Wars are always harder to get out of than to get into. Beyond the obvious military questions, however, President Barack Obama faces a particularly daunting political task with the two conflicts he inherited.
Not only must he balance the fiscal and human costs of continuing two wars against the need to ensure outcomes that enhance national security, he also has to negotiate a political minefield in Congress. And there he will face opposition both from Republicans and members of his own party.
Obama is expected to ask Congress for more than $75 billion in additional funding for the wars. And while GOP lawmakers and some conservative Democrats may want to add to that, a number of other Democrats are already incensed that he is not moving more quickly to end the wars.
But what both flanks need to recognize is the reality of the situation.
For congressional Republicans, a review of the November election results might be in order. Obama was not elected unanimously, and opposition to his domestic and fiscal policies is almost a Republican responsibility. But with that should come a recognition that his election was also to some extent an endorsement of his opposition to the Iraq war. And if that means leaving without seeing Mes- opotamia become the model state envisioned by the neo-conservatives who pushed the invasion, so be it.
For liberal Democrats, the task may be more difficult. But the key, at least, is simple: Obama did not start either war, but both are his responsibility now. And disagreeing with the decision to invade Iraq does not suggest an obvious course of action six years later - not in Iraq and certainly not in Afghanistan.
For starters, the two wars are quite different. In rationale, in the military challenges they pose, in the goals and aspirations of U.S. policy, the two situations are hardly alike.
The biggest difference between the two should be obvious: Afghanistan was the base from which al-Qaida planned and launched the Sept. 11 attacks. The United States had every right, perhaps the responsibility, to strike back.
And not only is the job of destroying al-Qaida not complete, it has grown more complicated with the increased involvement and threatened disintegration of Pakistan. Too much could go too badly wrong not to take Afghanistan seriously.
With his commitment to send 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the president has shown he understands that. His task now is to employ his considerable powers of persuasion to sell it - and to show that beyond grasping the danger of Afghanistan and Pakistan he has a sound strategy for addressing them.
In contrast, Obama has said he will draw down the number of American troops in Iraq from 140,000 to about 50,000 by the summer of 2010. And while critics would like to see the troops come home quicker - five years ago? - that withdrawal is actually fairly quick, something like 6,000 per month.
But as that happens, the troops remaining in Iraq could face increased threats. They will need the best equipment and active support. And even withdrawing troops takes money.
Invading Iraq was a mistake, but it does not follow that an irresponsible exit is warranted. Obama is emphasizing a war of necessity and winding down one of choice. Congressional Democrats should support him in both.