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AfPak Confusion at the White House

Afghanistan is a challenge that would bedevil even the finest foreign policy makers. But today's big stories in the Post and Times paint a somewhat discouraging picture of the Obama team's handling of the war. The Post depicts an administration whose initial policy review reached conclusions that meant different things to different people. And the Times reveals a re-review that is addressing fundamental questions which probably should have been settled months ago. For instance:

“The policy people and the intelligence people inside are having a big argument over this,” said Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Mr. Biden. “Is the Taliban a loose collection of people we can split up? Can we split the Taliban from Al Qaeda? If the Taliban comes back to power in parts of Afghanistan, are they going to bring Al Qaeda back with them?”

It's true that some circumstances have changed since the first AfPak review was concluded in March: last month's election fiasco has thrown the legitimacy of Karzai's government, and our ability to sustain it, into doubt. But basic questions like the connection between al Qaeda and the Taliban probably look much the same. Nevertheless, one official tells the Post: "We're going back to key assumptions."

Of course, it's more important to do it right than to do it fast. (Although if I'm patrolling the mountains of Nuristan, I'm pretty eager for them to do it fast). And asking too many questions is better than asking too few, as did the Bushies on the road to Iraq. Nevertheless, you have to wonder how the first review came up so embarrassingly short.