In February 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi locked horns over the Iraq War troop surge. The media mudslinging between the two reached a climax when Pelosi called the White House to complain that Cheney had questioned her patriotism. Good Morning America’s Jonathan Karl asked Cheney what he thought about Pelosi’s accusations.

He responded, “I didn’t question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment. Al-Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That’s their fundamental underlying strategy. My statement was if we adopt the Pelosi policy, we will validate the strategy of Al-Qaeda. I said it, and I meant it. And I’m not backing down.”

I put that quote in the “favorite quotations” section of my Facebook profile when I heard it — not only because it sums up the awe-inspiring gumption of our former vice president, but also because I wanted it to remind me of something. If Al-Qaeda perceives weakness in the United States government over the Middle East wars, it will validate their plan to defeat us.

More than two years later, in a confidential document leaked to the Washington Post this week, General Stanley McChrystal, lead commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the U.S. will lose in Afghanistan unless more troops are brought to the fight.

Despite many Democrats’ continued opposition to the wars in the Middle East, I expected President Barack Obama to quickly heed the advice of his top general. After all, it was just last March when Obama made a speech outlining his commitment to “enhance the military, governance, and economic capacity” of Afghanistan. Obama warned, “If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban — or allows Al-Qaeda to go unchallenged — that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.”

But Obama has not yet decided if he will send more troops to Afghanistan. Aides have said the President wants more time to weigh his options, and USA Today reported that several of Obama’s advisors, including Vice President Joe Biden, have revealed their aversions to increasing U.S. forces.

I don’t fault the President for taking his time to make a careful decision in a matter that will affect thousands of Americans and Afghanis, but I don’t understand why this issue is not taking precedence in his administration. According to the Washington Post, Defense Secretary Robert Gates received McChrystal’s report on Aug. 30, nearly a month ago. What have we heard about Obama’s Afghanistan strategy between then and the leak of this report?

Even if you disagree with Obama’s desire to stay in Afghanistan, you should be wondering why his administration was devoting so much attention to health care and climate change with this bombshell sitting on his desk. McChrystal guarantees that a failure to change tactics will result in defeat. Obama should have been acting quickly on the General’s advice or designing a plan to remove our troops before the situation becomes even more deadly.

Obama’s hesitation to address this report as seriously as he has addressed health care sends the wrong message to Al-Qaeda. Maybe the administration will surprise me with news of a well-reasoned troop increase plan within the coming days, but I fear Obama has been purposefully delaying action so as not to alienate Democrat support for the public health insurance option. His support margin is so thin that the risk of an unpopular troop increase driving away potential votes is too great.

Regardless of his behind-the-scene motives, Obama needs to follow in the steps of Dick Cheney and take a strong stand on Afghanistan if he hopes to keep Al-Qaeda and its supporters at bay. Shuffling his feet, especially for political reasons, makes the U.S. appear weak, energizes the opposition and validates their strategy. Obama promised a better future for Afghanistan. Around half of America disagrees with him over health care. Any minuscule impact we could have on the Earth’s climate would take decades to occur. The American and Afghani lives at risk in an extremely unstable situation demand that Obama take action now. It’s about time he gave this issue the attention it deserves.

Chris can be reached at cskoslow@umich.edu.

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