When President Obama finally announces his Afghanistan decision Tuesday, the number of additional troops he sends will dominate headlines. But the real test of his leadership will depend on the depth of his commitment. Here are three keys to understanding the West Point speech:
#1: How Does Obama Define the Goal?
He's not likely to use the "V-word" because victory is verboten in a war on terror that doesn't exist to this White House. But if Obama doesn't say success is our goal and be specific about what that means, the commander in chief will be ducking his chief responsibility.
A mushy focus would undermine our troops, our allies and embolden the enemy. Unless our mission is clear and firm, major players in Afghanistan and Pakistan will see our commitment as subject to change without notice. Even the perception of shaky resolve will have negative consequences around the world, including in Iran and North Korea.
#2: How Does Obama Define the Enemy?
Last March, he announced a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and repeatedly referred to the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda. They were inseparable when he said, "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."
He was right then, but there is considerable doubt he still believes in that linkage. Vice President Joe Biden argued we should limit our mission to capturing or killing the relatively small number of Al Qaeda fighters. It's a convenient answer for those opposed to a big troop buildup, but history says it has no basis in reality.
The medieval Sharia government the Taliban wants to impose marches in lockstep with Al Qaeda goals. Obama himself cited 9/11 as proof of the connection. Any suggestion now that the Taliban is not part of the problem will reveal he has chosen the path of least political resistance at home.
#3: How Much Emphasis Will Obama Put on Getting Out?
Let's hope press secretary Robert Gibbs' comment that the president would focus on the exit strategy is only a sop to Democratic liberals opposed to more troops. While some explanation of the endgame is inevitable, a disproportionate emphasis could undercut the new troops before they are deployed.
Too much talk of getting out also would tell radical Islamists they can cause a faster retreat by inflicting more casualties on us. That is like painting a bull's-eye on our troops and will give Afghans little incentive to join our side, knowing we will abandon them if things get too hot.
Too much exit talk could also discourage NATO allies from contributing more troops. With public opinion in Canada, Australia and Europe against the war, political leaders won't support our surge unless they see we are firmly committed.
Obama, of course, has his own political reasons for needing a successful speech. His popularity is sliding as more Americans, especially independents, abandon his big-government, high-tax, high-spending approach. His fixation on health care as unemployment climbs has hurt him.
Yet whatever his domestic agenda, the president still must convince ordinary Americans he can be trusted to keep the nation safe. Instead of projecting our power abroad, Obama has been devoted to apologizing and genuflecting.
The stakes for Tuesday, then, are enormous. Beyond laying out the Afghanistan strategy, the speech will be an important test of whether our young president is growing into the job he so desperately wanted.
Michael Goodwin is a New York Post columnist and Fox News contributor. Click here to continue reading his entire column.