I would like to hope that this article in the WaPo represents a possible administration trial balloon or preparation for significantly reducing the military footprint of the U.S. in Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan as well. Karen De Young and Walter Pincus (one of the people in the world I'm glad I took the initiative to meet) provide information, largely overlooked, to my knowledge, that certainly could provide a rationale for such a sensible step.
The word from the intelligence officials they interviewed is that various techniques -- "improved recruitment of spies inside the al-Qaeda network, along with the increased use of targeted airstrikes and enhanced assistance from cooperative governments, has significantly reduced the terrorists organization's effectiveness." Indeed, "Officials described Osama bin Laden and his main lieutenants as isolated and unable to coordinate high-profile attacks."
This jibes with what Stratfor.com and some other intelligence-oriented outfits (and I) have been saying for years -- that al-Qaeda Central, so to speak, has been seriously degraded. It doesn't seem to have had a hand, let alone a coordinating role, in attacks such the Madrid and London train bombings and other attacks. It no doubt has some value to the terrorist cause as an inspirer of would-be terrorists or as a label for already-existing local groups to assume. But it has little operational ability.
Well, isn't that what the U.S. has said is the central goal -- disabling al-Qaeda? It seems to have been largely accomplished (though continued vigilance is no doubt warranted), and not through conventional military means or classic counterinsurgency methods, but through a combination of intelligence, which helped to identify drone targets with increasing effectiveness, collaboration with others, and police-like work. How a classic counterinsurgency campaign that would first have to legitimize the pathetic Karzai regime, in Afghanistan would contribute to further success is unclear, to say the least. By extending the unpopular de facto U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, it might even aid terrorist recruitment.
I hate to think that the U.S. has evolved into a regime that must have constant wars, regimes designated as pariahs to justify constant hostility, and leaders inflating threats to justify its military-industrial establishment. But if we can't accept victory over al-Qaeda, or at least decide to keep doing what's working and abandon the military-centered actions that aren't, one wonders.