Last night, former State Department official and US Marine Matthew Hoh, now a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy, and I had a very good discussion with Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball about Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's comments that the US would cease combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013 -- rather than the end of 2014.
Chris Matthews speaks with The Atlantic's Steve Clemons and Matthew Hoh of the Center for International Policy
Second, this remains consistent with the President's announced strategy, also articulated well by Vice President Joe Biden, that the military's job today is not to "beat" the Taliban but rather to shape the choices in the field for the political stakeholders and to be able to preempt any effort to overthrow the government in Kabul.
Third, I believe that there is a bit of an 'invisible hand' at work here in sending confidence building signals during a fragile early process of trying to negotiate with the Taliban. There are secret negotiations that various sides are attempting to hatch -- and Panetta's comments may be designed to shore up the process. The trip by Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Kabul yesterday and his comments blessing the peace talks seem likely to also be part of this mutual posturing, confidence building process.
Lastly, for those like GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who think that the US should commit itself, its military manpower, and a bigger hold of debt to a longer stay in Afghanistan, I suggest to Chris Matthews that the outcome after another five or ten years would be a much more strategically deflated and impotent United States that fuels the ambitions and agendas of nations like Iran in the region, and China globally.