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The phone is ringing … Afghanistan calling

Before I begin this week, here’s a little joke on Joe Wilson’s outburst during the president’s recent health care reform speech to the joint session of Congress. Wilson, you recall, is the South Carolina representative from that state’s 2nd District. It was his “You Lie” comment aimed at the president that made him either a hero or a zero. Here’s the joke.

“If a man yells, ‘You lie’ in a room full of politicians, how do they know who he’s is talking to?”

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Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States of America is where you will find a plain list of the duties of the president of the United States. There are many, but it’s not a complicated list. That’s because it was written in 1787 and not 2009.

Our Founding Fathers wrote a description of the job for their new executive officer that could be printed, very easily, in one quarter of the space that it takes to print this column. If the task of explaining the duties of our president was written today, it would take at least a thousand pages. I don’t think anything our government writes today is less than a thousand pages. Even the recipe for Uncle Sam’s meatloaf.

I don’t know how the discussion for the duties came about and don’t know whether the list of duties was meant to be one that begins with the most important and descends in importance or whether they are randomly listed. I wasn’t there in Philadelphia despite the fact that I sometimes look like I’m 200 years old.

I suspect, however, that there was some sort of rhyme and reason for the order of the list. I suspect that they started with what they felt was the most important task or duty. Can you name the first presidential duty listed in the Constitution? I cannot help but believe that our Founding Fathers felt it was most important.

“The President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” it begins. What a great and grave responsibility. The armed forces of the United States in those days were microscopic entities when compared to the military power of today. But, the responsibility of commanding them falls to the same, solitary office today as then.

Richard Cohen is an opinion-editorial writer for The Washington Post and he opined in yesterday’s paper that today’s president has not come to understand that responsibility. He poses the very important question: Does this president know who he is? One can hear the doubts in Cohen’s question.

The last thing this president needs is an armchair quarterback in Bainbridge, Ga. It would be more appropriate for me to be praying for his wisdom as he tackles the most serious of questions. Understanding that our great country has enemies that are real and actively seeking our demise, how can we place our current troops in the right place at the right time with the maximum resources of our superior military strength?

That’s one tough question. Is the right place Afghanistan? The president must make that call. Just a few months ago, he seemed to think that it was. He criticized former President Bush for his “war of choice” in Iraq and called Afghanistan a “war of necessity.” The general who he chose to be his commander on the ground in Afghanistan in this war of necessity has suggested to his president that it is now time to fish or cut bait.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has drawn the ire of some administration officials by his frankness. The general, who is in charge of 68,000 American troops and another 100,000 NATO troops in Central Asia has presented the president with his honest assessment. His assessment is not what got him in trouble. He is expected to give his advice. His trouble comes from giving his opinion in a public manner.

McChrystal has told the president and all of us that unless our country is willing to commit the necessary resources and time, the effort will be imperiled. He needs a lot more troops (40,000) and all the country’s commitment to give those troops all that they need. If those are forthcoming, the country also needs to know that the battle will not be won overnight. It will take a long time. That is the assessment of the military expert on the ground.

That’s not the only alternative, though. Other voices for the president’s ear say that we don’t need to do all that General McChrystal has suggested. Fewer troops will suffice and we can use a kind of aircraft that doesn’t endanger the lives of soldiers. They’re called drones. In other words, we don’t have to go “all out” like the general says.

Here is what I think. There is an old saying, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” The first question on which the president needs to be clear is this: Is this worth doing? Is Afghanistan so important to the security of America and our future (whatever that may mean), that a battle there is worth one son or daughter of this country? It may be. Our enemies are real and we need to acknowledge that they mean us harm. If they are holed up in Afghanistan planning the defeat of the free world, then it is worth it.

If the answer to the first question is “yes, it is worth it,” then the second question is how do we do it right. We do it right by doing our best. Our best is to fight like hell with all that we have. If we can’t do it that way, then just say, “It ain’t worth it” and bring the troops home.

Last year during the campaign, there were a few political advertisements about a phone ringing in the White House at 3 a.m. At least three candidates wanted to answer the phone, including the one who was elected. Well, I don’t know what time it is, but the phone is ringing. Time to answer it!