My assignment for the Sunday column this week is Afghanistan. I tried last night but was blocked ( a rare event for an OCD hack like me). Of course, I've been thinking about it for quite a while now and airing a range of opinions on this blog. What the president faces is an excruciatingly difficult choice in an immensely complex and dangerous region where power is in flux and the future very hard to assess. The way he's handling this decision - as transparently as feasible - is admirable. I've had some deep worries about general McChrystal, and was appalled that he was allegedly threatening to resign if he didn't get his way. But it seems clear now that he never threatened to resign, and those who leaked that non-fact were trying to bounce him as much as the president. And his speeches and comments this past week seem to me to speak very highly of him, and his bluntness in public and private suggest a man serious about winning this war. On a human level, anyone who can recite whole sections of Monty Python And The Holy Grail by heart is all right with me.
But I worry that his analysis - "all in or all out" - is not quite right. I've relied on this formula myself in the past, but every time I follow through in my head the full consequences of either path, I end up feeling deeply uncomfortable. I'll be candid and note, as readers will surely have twigged by now, that my Tory pessimism is resurgent. This is not just Afghanistan; it's Afghanistan after thirty years of violence, mayhem, brutality and anarchy. To believe that America can create a functioning stable state in that context seems insane to me, and given this country's fiscal crisis, a reckless commitment for the distant future. At the same time, letting Afghanistan unravel still further right now, with the ramifications for Pakistan's knife-edge struggle with Islamism, is a risk few American presidents would willingly take.