Another fine mess
The White House has repeatedly stressed the need for a "legitimate" partner in Afghanistan. What we don't know is what happens if they don't get one.
What President Obama needs to make a decision on future strategy is clarity, what he's got is a mess.
This breaks down into two parts - perceptions and practicalities.
Everybody in the administration from Obama downwards has put emphasis on the need for any government to be legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people. No doubt they do want that. But what they really mean is that it must be legitimate in the eyes of the American people, if they are going to be asked to make further commitments to the country. Today's muddle hardly helps any eventual victor look more legitimate.
That's the perception. The practicality is even tougher. Those in the administration who argue against sending many more troops are not dong it because they have some super-effective alternative strategy. They just worry that the Afghan government isn't up to it. "It" being the necessary components of a counter-insurgency strategy: fighting corruption, providing people with effective services and building up a strong and effective military.
To some that means a government where President Karzai has the support of at least some of his rivals, a government of all the talents.
If not, can they somehow circumvent Kabul? Can they do deals on a regional basis? Can they get more people they trust in the administration. Not easy.
The other day President Obama sounded personally frustrated when he told an election rally in Virginia that he was busy mopping up a mess others had left. All they could do, he said, was criticise the way he was holding the broom.
Someone's just tipped another pile of muck on the floor.