Steve Chapman

To think Obama will take the risk of a major withdrawal as he's running for re-election assumes him to have more backbone on national security matters than he has yet demonstrated.

Time after time, forced to choose between sticking to his commitments and appeasing Republicans, he has opted for the latter -- keeping Guantanamo open, giving up the idea of trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, abandoning his campaign pledge to leave Iraq in 16 months.

The only thing that would spur Obama to start a pullout would be major progress in Afghanistan, which is about as likely as a Hard Rock Cafe in Kandahar. June was the most lethal month for American and NATO troops in the entire war, and this may just be the beginning.

A UN report says the number of roadside bombings by our enemies nearly doubled in the first three months of this year. So did the number of "complex suicide attacks."

Meanwhile, our allies are failing us. Corruption has proliferated, and President Hamid Karzai has not captured the hearts of his countrymen since winning a rigged election last year.

The Afghan army suffers from ethnic divisions, weak leadership and an epidemic of desertion. The national police are plagued by illiteracy as well as graft. These developments do not spell "victory."

Getting out of Afghanistan would be easy for Obama if things were to go well. But to get out when things are going badly would let Republicans blame him and his party ever after for what happens next. Democrats learned that lesson from Vietnam.

In the end, Obama is likely to follow a well-known rule of American politics: Fighting a futile war is excusable. Ending one is not.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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