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Published December 03 2009

Forum editorial: President makes tough call

President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night call to arms regarding America’s eight-year war in Afghanistan comports nicely with his position when he was candidate Obama. The president restated the mantra that the necessary campaign in Afghanistan was neglected when attention and resources were shifted to a war of choice in Iraq. He reminded Americans that the 9/11 terrorists were equipped and trained in Afghanistan. He underscored the danger of allowing that troubled country to become a safe haven for terrorist organizations intent on harming the United States or other Western countries.

It was a good speech. The president is one of the most skillful orators ever to occupy the Oval Office. But style aside, the substance of the address was compelling. Coming from a president whose first instinct is to negotiate, a call to expand a lengthy war underscores the danger to U.S. national security of losing Afghanistan to al-Qaida and the Taliban. The president and his war councilors have correctly defined the terrorist presence in Afghanistan as a direct threat. He’s joined in that definition by prominent Republicans, most of whom disagree with the president on almost everything else. In other words, national security tends to soften partisan lines.

The president’s relatively modest addition of 30,000 U.S. troops and the expectation of another 5,000 from NATO allies appear to have widespread support in a Congress that is bitterly divided over many other big matters. Indeed, the president’s left-leaning, anti-war Democratic base is more problematic for him than the Republican opposition.

If there is a glitch in the president’s strategy, it’s a pledge to start bringing troops home in 18 months, which might be nothing more than a bone tossed to the anti-war left. It will take at least a couple of months to get the new 30,000 soldiers into the war zone. What happens if the president’s goals, as outlined Tuesday night, are not realized in that time? He did not address that likely circumstance.

President Obama is no longer candidate Obama. He is the leader of the free world and commander in chief of U.S. armed forces. He and his advisers were criticized for taking their time in making the Afghanistan decision. But the situation required thorough, comprehensive analyses. The president examined all options and concluded that American commanders on the ground need more troops.

It was not an easy call because polls show most Americans are war weary. But like his predecessors, President Obama must make decisions that might not be popular, but are necessary for the nation’s protection.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.