One of President Obama's best characteristics can often be his most frustrating.
Obama has a tendency to split the difference on a lot of things. An obvious case in point would be his lukewarm support for a health-care public option, but there are other instances where the President tries to compromise too much.
Compromise is usually a good thing. But not in Afghanistan. Obama announced Tuesday night he will send 30,000 more troops to the country, but instead of giving U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal an open-ended commitment, he said troops could start coming home in the summer of 2011.
So he gave McChrystal most of the troops he sought, but not the time commitment. And the question is: why? We have only one more chance to get it right in Afghanistan.
Both the military and the citizens of this country are tired after eight years of war -- first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, and now primarily back in Afghanistan. It's not just a matter of fatigue, either. The wars have combined to cost the American people $1 trillion.
And while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' Iraq management has finally helped that country become less violent, the taming of Afghanistan requires a much larger commitment. Perhaps more than this country is prepared to make.
Rebuilding Iraq has been a piece of cake when compared to the prospect of rebuilding Afghanistan -- if you want to do it right. Another eight years? Another $1 trillion? A war tax? That's what is needed.
I know "nation-building" is a term that rattles everyone's cage, but there's never been a nation that needs more building than Afghanistan. It is poor country where the illiteracy rate is among the highest in the world. It's been estimated that 90 percent of the Army can't read, which means that if we're going to build the Afghan forces to the point where they can defend their homeland, it's going to take a long, long time.
And this doesn't factor in the mistrust harbored by the Afghan people. Afghanistan is a country that has been at war for decades and under siege for centuries, used as a pawn by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It will be hard for them to trust the most well-intentioned of people.
So when Obama says he sees troops coming home in 2011, it's impossible to see how. Simply put: do it right, or don't do it. And without international help and a national commitment that includes a flat tax to defray the cost, we can't do it.
This isn't Japan or Germany. This isn't even Iraq. It will be difficult to build an honest, ethical government, and then coax it and its people into trusting the world at large. It must be done with utmost of care.
The only way to really do it right is for the world to wrap its arms around Afghanistan. The planet needs to more or less adopt the country. Educate the people, nurture them and show them the way to prosperity, and do it all in a way that respects the country's conservatism and faith.
If we can accomplish this, extremist groups like al-Qaida will leave. If we can't, they'll fester on the country's deep wounds, which will eventually reopen and give a home to madmen like Osama bin Laden.
Ah, yes. Bin Laden. It's worth remembering bin Laden's true aim was to bankrupt the U.S. Because of past mistakes, we're on our way to granting his wish.
It's time to be decisive. Either we're in or we're out -- either decision would be a bold one. But compromise won't cut it.