It's disturbing to read that you've returned from a Pentagon-sponsored tour of Afghanistan embracing the military's viewpoint. (Los Angeles Times, December 22, 2011) It seems obvious that the Pentagon and the US ambassador, not to mention Hamid Karzai, feel free to deny and defy President Obama's plan to end US combat by 2014.
This war never should have occurred. Now that it has, our government is stuck with an ineffectual, corrupt, unbalanced president in Kabul. There is no evidence that the Afghan armed forces, heavily dominated by the old Northern Alliance elements, will be able to secure the place against the insurgencies symbolized by the Taliban. Like Iraq, we have invested in a simmering, continuing civil war.
Obama is trying to escape the quagmire he got himself into, for whatever reason, when he campaigned on escalating the Afghanistan war. Thousands of Americans have been killed or wounded, and the direct cost to taxpayers is $500 billion (which means trillions in the end). According to Bob Woodward's account, Obama had to face down Hillary Clinton and his own generals in order to limit the escalation and "begin" his present withdrawal of 33,000 troops this year.
As Obama also said in Woodward's revealing book, "I need an exit strategy." In other words, a political-diplomatic strategy to limit the damage as the US and NATO inevitably pull out.
The Democratic National Committee, at the instigation of Rep. Barbara Lee with Obama's implicit blessing, has endorsed a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan. So has the AFL-CIO. Rep. Jim McGovern picked up 206 votes this year for a House resolution urging the same approach. There are reliable reports that Obama wants to accelerate the pace in time for the NATO summit in May.
This is what the Pentagon hawks and their allies in Congress seek to prevent. When we need an urgent diplomatic offensive, on the same level of intensity the US invests in the Middle East, the hawks will put up resistance. They will engage in what they call the "war of perceptions" by cultivating relationships with leading reporters in the mainstream media, like yourself.
What is missing in your article, and the Pentagon's worldview, is the option of a diplomatic exit strategy from the morass. You seem to assume the military assumption that we have to keep killing the Taliban, Taliban sympathizers, and other insurgents until they surrender to a new order imposed by the West. If that sounds exaggerated, this is what Bruce Reidel told Obama in Woodward's book: "we have to keep killing them until they stop killing us."
If the Taliban are ever that weakened, which seems doubtful, Afghanistan will be a bleeding wasteland, apparently under Western occupation, for decades. An unstable Pakistan by then will be the flaming "center of gravity" in this permanent hell.
The only viable solution in Afghanistan requires a definite timetable for US withdrawal accompanied by a road map to a power-sharing arrangement as soon as possible. There will have to be a territorial partition that allows for the existence of Taliban enclaves and a significant representation of Pakistan's interests. The US will have to give up the ambition of using Afghanistan bases in a new Cold War against China. Realism will have to replace profligate wishful thinking.
The Pentagon can't be allowed to dictate the course of events, because the Pentagon has an abiding interest in protecting its reputation against the appearance of loss. That's why we have diplomats, to invent face-saving retreats from irrational over-extension which risks our economy and security.
I think highly of your knowledge and reportorial skills, but on this one I think you unfortunately have accepted the Pentagon's dangerous assumptions.