Commentary: Ramping up in Afghanistan

The process would not be rushed, the White House said, and it wasn't. President Obama and his national security team met, discussed, deliberated for what seemed like forever as they wrestled with the strategic options centered on Afghanistan.

But if Obama sometimes seemed to be riding the brakes - for example, when he no doubt wanted to avoid appearing too ready to embrace Afghan President Hamid Karzai's fraud-tainted re-election - the careful review was entirely in order. Now, Americans await Obama's presentation of that review's outcome.

The president this week more than tipped his hand. Some of his fellow Democrats, especially, are leery of any widened U.S. role in Afghanistan, with the inevitable loss of life and compounded costs. But Obama publicly bought into the concept that there is a vital national interest in keeping Afghanistan from again becoming a staging ground for terrorists bent on attacking this country. He declared his intent to "finish the job" that was begun shortly after al-Qaida, whose top leaders were harbored by the Afghan Taliban regime, engineered the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It's a resonant line - nobody likes the idea of unfinished business when it comes to terrorists and their sponsors still operating and presumably plotting how to kill more Americans. Yet when Obama speaks to the nation on Tuesday, how will he define the job that remains?

President Bush ordered the invasion that toppled the Taliban and allowed a nominally democratic government to take charge in Kabul. But as America then focused its war efforts in Iraq, the Taliban regrouped. It now controls much of the country, and Taliban fighters pose a stern challenge to U.S. and allied forces that are attempting to give the Karzai administration some breathing room. North Carolinians are reminded all too frequently of the costs as service members based here are wounded or killed in combat.

Does Obama see outright defeat of the Taliban as an essential task? If so, he will surely have to reckon with critics who cite the Soviet Union's failed Afghan venture, a vicious war in which U.S.-backed rebels - Muslim fundamentalists cut from the same cloth as the Taliban - prevailed against heavily armed Soviet troops.

Afghanistan became the Soviets' Vietnam. And yes, Obama also will have to reconcile his Afghan policy with this country's Vietnam fiasco, where a primary lesson was that some wars simply are unwinnable no matter the apparent one-sidedness of the conflict. If ordinary Afghans come to share the view that the U.S. is a hostile occupying force, the fate of the Soviets will loom even larger.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.