PRESIDENT OBAMA kicked off his reconsideration of strategy in Afghanistan by questioning on national television whether the United States needed to keep supporting the Afghan government and army. But the alternatives the president appears to be considering do not depart so radically from the plan proposed by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Mr. Obama told congressional leaders Tuesday that he did not intend to reduce U.S. troop levels or limit U.S. operations to drone attacks on al-Qaeda. Nor, according to his national security adviser, would he give up on building the Afghan government and army.
The White House's Plan B would mainly amount to refusing Gen. McChrystal most of the additional U.S. troops he has requested -- thereby saving the president a decision that would anger his political base. Instead of aiming to reverse the Taliban's momentum in the next year, as Gen. McChrystal proposed, the idea would be to rapidly build the Afghan army so that it could take over the fight and to focus U.S. initiatives on defeating al-Qaeda in Pakistan.