High Stakes: Obama To Take Time to Decide Afghanistan Strategy

"Time is not on our side, so we need a decision pretty quickly, and I think [McChrystal] is very clear that when Taliban took over Afghanistan, it became a base of attack on the United States and our allies," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on "Good Morning America" today, adding that not increasing the troop count "could lead to that scenario and have a destabilizing effect on the region."

McCain and proponents of more troops in Afghanistan, which is the size of California and New York combined, argue that the surge in Iraq worked. But with Afghanistan being 80,000 square miles larger than Iraq and boasting a more rugged terrain, skeptics point out that the comparison is misleading.

"There are still populated areas that still need to be under control," McCain said. "You need to go in. ... You hold, you allow the political, economic and cultural life to continue. Look, there are grave problems here. But I would say, in comparison to Iraq, when we started the surge, not as bad."

Among the issues the National Security Council will debate at today's meeting are:

-- How can we best focus on dismantling al Qaeda?

-- Does providing security for the provinces against the Taliban make sense if most al Qaeda members are now in Pakistan?

-- Can the success of the surge in Iraq be replicated in a country of harsher terrain, that is 80,000 square miles larger and not nearly as advanced in terms of government or economy?

-- Does the Taliban pose an existential threat to the United States? If not, need they be defeated?

-- Does "nation building" in Afghanistan make sense if it's not clear that the nation can be built?

-- Will allowing the Taliban to reconstitute itself even further allow al Qaeda more safe havens?

-- Is President Hamid Karzai more albatross than ally?

More Troops to Afghanistan?

The president will undoubtedly ask McChrystal about his report in which the general wrote, "We must act now.

"Failure to gain the initiative in the near term -- the next 12 months -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible," McChrystal wrote.

McChrystal will push a strategy of making the Afghan people more secure. "Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population. In the struggle to gain the support of the people, every action we take must enable this effort," he wrote. "The population also represents a powerful actor that can and must be leveraged in this complex system. Gaining their support will require a better understanding of the people's choices and needs."

On CBS' "60 Minutes," in an interview that aired Sunday, McChrystal said, "What I'm really telling people is, the greatest risk we can accept is to lose the support of the people here. If the people are against us, we cannot be successful. If the people view us as occupiers and the enemy, we can't be successful and our casualties will go up dramatically."

As for Obama, he told NBC, "What I'm not also going to do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there -- beyond what we already have."

As it stands now, 68,000 U.S. troops are expected to be in Afghanistan by the end of the year.

Meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, Obama spoke of his approach to the next steps in Afghanistan.

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