders more secure and cooperative, which would produce more actionable intelligence. It is the virtuous cycle that succeeded in Iraq. But, as in Iraq, it requires more troops.

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The size of this escalation -- anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent above current troop levels -- is still debated. Obama's penchant for splitting every difference may yield a strategy that falls just short of the need. But each of the plans under consideration involves a recommitment to America's military goals in Afghanistan.

However difficult this deliberation has been, it is only the barest beginning of Obama's task. Once a choice is made, his challenge becomes primarily rhetorical -- persuading a skeptical public and reluctant Democratic Congress that increased sacrifice in Afghanistan is necessary. His actual decision may be a near-run thing, bathed in shades of gray. But military choices must be announced and pursued with neon clarity. It is the purpose of wartime presidential leadership to turn a debatable strategy into a national commitment.

We have yet to see this type of leadership from Obama. His rhetorical focus has been mainly domestic. Communication concerning Afghanistan and Iraq has come when there is no other choice. These wars have fallen into the category of inherited problems -- less national causes than a distant uncle's debt.

Obama's high-profile international speeches -- such as his Cairo remarks and United Nations address -- have sought to transcend ideological debates, not engage them on one side. In this rhetorical approach, the world has many criticisms of America, some of them unfair; but America also has many flaws and failures. Thankfully, the bad old days of misunderstanding are now over, because of the arrival of Obama himself.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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