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Can Obama Say No to General McChrystal?

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General McChrystal's request for more troops is in. The Washington Post reports:

McChrystal said he thinks the way to meet the president's relatively narrow objective of denying al-Qaeda's return to Afghanistan involves a wide-ranging U.S. and NATO effort to protect civilians from insurgents by improving the Afghan government's effectiveness. That means not only more troops, but also a far more aggressive program to train Afghan security forces, promote good local governance, root out corruption, reform the justice sector, pursue narcotics traffickers, increase reconstruction activities and change the way U.S. troops interact with the Afghan population.

The numbers floated in the press range from 10,000 to 45,000 additional soldiers. None of this is surprising. Nation building is a manpower intensive exercise. But how much of our combat power do we really want tied down in Afghanistan?

And let's assume for a minute that the General is correct in his assumptions - that in order to achieve narrow objectives we must expend enormous amounts of resources. What does that say for America's counter-terrorism strategy in the long run? Is this kind of effort to be duplicated wherever al Qaeda can potentially take root?

Leaving aside these questions, it seems politically President Obama is now in a very tight spot. While we generally acknowledge that it's the civilian arm of the government that sets U.S. strategy, publicly rejecting the advice of military commanders isn't something that a Democrat will do lightly. It's an issue tailor made for demagoguery.

(AP Photos)