Afghanistan: Obama's toughest political challenge

To have a reasonable chance at success, President Obama will have to sustain the effort for years, which will require him to be at least as determined and stubborn on behalf of this war as former President George W. Bush was in fighting the Iraq war — whatever one thought of Bush’s policy wisdom. It may be a lonely struggle at times for the president because his strongest supporters (the Democratic Party, particularly its progressive/liberal wing) are not by philosophy or recent history natural supporters of military action; their support will be based largely on party instincts. The war’s natural supporters — the hawkish right and center of the Republican Party — inevitably will have at least their enthusiasm ameliorated by their party instincts.

Thus, President Obama has a hard decision to make. Because things are going worse than expected in Afghanistan, it will take longer and require more sacrifice of American blood and treasure to succeed (if we can succeed even then) than was believed to be the case last year. Moreover, political support for the president is likely to be uneven at best.

So in this already politically difficult summer of 2009, President Obama must bring a higher level of intellectual integrity and moral courage to his go/no-go war decision than Lyndon Johnson was capable of 45 years ago.