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Obama speech: kicking the can down the road in Afghanistan

But at least by establishing a withdrawal date in Afghanistan, Obama put Kabul on notice to start solving its own problems.

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Many decades ago, as a fledgling CIA officer in the field, I was naively convinced that if the facts were reported back to Washington correctly, everything else would take care of itself in policymaking.

The first loss of innocence comes with the harsh recognition that "all politics are local" and that overseas realities bear only a partial relationship to foreign-policy formulation back home.

So in President Obama's new policy directions for Afghanistan, what goes down in Washington politics far outweighs analyses of local conditions. I had hoped that Obama would level with the American people that the war in Afghanistan is not being won, indeed is not winnable within any practicable framework.

Obama possesses the intelligence and insight to grasp these realities. But such an admission – however accurate – would sign the political death warrant of a president to be portrayed as having snatched defeat out of the jaws of "victory."

The "objective" situation in Afghanistan remains a mess. The details are well known. Senior commanders acknowledge that we are not now winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan; indeed, we never can, and certainly not at gunpoint.

Most Pashtuns will never accept a US plan for Afghanistan's future. The non-Pashtuns – Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, etc. – naturally welcome any outside support in what is a virtual civil war. America has inadvertently ended up choosing sides. US forces are perceived by large numbers of Afghans as an occupying army inflicting large civilian casualties. The struggle has now leaked into Pakistan – with even higher stakes.

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