On a range of pressing issues, the nation's leading columnists have a simple message for President Obama. In the words of one pundit, it's time to "lead, clearly and decisively, starting right now." From health care reform to the war in Afghanistan to CIA prisoner abuse, calls for bold presidential action are reverberating through the public square. Here are the most incisive proposals for reclaiming the presidency and solving the nation's ills:
  • The War in Afghanistan: Pick a Strategy  "It's crunch time," says The Washington Post's David Ignatius. He argues the president has waffled between two Afghan strategies:
    • Engage in a limited counterterrorism mission against al-Qaeda, or
    • Employ a massive nation-building strategy to de-radicalize the country
Waffling between the two strategies won't work. U.S. commanders want a commitment for more troops. All the while, V.P. Biden has been suggesting the U.S. should scale back its mission there. The president must take a stand, insists Ignatius. "The enemy must be convinced that the president is politically strong enough to stay the course, despite domestic opposition."
  • Health Care Reform: Ditch Pelosi & Co. and Take Control  The president can not afford to sit back while his critics distort the debate, writes The New York Times' Frank Rich: "Obama's deliberative brand of wait-and-then-pounce leadership let him squeak--barely--through the summer. The real crises already gathering won't wait for him to stand back and calculate the precise moment to spring the next Do-or-Die Speech." Rich says Obama's deference to Congress and his disregard for the 24-hour news cycle has let "pettifogging small-state potentates" desecrate the reform effort. The president must confront attacks swiftly and immediately, and wrestle back the reigns of the Democratic party from the Congressional leadership.
  • CIA Prisoner Abuse: Be Consistent  Forget health care. The president's dereliction of duty on the torture investigations is far "more serious," writes Time's Joe Klein: "The President can't say he wants to look forward, not backward, then allow his Attorney General to look backward." Klein says being ambiguous on this issues confuses the CIA, putting the country's national security at risk. It's also unconscionable to prosecute some officials who acted questionably, while letting others—who acted more egregiously—off the hook. Regardless, Klein writes, "This is a presidential decision the President avoided."
  • Israel and Palestine: Time to Set Principles for Negotiations  Obama needs to make some "hard, and politically controversial, decisions on the Palestinian issue," writes Ignatius. Calling it a "make-or-break" moment to broker a deal, Ignatius says the president must lay down a statement of principles for negotiations between Netanyahu and the Palestinians. He needs to clearly outline where the U.S. stands and where compromise can be achieved without getting bogged down in the details. This will upset Israel's backers in Congress but he must withstand the pressure.