While America was consumed this summer with quarrels over town-hall radicals, "death panels," the "public option" and racism's role in the plunging polls of Barack, what happens to health care is not going to change the history of the world.
What happens in Afghanistan might.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal has done his duty. He has bluntly told his commander in chief what he must have in added combat troops and warned that if he does not get them, America faces "mission failure."
Translation: a Taliban victory and U.S. defeat, as in Saigon 1975.
Not only does President Obama face the most critical decision of his young presidency, this country is facing a moment of truth. Obama, now the Decider, has four options.
There is the Biden option of drawing down troops, drawing away from Hamid Karzai, and focusing McChrystal's men on what they do best -- running down and killing al-Qaida, be they in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Second is the option of indecision -- holding off on more troops until the 68,000 already committed have arrived by December, and seeing how McChrystal does with them until spring.
The third option is to give McChrystal some but not all the tens of thousands he says he needs.
Final option: Give Gen. McChrystal the blank check George W. Bush gave Gen. David Petraeus, with the surge of 2007 in Iraq, which radically reduced the violence and set the stage for U.S. withdrawal beginning in 2010.
If Obama meets some or all of McChrystal's request, America will stave off defeat in the short term. But the cost will be hundreds and perhaps thousands more U.S. dead, tens of billions more sunk, growing divisions in our country and more innocent Afghan victims. And the surge may simply push a U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover a few years off into the future.
This assumes that Afghanistan is unwinnable, that America does not have the perseverance or will to send the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops for the decade needed to crush the Taliban and create a government and army able to stand on their own when we depart.
If, however, Obama comes to believe the cost of "victory" in blood, money and years is not worth it, or the American people, already against the war and adding more troops, will not sustain it, or the war is unwinnable, then we need to look defeat in the face.
For that is what McChrystal says we are risking, if Obama dithers or draws down troops.