Tuesday, August 31, 2010

End of Operation Iraqi Freedom

Initial reaction to President Obama's Oval Office Speech - best summed by William Kristol in this commentary. I do not share Kristol's comment that it was erroneous for President Obama to regard that starting Iraq was a mistake. It was wrong and a monumental error.

As is his wont, President Obama gave a bit darker and very subdued speech. Though there was no expectation that he would refer to any of American Exceptionalism in his speech, it was good to hear his commitment that as a leader of the free world he would continue to lend America's support to human freedom and liberty. As Kristol says, that was good enough.

Charles Krauthammer says that President Obama did not lay down the vision of America's role in the world. That is true, but I am not sure whether President wanted to use this occasion to espouse his didactic for America's leadership in global power structure. On UN forum, while accepting Nobel Prize or a speech in Prague or in Cairo; President Obama has done it in certain sense and I am sure he would do so in future too at appropriate occasions. I thought here the objective was very limited and the idea was to set the parameters for the Afghanistan debate and Middle East peace talks. Also in all probability, no matter what location or occasion, Krauthammer is unlikely to get Obama version of American Exceptionalism since there is no such thing for President Obama. That is futile for Krauthammer to expect.

Rachel Maddow
calls the speech remarkably generous to President Bush whereas Roger Simon foolishly chides President Obama for not telling us about the stupidity of Iraq war. What do these commentators expect? A campaign like speech from the Oval Office? Why do Americans need to hear the stupidity of Iraq War from Oval Office? Have not Americans made it clear in their electoral choices in 2008 when they rejected the die hard supporter of Iraq war - Sen. McCain? It is surprising how foolish these commentators can be in not understanding the basic of purpose of an Oval Office Speech - to bring the country together to push it forward. Everything else is partisan rubbish which better be avoided. President Obama did good on that.

American Exceptionalism

For all the stupidity which is going on with Tea Party and GOP when they express their visceral opposition to President Obama, if any one difference is deep rooted and possibly with some substance; then it is it the argument that President Obama does not acknowledge, and in a sense nurture further, American Exceptionalism. May be President Obama is in the end right that indeed there is no difference between exceptionalism of America and say of Belgium. But I am not so convinced and from Glen Beck to establishment GOP, they may be having a point here; possibly the 'core' of President Obama's Political Opposition.

1. Just from the sheer perspective of historical facts, there are few continuously running political systems like American Democratic system for over 230+ years. That in itself is a monumental feat which in the first act separates this nation and the political project of this nation from majority of rest of the world. Political, philosophical significance of the Constitution, its simplicity and its enduring relevance through out humanity; how can you not understand all that? Can we imagine Humanity where there have not be American Revolution and American Political System?

2. This is the country which by all accounts 'owned' the most significant century of humanity - 20th century - when it decisively instrumented victory of larger human emancipation in 3 global wars and at the same time contributed significantly in science and technological achievements to alleviate our existence on this planet. *

3. For all the darker chapters of this country, in the end American Political system has corrected those blunders; starting from slavery, Japanese Encampment, intermittent American Imperialism to colonization of Philippines. Perhaps the single most factor which separates American Power from rest of the Global Powers on earth is that Americans have mostly avoided colonization like Europeans or failed occupation of Afghanistan by Soviets or brutal and tragic occupation of China and Korea by Japan.

4. This is where we come today - Iraq. American Intelligence System and Political Decision Making screwed up mightily in invading Iraq. But what differentiates America from any other powers on earth is with it's Military Innovation and Competence as well as democratically sustained political endurance for all these 7 years it tried to correct early mistakes and attempted nation building along with cultivation of democracy in Iraq; all at tremendous cost to American Tax payers (so much so that it helped America to get into today's recession). Blood cost - 100 thousand Iraqis and at least 4 thousand Americans; enormous cost all along.

One way to read David Brooks column is to understand the context of this credible achievement of America. Fact is it is unlikely that any other world power will be able to pull off what Americans have tried in Iraq over years. Granted, very few would make mistakes like President Bush in starting a wrong war. But faulty start or reasoning of the Iraq war does not deny the historically significant impact it would have in Iraq and larger Middle East.

The core question is will President Obama allude to all this in his talk and consequently render the political vision of this country which acknowledges what extra-ordinary paths of History America has travelled so far and in the end what resultant responsibilities it carries for rest of the world. If that sense is missing (which it has been so far) in President's speech today, it will only give more ammunition to his political opponents on Right and perhaps legitimately.**

* - It is true that the same American Society and political system have contributed principally to the challenge of Global Warming and America is still way short there in fulfilling its responsible role.

** - Democrats by and large do not subscribe to American Exceptionalism. With President Obama, this break is explicit and very much manifest. Then what is left for such 'instrumentalist presidency' is to deliver on governance. But any time proclaimed reduction in unemployment rate does not happen, such presidencies are vulnerable and that is what we see in the recent polling numbers. It is like this 'if you do not make us feel better, than give us our jobs and dollars'. Regan and Bush had it simple in that sense - call to American Exceptionalism helps you to get the country through a recession or crunch time.

*** - For record, I opposed Iraq war in the beginning and never kind of fell for the Bush argument of 'planting democracy in the desert of Middle East'.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Classic Take on Bake

"Glenn Beck's rally was large, vague, moist, and undirected—the Waterworld of white self-pity."

-- Christopher Hitchens

That is one heck of a take on Glen Beck's rally with extraordinary clarity. One can almost treat it as the 'last word' on this topic.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Obama Presidency in Late Summer of 2010

With predictions like Obama may not opt for the second term, media industry is piling on what went wrong with Obama Presidency. This post is one more addition to that 'piling on' act!

Michael Tomasky is putting some interesting thoughts in this regard. For all the better parts of that article, the most impressive for me is:

"...Energy secretary Steven Chu...brilliant man. A strategy should have been crafted to make him a star. He should have been on the cover of Time by now. Missed opportunity."

Tomasky really talks about 'innovation, innovation & innovation' as the agenda and that is exactly where the frustration of many on Progressive side lies. Despite Obama being Energy Bunny at times, it is obvious that he has given up on working hard in pushing this agenda along with infrastructure development and trade improvement. Broadband - there are some encouraging signs, but a long way to go. He missed obvious opportunities to meet non-banking and non-oil Big businesses - manufacturers like GE, Honyewell, and Tech giants like Intel, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, etc. - in some high profile meetings to demolish the 'Obama as anti-business' propaganda. After passing the Financial Regulation bill, there was no harm for Obama to indicate that growing securities of Public Limited companies as good for America. JJ Cramer keeps talking about Obama's war on Wall Street and there is some truth in that.

But for all these fault, we are getting back to two original sins:
- before worrying about growing the economic pie, Obama went for entitlement expansion in health care (there were many bloggers like me who had speculated that Obama Administration was taking too much too early at the cost of Economy and missing an opportunity to work on re-engineering the structure of American Economy first); and
- over promised unemployment rate for the stimulus.

What can he do now? (Criticizing or advising our presidents, that is one of the perks of Democracy....)

I believe the line sketched by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer is more instructive here:

"Mr. Blumenauer doesn’t argue that government does too much, or that programs like Social Security and Medicare aren’t vital. Rather, in two recent conversations about the nation’s finances, Mr. Blumenauer argued that if Democrats really want to protect a vast array of federal programs from repeated Republican onslaughts, then they need to bring the costs of the programs in line with reality.

Otherwise, he said, liberals only make it easier for conservative critics of social spending to undermine the entire premise of liberal government. And they make it that much harder to propose new and much-needed investments in, say, infrastructure and education."

What we need is President Obama to admit that Health Care Reform is still 'unfinished' business as far as containing health care costs and runway medical entitlement budget of America. So we need further savings on entitlement programs. President Obama should not 'kick the can down' as far as proposing and committing only predefined percentages of GDP - within a bandwidth to give room for fluctuations in economy - on these entitlement programs. There is still a room to run a political campaign arguing that it is Democrats who are best suited to run the nation in fiscally responsible manner since the legacy of Republicans is still so discredited in this regard.

The same theme of fiscal responsibility can be extended to propose expiration of Bush tax cuts, at least for rich, so as funds can be saved to spend on 'innovation, infrastructure and all other reforming spending'. Admitting original stimulus was short could be a political suicide. But that does not mean President cannot improvise to find resources by cutting totally uncontrolled entitlement programs. The goal is to find resource so as to invest in America and to re-engineer American Economy.

Part of the reason stimulus did not work is economic shocks from other parts of the world, Europe especially, which forbids America to grow out of this recession via exports, as like how Germany is pulling off. It is fashionable to praise Germany in Conservative circles, but many of those glowing accounts discount reality a lot. Further prosperity of few countries - Germany, China & South Korea - via exports at the cost of rest of global economy is hardly a sustainable strategy for a stable global economy.

Beyond these plans of entitlement reductions and investments in new foundations of American Economy, you have few other suggestions from experts like Robert Shiller and Paul Krugman which Obama Administration can pull off without getting into the cesspool of Congressional politics. Krugman and PIMCO boss Bill Gross are on the same page when both call for further nationalized help for mortgages in these dire times before housing goes further down whereas Robert Shiller is quite guarded in that respect. I believe instead of getting into an ideological and academic debate of whether housing needs to be restored for Economic improvement first or unemployment needs to go down first so housing will automatically get restored; one approach could be try both things simultaneously until we get to the normal growth rate and lower unemployment at which point nationalized clutches of housing can be removed. It would cost more, but commitment to reduce entitlements can provide some of those resources.

Finally, there is another issue I want to point out as President Obama and Democrats hopefully make a spirited argument to contest November 2010 Congressional election on a strong policy agenda. It is about candor and temperament. No, I am not arguing that Obama is too cool or Americans find him strange and so on. But I wish Obama shows 'directness' and overall very impressive temperament displayed by Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The guy seems truly 'free' and is able to work through all of his challenges in remarkably fluent manner. He seems like in a 'zone'. President Obama needs to think hard and shake his awkward politics. (Why in the world President needed to waffle about mosque at Ground Zero issue when Mayor Bloomberg just kept on soaring?) President seems shackled and unable to navigate this complex politics. This generally happens when one looses clarity, focus and essentially political compass pointing to the end goal. President Obama appears to have lost appetite for the principles and political goals for which he campaigned and for which he needs to fight hard. In a tough election cycle for Democrats, President Obama is practically abandoning his leadership role and Dems look like an army without a general.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bush-Singh Nuclear Accord

With Lok Sabha passing the Civil Liability for the Nuclear Damages Bill; final pieces of Bush-Singh Nuclear According are falling into places. Hopefully this should open up nuclear power market in India and help India to get some badly needed additional electricity.

However, as it is nuclear power plants take inordinate time to go live everywhere in the world and India will not be an exception. In case of India, the bureaucracy and intense demands on land and water would make this process even harder. So there are not much brighter chances that India start moving in the league of France where majority of electricity comes from Nuclear Power plants. Still, it is a step in a right direction.

I am not very optimistic for American companies to get commercial opportunities in Indian nuclear power market. Few contracts may come by way of American companies, but doubtful anything will be substantial.

In the end, the political value of this deal outweigh any practical considerations. De facto recognition of Indian nuke bombs - that is what this deal has been all along. Finally it is becoming a reality.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Israel and America's Domestic Politics

As predictable as night after day, Israel has started to dominate American domestic politics as November Mid-Term elections approach. After Obama had his 'kiss Bibi's Ass' meeting in Oval Office, media coverage of this issue had subsided. But then it all started first with Jeffrey Goldberg's article in The Atlantic arguing the inevitability of Israeli attack on Iranian nuke sites. Former Bush ambassador to UN, John Bolton even gave only days for Israel to attack Iranian nuke sites!

Next we have Charles Blow lamenting in NYT about how Obama has lost substantial support in Jewish community in USA. Coupled with one fifth Americans believing Obama being Muslim and Americans getting sermons from Rev. Graham that Obama is 'born Muslim'; we have a full circle in terms of thoroughly discrediting Obama and his Administration when it comes Israel.

Now we have the news that Iran has fired up it's first nuclear reactor. No wonder Hillary feels compelled to rush for a meeting with PLO Chief Abbas, Israeli PM Netanyahu, Egyptian Pharaoh (I mean President) Hossni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah even though chances of this meeting producing anything useful are very low.

What does all this flurry of activity mean? It means:

- Despite Obama pulling of impressive UN backed sanctions on Iran, in the end Russia and China are hardly going to bother to contain Iranian quest of nuclear based energy and possibly weapons too. Given all the dangers in nuclear powered Iran and consequently high chances of arms race in Middle East, it is hard to understand why Russia would still go ahead and provide the nuclear material to Iran (unless again it wants to have warmed up relationship for further sabotage which some experts feel might have delayed Iranian quest of nuke bombs).

- This all means in the end in all likelihood this is going to end by 'attack on Iranian nuke sites'. Question is when and who would do that. Some interpret recent events to indicate that such attacks could be delayed instead of now.

- For me what I worry is to prove his credentials with Jewish community and deny 'swift boating' of type 'Obama is Muslim'; will Obama be compelled to undertake or support 'air attack' on Iran in the end? Timing of Middle East talks in White House which are more or less doomed in absence of solid ground work; Iran igniting it's first reactor; Obama loosing in domestic political battle ground and continued unwillingness of American Conservatives to understand that without two state solution in the end Zionist Project of Israel in all probability likely to end as 'apartheid in Middle East'; all that points toward something 'nasty' in the air. Obama on weaker wicket domestically is hardly a good sign to make any meaningful difference in the Middle East conflict. Pushed more into a corner, he and White House may even think about the attack on Iran seriously.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sonia, Dr. Singh finally awake?

If this TOI report is to be believed, Congress Party Supremo Sonia Gandhi and Indian PM Dr. Singh are finally awakening to the lasting damage Suresh Kalmadi is about to do. That guy, Suresh Kalmadi, smells 'corruption' even from 100 feet. It is a wonder why in the first place he was awarded responsibility to organize CWG. It was like asking a well known thief to guard your treasury. Kalmadi would innovate multiple ways to pocket substantial money in any government project; in the worst tradition of Indian Politician.

Sonia and Dr. Singh are committing same mistakes like what Indira Gandhi committed - to allow 'corrupt' politicians in Ministry while ignoring their bad deeds. That is corrosive to the legitimacy and you cannot have good governance unless corruption is rooted out. Time and again good leaders like Dr. Singh forget these basic truths. I know it is naive to expect any non-corrupt politician in India, that is a rare breed. Precisely for that reason if Dr. Singh and Sonia want their regime to make any difference in India, they both need to keep away corrupt politicians as well as be scrupulous in not offering any corruption opportunities knowingly to these Indian politicians with their avarice unchecked. By allowing Suresh Kalmadi to run the show of CWG, Sonia and Dr. Singh seeded this disaster. It was simply matter of time before the fiasco would blow in their face, in the face of Congress Party and ultimately in the face of Indian Nation. What a disservice.

Let us see if indeed Sonia walks the talk and ensures prosecution of guilty after CWG.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Obama and Mosque

Here is a take by Ben Smith on this controversy. What GOP is trying is to 'swift boat' Obama. Such 'swift boating' will be hard as long as Obama sticks to his original position. I would have liked President Obama to stick to his original statements rather than any subsequent clarifications. However, even after those subsequent statements, it is good to see President Obama got it right at the very first time.

Meanwhile here are few money quotes from other commenters:

"Bold and decisive leadership"

-- Former Bush consultant Mark McKinnon

"An enormously complex and emotional issue — but ultimately the right thing to do. A president is president for every citizen, including every Muslim citizen. Obama is correct that the way to marginalize radicalism is to respect the best traditions of Islam and protect the religious liberty of Muslim Americans. It is radicals who imagine an American war on Islam. But our conflict is with the radicals alone."

-- Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson.

"Fifty years from now, Muslims will be voting heavily Democratic because they'll remember that Obama defended their rights when it was unpopular to do so. Of course that won't help Obama, but it's impressive to see him stand on principle. Bush could have taken this position without suffering politically. Obama doesn't have that luxury."

-- Jonathan Chait

"On times like this when elected officials take correct-but-unpopular stands it’s important for progressives to remember to reward good behavior. That’s the necessary flipside of holding people accountable when they’re wrong."

-- Mathew Yeglesias

(It is sad that for Sen. Reid and other Democrats, this controversy is nothing more than an opportunity to demonstrate their independence from the 'so-called tone deaf President'. Poor Reid, he has to do whatever is needed to get votes...)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Border Security and Indian Outsourcing

With Senate passing the amended "EMERGENCY BORDER SECURITY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT"; Indian outsourcing firms like Infosys and Wipro are likely to be hit by additional collective charge of $250 million per year. This will be the case until the 'sunset' date of the bill - September 2014. The bill increases H1B and L1 visa fees by $2,000 per applicant if these visa holding employees work for a company which:
- has at least 50 employees and
- more than 50% employees of that company working in USA are H1B or L1 visa holders (i.e. non Green card holder or American citizens).

As Tea Party and GOP are heating up the issue of Immigration and Border Security with Mexico, there is pressure on Obama Administration to spend more money on border with Mexico in stopping illegal migration. Fed is challenging Arizona Immigration Law which indeed goes too far and which practically sets the precedence for discrimination based on skin color and physical looks. Politically, this also means Fed will have to do its part of undertaking more border security than what Obama Administration has been doing so far. Securing border with Mexico is otherwise also needed considering the ongoing war with Drug Lords in Mexico if it is not to be spilled over in USA. More Federal surveillance and border security means more money and in times of heightened concerns about America's deficit this money has to be come from new fees and measures. What better way than increasing fees for those part of immigration services which caters to booming outsourcing business? It also makes sense politically because such a measure can be defended as 'protection of American labor' instead of bringing more foreign workers.

However, I think there is a danger of this law accelerating 'outright' flight of work from USA shores to foreign lands. Companies will send the entire workload to, for example to India, than getting it done here. At least those foreign workers on H1B and L1 were spending money in USA and paying taxes; all of that will be gone. But then things are not that easy. Proponents of this law (both Chambers of Congress have passed it and President Obama for sure will pass this bill) like Sen. Schumer of New York can argue that whatever can be outsourced, it has already been done. What is left is those supporting 'jobs' in USA which are needed for the smooth outsourcing from USA as well as smooth 'reception / acceptance' of the work done in foreign land back into USA. These 'gate-keeping jobs' will be threatened by this bill and consequently the army of workers in foreign land may not get 'feed properly' from work perspective.

What American companies will do is they may continue to increase the presence of 'foreign subsidiary' work force in these foreign lands with full ownership of those foreign markets or product lines with captive teams undertaking outsourced work rather then third party outsourcing companies. But all this means limits of the business model of likes of Infosys and Wipro, are becoming apparent by every passing day. (
Cloud computation is the Technological challenge for these companies too.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good Political News from America?

No, I am not talking about Obama's and Dem's a good primary night. I am talking about Republicans who may be starting to realize how divisive force Sarah Palin is in the end and starting to question her involvement in GOP affairs. Unless Republicans leave aside the garbage like Sarah Palin, Glen Beck and Rush Limbough; there is no future for GOP even though few election wins come by. There is no future for America unless Republicans start putting forward sensible, logical and practical ideas to solve America's burning problems. Today GOP has become the party of NO. Rep. Paul Ryan's plan still does not pass the mustard and GOP tax policy is outrageous. Senseless bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiments are rampant and there is a tendency to overlook racists tones of Tea Party supporters. Sarah Palin does not address any of these challenges but rather exasperates these vices for GOP. That does not bode well for GOP, does not bode well for America. So anytime an American politician talks about distancing from Palin, we should encourage that and we should applaud that.

May be, just may be, the wave of support for Tea Party and Sarah Palin might have peaked earlier and potentially November 2010 elections may not be as optimistic to GOP as it sounded some days back. If that realization forces Republican Establishment to correct the course and offer a sensible program to American voters, voters will not only back them but it will be a true win for America too.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Where is our Industrial Policy?

Here is what PIMCO boss Bill Gross says:

“The jobs that were will not be coming back and the unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is really a fiction of the levered era as opposed to the reality of the new normal.”

"The U.S. economy faces long term structural unemployment near 7 percent."

"U.S. lawmakers need to institute some kind of industrial policy or state-oriented capitalism after promoting consumption and extending unemployment benefits. Specific measures should be directed at investments in infrastructure, reeducation and green energy instead of pushing money into the consumption hole. What they really need to do is hearken back to something like the
CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) or the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, something that sounds so old that it isn’t applicable to the modern era, but really would keep and put people back to work in a specifically directed area.”

Again this is a call similar to what Intel Founder Andy Grove talked sometime back that America needs to specifically aim for retaining production scaling jobs in USA.

But as things are going, none of that sort is going to happen. No fundamental industrial policy initiative is likely from this White House. President Obama seems to have concluded that rather than fighting with Republicans for jobs of Americans, let this Congressional term expire and then the problem of long term structural unemployment will be owned by Republicans too. No leadership, no vision, no nothing darkness.

Old Guard Prevails

Every now and then you would think that the veteran Indian Cricket Batsman VVS Laxman is old enough to retire from the Test Cricket. But at the age of 35, he still comes up with such heroic performances at crunch time to see through his team.

Though India could not win the Test Series in Sri Lanka, to level off the series by winning the final Test Match is not a bad outcome for the Indian Team. Probably, that will help India to keep its ICC ranking considering this has been a difficult home away series. May be Indian Captain Dhoni expected to win the series. But the performance so far shows that younger Indian Batsmen still have a long way to go before filling the giants shoes of old guard like master batsman Tendulkar and VVS Laxman.

(Update - The term 'old guard' is loaded. Here are some interesting links -
Napoleon Army Unit and oldest American military unit. I became curious about this army unit while reading about the retirement ceremony of America's fallen hero Gen. McChrystal. That honor was given by the Old Guard.)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Salute to NY Mayor Bloomberg

The best thing to do here is to point to a blog post by our seasoned journalist and blogger, James Fallows. He sums it all perfectly well.

Some times not all American politics is cynical and shameless.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Oily Chernobyl - Hyperbola?

Since on this blog I implied that the BP Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico can be America's Oily Chernobyl; it is imperative to point out when that is not the case. It is still early in the game, but chances of damage being limited are bright while the day when the 'damn hole' is permanently sealed is approaching fast.

Needless to say American Political System (those shouting hoarse on Left like Huffington Post who reported this oil spill as if the world is coming to an end and Republicans who callously want to continue the slow damage Oil Industry does to the Gulf Coast for short term benefits) is unlikely to 'own' any of its immature behavior. Sadly, that is the way American Political System works - never interested to point its own cynicism while always ready to lecture the whole world.

Afghanistan - A way out?

It is true that one single report cannot portend a positive outcome for America's quagmire in Afghanistan. Still it seems may be American Establishment (Pentagon & Administration) is finally ceding to the advise of VP Biden in concentrating on 'counter terrorism and targeting bad guys specifically'. Just because VP Biden's 'division of Iraq' plan turned out to be totally misplaced does not mean what he is talking here in terms of 'counter terrorism' with the fall back arrangement of division of Afghanistan is totally out of whack. Who knows VP Biden may have a last laugh in this matter.

Of course, VP Biden himself will admit first, it is not the question of who turns out to be right. It is the question of America getting things right. But as this NYT story says, anytime middle and lower ranked soldiers of your enemies are not ready to take higher positions for the fear of getting 'targeted'; it clearly shows the efficacy of this mechanism. As is well know, both the number of soldiers deployed and resources consumed are much lower in this approach than the Gen. McChrystal favored 'counter insurgency' approach. Though this doctrine of 'counter insurgency' was pioneered by Gen. Petraeus in Iraq successfully; it was championed more emphatically by Gen. McChrystal in Afghanistan. With his departure, it is expected that Pentagon would be open to many more alternatives. Gen. Petraeus is smart enough to place a premium on positive result in Afghanistan than insisting on purity of some battle field approach. It is far more important for Gen. Petraeus to get positive results in Afghanistan, both for his personal ambitions and his legacy. In a turn of events when President Obama played a true Commander in Chief role and Gen. Petraeus manifested the true patriotic sense; personal and national interests are fully aligned in case Afghanistan for both these men and both these men are wise enough to keep focus on end result than any procedural matters.

However outcome of America's engagement in Afghanistan cannot be based on wisdom of Gen. Petreous or President Obama. The situation is far more dicey and demanding than that. Focusing more on 'counter terrorism' than 'counter insurgency' is only the first step. The other important question is whether this shift in tactics is only with the end goal of dealing / negotiating with Taliban with a stronger hand and stop there or do you want to go beyond that and not to abandon the nation build tasks in Afghanistan. The approach of VP Biden is he would like to stop when the goal of bringing in 'good' Taliban in Karzai government is attained.

I am not so sure about that. The notion of 'good Taliban' is quite transient. A Taliban is a good Taliban as long as he faces the pressure on the ground. Eventually the conditions which produce these Talibans need to be addressed in medium to longer term. The goal of the 'counter insurgency' has been to protect and wean away larger population from insurgents. Even if full scale implementation of such a strategy is not working in Afghanistan (symbolized more by Gen. McChrystal approach); in certain cases using this strategy makes sense. One classic example here would be protecting 'women and girls and their families' when these Afghanistan girls opt for Education. Just because Taliban participates in Karzai government on weaker terms does not mean Taliban would be ready to purge its fanatical demands of suppressing women in Afghanistan. It is not just a kind of liberal response to a Time Cover, but a wiser adoption of what Greg Mortenson is advocating. Precisely because 'targeted killings' approach would lessen the burden of applying full scale and costly 'counter insurgency' - the official path adopted by Obama Administration at present; chances of resources getting freed up are high. Those freed resources would make it possible for America to undertake other longer term strategies of 'nation building' so as the eventual demise of an ecology which spews the Taliban poison is achieved.

So the question is not of 'abandoning nation building' in Afghanistan; but how to do it smartly without letting it become the money pit it is now. Beyond 'target killings', negotiations with Taliban on our terms and security for freedom of Afghan women; America needs to hold Karzai and Afghan Government much more accountable for its endemic corruption. The corruption in disbursing aid money, foreign financed projects and government tenders need to be squarely faced and reduced; along with corruption in Afghan elections. Only then all these steps would create a sound foundation for a peaceful country which will have a chance to avoid the 'Dutch Disease and Nigerian nightmare' as and when Afghan Economy starts gaining traction based on its mineral wealth.