Praying for the end of time

23 November 2009, 0231 EST

President Obama has been receiving a fair amount of heat lately for “dithering” about U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. After all, the administration has been thinking through its Afghan policy since late summer. Critics in the opposition party say the President’s decision is “long overdue” and that the “strategy review” needs to move from the “evaluation phase” to the “execution phase” ASAP.

Administration officials have long said that the problem is made complicated by the signal America will send to Afghanistan if it too readily approves a troop increase. Ten days ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates framed the question in this manner: “How do we signal resolve, and at the same time, signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?”

In some ways, this bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan is almost as complex as a summer romance that just won’t end — or blossom.

In April 2002, then-President George W. Bush famously made some very big promises to new-love Afghanistan:

We know that true peace will only be achieved when we give the Afghan people the means to achieve their own aspirations. Peace — peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan develop its own stable government. Peace will be achieved by helping Afghanistan train and develop its own national army. And peace will be achieved through an education system for boys and girls which works.

We’re working hard in Afghanistan. We’re clearing minefields. We’re rebuilding roads. We’re improving medical care. And we will work to help Afghanistan to develop an economy that can feed its people without feeding the world’s demand for drugs.

And we help the Afghan people recover from the Taliban rule….By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall.

Especially given these promises, the Obama administration’s “dithering” must be upsetting leaders in Kabul (and not merely in the Republican caucus in Washington).

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you highly value an interpersonal relationship, never pause long if your partner asks “Do you love me?”

The title of this post alludes to a classic rock song by the performer Meatloaf, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” Most readers are probably familiar with the song lyrics, so there’s no need to recount the long story here. Suffice to say that an aroused young man in a heated moment is abruptly stalled by his partner’s questions — his responses will be measured against clear prerequisites:

Do you love me?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?

If you don’t know how that decision turned out, see this video.

Let’s hope Obama’s “dithering” leads to better policy.