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An Incoherent Strategy?

We will soon know - and perhaps experience - whether or not President Obama's Afghanistan strategy is incoherent. But there are signs of inconsistency and even self-contradictory cornerstones in what we can see of it so far.

An anonymous administration official provided glimpses of the president's speech and plan to the New York Times. The signals are troubling, including a view to withdrawal from Afghanistan that "would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground." This is akin to saying that the situation won't really matter. When the unspecified clock runs out, it runs out - win, lose or draw.

"It's accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion," said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. "He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down."

The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011.

How much of Obama's strategy is guided by General McChrystal's analysis and recommendations for victory beyond his troop level requests? This remains to be seen, but in the strategy formulation, the cart appears well ahead of the horse.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are almost certainly licking their long-view chops. "Ride the storm. The Americans want out more than they want to win."

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