Richard Holbrooke recently told me that Pakistan's cooperation in fighting the Pakistani Taliban was very welcome, but that the Pakistani army now has to go into South Waziristan ... The US military is providing limited fresh equipment and funds to the army for just such an operation.
Obama has attempted to make his Afghan anti-narcotics policy more effective and to involve neighboring countries in a regional settlement. It's an assertive and possibly productive new strategy, but the Obama administration has had neither the time nor the resources to implement it.
In private moments Holbrooke has regretted how the Afghan elections have distracted attention from putting into effect Obama's new strategy. At home Obama has not had the time to show that his policy is the right one to follow, and now the elections themselves are being exposed as riddled with fraud.
For the first time, polling shows that a majority of Americans do not approve of Obama's handling of Afghanistan. Yet if it is to have any chance of success, the Obama plan for Afghanistan needs a serious long-term commitment -- at least for the next three years. Democratic politicians are demanding results before next year's congressional elections, which is neither realistic nor possible. Moreover, the Taliban are quite aware of the Democrats' timetable. With Obama's plan the US will be taking Afghanistan seriously for the first time since 2001; if it is to be successful it will need not only time but international and US support -- both open to question.
The Pakistani military will bide its time until the Americans are really desperate, and then the army will demand its price from the US -- a price to be measured in financial and military support.
The Taliban's game plan of waiting out the Americans now looks more plausible than ever.
It is unlikely that we will be able to defeat the Taliban.
"You Westerners have your watches," the leader observed. "But we Taliban have time."
"Is the boy a Talib?" I asked. "Future Talib," he said.
Elizabeth Rubin, from just before the election:
Karzai remains well ahead. What happens if he wins? "What will you do then?" I asked an American working for the Obama administration.
"The first step is to shift away from the weekly pat on the back he got from Bush but not be as removed as Obama was," he said. "Then if we can reduce his paranoia and if he has a renewed mandate and if we get the good Karzai, the charming Karzai. ..." It was a lot of ifs.
You've got to make a long-term commitment.
Ahmed Rashid, from May:
The Pakistani army seeks to ensure that a balance of terror and power is maintained with respect to India, and the jihadis are seen as part of this strategy.
Milt Bearden, in March:
The only certainty about Afghanistan is that it will be Obama's War.
Have you seen "Revolutionary Road"?
Hopeless emptiness. Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.
Dexter Filkins, in February:
The Americans making Afghan policy, worried that the war is being lost, are vowing to bypass President Hamid Karzai and deal directly with the governors in the countryside.
It's clear now that Karzai took this threat seriously and opted to cut his own deals with regional warlords.
John Sweeney, from October 2008:
The solution for people who have spent a long time in Afghanistan was ... to work with the Taliban and somehow to uncouple the Afghan fighters from al-Qaeda. Seven years of killing later, it feels a bit too late to try that now. So, western policy seems glued to fighting a war that many people in the know are now saying the west is never going to win.