Afghanistan is escalating faster than Iraq draws down, creating a dilemma for President Obama. The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has nearly doubled since last year, from 32,000 last fall to more than 63,000 today. Now reports swirl that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. commander in Kabul, may ask for another 40,000, bringing the total to beyond 100,000.
Meanwhile, the Taliban is inflicting record casualties, with August the deadliest month on record for coalition forces; last month's Afghan elections were marred by widespread fraud; and polls say that the majority of the U.S. public believes the war is not worth fighting. Many observers draw the parallel to Iraq at its worst and to George W. Bush's "surge" there of reinforcements who are widely, albeit controversially, credited with turning that conflict around.
Should Obama gamble that more troops and new tactics will turn the tide, as Bush did in Iraq, and how many more troops would it take? Or does Obama risk his presidency by getting bogged down in another Asian land war in support of an increasingly undemocratic government? And what's the alternative to an "Afghan surge" -- perhaps, as conservative columnist George Will wrote last week, withdrawing and relying on special forces, intelligence and drones just to monitor the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?