American forces' commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is asking for more troops for that war.
The Afghanistan war at this stage, eight years in, is starting to look increasingly like the Vietnam War as it started to go downhill for the United States. Gen. William C. Westmoreland and other American military leaders began requesting President Lyndon B. Johnson to send more and more U.S. troops into the conflict. The implicit U.S. military threat to Mr. Johnson was that, without those increased levels of U.S. forces, if the United States lost the war it would be Mr. Johnson's fault because he hadn't provided the U.S. generals the forces they needed to win.
Gen. McChrystal is, in effect, making the same point to President Barack Obama now, raising the political ante for him, whether or not it is true that the United States can win in any sense in Afghanistan. Many observers believe the war to be unwinnable and already to have lasted far too long.
The current level of U.S. forces in Afghanistan now is 62,000. Another 6,000 are authorized and are supposed to be there by the end of the year. Gen. McChrystal is reported to be saying he needs another 40,000 or so or the U.S. effort in Afghanistan will fail. The Pentagon is holding the formal request at the moment. Mr. Obama has asked for more staff examination of the Afghanistan issue and the request before making his own decision on the significant escalation of the U.S. troop presence in the war that Gen. McChrystal is seeking.
The support of other NATO nations for the Afghanistan war remains tepid. Italy, which has some 3,000 troops in Afghanistan now, is reportedly considering withdrawing them. Italian forces lost six men there last week, which led to widespread national mourning in Italy, which in turn prompted calls to bring most Italian forces home, leaving only trainers.
Mr. Obama will have to decide whether he wants to take the occasion of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh today and tomorrow to press Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to resist public pressure in Italy and not pull the plug on Italian participation in the NATO undertaking in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama may also need to bolster other NATO leaders represented at the summit, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, to try to keep those countries' forces involved in a conflict that is appearing to be increasingly futile and expensive.
One alternative being looked at in Washington is to withdraw U.S. forces from combat and to concentrate U.S. energies on training Afghan forces. That might make sense, or, particularly given the fiasco that Afghan elections have emerged to be, it probably makes even more sense now to decide that the United States after eight years has done as much as it should do in Afghanistan and leave its future to the Afghans, choosing to concentrate American efforts instead on rebuilding the domestic economy and U.S. armed forces.
In any case, Gen. McChrystal's request and the Afghan election results probably make it fish or cut bait time on the United States and the Afghanistan war.