Obama aides were busy Oct. 18, even if it was Sunday.
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod, on ABC: "He [Obama] had to sort out in Afghanistan a war where we had seven years of drift and no policy."
Chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on CNN: "It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether in fact there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on CNN: "It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't even have an election finished."
We now know that just as the Sunday talk shows ended that day, Kerry had concluded his fourth of five meetings in five days with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Dispatched as an impromptu interlocutor between Karzai and Obama's State Department, the fifth meeting on Monday may have proven decisive in prompting Karzai to accept a runoff election after failing to win an overall majority in Aug. 20 elections. But Karzai could not have missed the drumbeat from Washington: The Obama administration is willing to hold its war strategy hostage to a resolution of Afghanistan's political crisis.
The government in Kabul, however faulty, is not America's enemy in Afghanistan. The Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are. And stalling on a decision to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan until the contested election is resolved could prove costly. Results from the runoff, now scheduled for Nov. 7, may not be known until January. And even Karzai's challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, is cautious about a successful outcome: "There is no guarantee that there will be no fraud in the next round."
Meanwhile, part of the importance of a troop surge in Afghanistan, as it was in Iraq, is to demonstrate U.S. staying power to local populations and political leaders. While Obama waits, both political and insurgent leaders-from Kabul to Baghdad-are watching.