No good options in Afghanistan

Barack Obama, the reluctant war president, spent part of Wednesday's eighth anniversary of the U.S. operation in Afghanistan discussing the difficult conflict with his national security team, a day after doing the same with bipartisan leaders of Congress.

He deserves credit for seeking a broad range of views about the troubled military campaign, which has cost more than 800 U.S. lives and $223 billion.

But he could talk to every American and still not come up with an easy answer. The options are lousy. And the outcome will fall on Obama and his presidency.

As for what's at stake — Kansas had a painful reminder with the Sept. 12 deaths of two soldiers with area ties: Sgt. Tyler Juden of Arkansas City and Spc. Daniel Cox of Parsons (a Winfield native). Sunday's coordinated attacks on two remote U.S. bases raised the U.S death toll by another eight.

Meanwhile, in a new Associated Press-GfK poll, public support for the war is at 40 percent, down from 44 percent in July and 90 percent in October 2001.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, reportedly has asked for as many as 40,000 more troops, beyond the 68,000 already authorized.

There are legitimate concerns, however, about how well — and how quickly — a strategy of counterinsurgency and nation building can work in Afghanistan.

Some favor troop reductions and a new strategy of relying on special forces, unmanned drones and airstrikes. This would refocus the mission on eradicating al-Qaida, the terrorist network responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

But McChrystal has argued against moving from a counterinsurgency strategy to an arm's-length counterterrorism operation, suggesting it would turn Afghanistan into "Chaos-istan."

And whatever the United States does in Afghanistan will affect Pakistan, the nuclear-armed neighbor in which Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida terrorists are believed to be hiding.

It would look hasty, and probably political, for Obama to reject the best advice of McChrystal outright. And surely nothing good can come to the region, or U.S. national security, from ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban and its oppressive rule.

In the coming days, Obama must turn all the advice he's been getting into a blueprint for success in Afghanistan. If he gets it wrong, the United States risks becoming the latest casualty of the country they call "the graveyard of empires."