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On the 8th anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, Obama faces his most crucial foreign policy decision.
[Editor's note: GlobalPost's ongoing special report, "Life, Death and the Taliban," unpacks the complex history of Afghanistan and Pakistan and how the Taliban emerged and has reconstituted itself now, eight years after the start of the U.S.-led war responding to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.]
BOSTON — It is the most fateful decision of Barack Obama’s presidency, and the most consequential foreign policy question America faces.
The issue of whether Obama should escalate the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is coming to a head this week on the eight-year anniversary of the start of the war there.
The war is faltering, corruption is rampant, an election plagued by fraud has further undercut the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai, and the Taliban is gaining ground every week. Chaos and questions as to whether the war is winnable seem to reign in the White House and the Pentagon, and in the cool air-conditioned offices behind razor wire in the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul. And meanwhile the choreography of power is under way with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, entering the stage through a leaked memo and Obama in the wings agonizing in indecision as he tries to formulate a policy. Tuesday Obama told Congress a troop reduction was out of the question, but said he was undecided on whether he would implement a troop increase.
The stuff of great tragedy.
McChrystal’s obvious lobbying in favor of a troop increase of 40,000 over and above the 68,000 in country already has tested the patience of the Obama White House.
A speech McChrystal delivered in London earlier this week has raised many eyebrows in the military intelligence crowd about whether he broke the chain of command. In the speech, he clearly tried to advance a position calling for more troops, contradicting the views of Vice President Joe Biden, who favors a more modest troop presence and stepped up drone attacks.
I had been wondering for months why CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus was so conspicuously silent in the debate, and why he let McChrystal run roughshod.
And now we know the answer: Petraeus has been undergoing radiation treatment for cancer. A statement by the military says he learned he had early-stage prostate cancer in February and for the last two months has been in treatment.
This might help to explain the chaos that has been enveloping the Obama administration’s military strategy in Afghanistan. Sometimes, one man can make a difference, and in the several opportunities I have had to interview Petraeus I come away with the distinct impression that he is a game changer. He is the best mind on counterinsurgency in the American military.
But the military insists that Petraeus' doctors caught the cancer early, and that the treatments have not significantly impacted his work schedule.