Last week President Barack Obama released a plan to increase -- again -- the troop level in Afghanistan.
He presented it as part of a comprehensive strategy that includes Pakistan as well. The current U.S. force in Afghanistan is 36,000, with a previously announced 47 percent escalation to 53,000 on the way. On Friday Mr. Obama raised it by another 4,000 -- 8 percent -- to 57,000. While the White House makes a distinction between combat troops and the new 4,000 who will have training functions, the end result is the same in terms of U.S. exposure and force protection.
The president's new policy had some changes, including a focus on al-Qaida and away from the Taliban. This could reflect the reality that the Taliban's recent successes mean that both the United States and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai have accepted that it cannot be defeated militarily and that negotiations are the only way ahead.
A second, dramatic change is the new emphasis on developments in Pakistan. Mr. Obama quoted intelligence sources warning that al-Qaida and its allies are planning attacks on the United States from a safe haven in Pakistan and that "insurgents" control parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. For that reason, Pakistan will be getting more money, $1.5 billion every year for the next five years.
The third change is the stricture that continued American support will depend on Afghanistan's and Pakistan's performance according to specific guidelines. Americans have heard such declarations before, particularly in South Vietnam and Iraq. Mr. Obama did not say what the United States will do if Pakistan and Afghanistan don't perform as desired.
The crux of the problem in both countries is their internal divisions and their governments' occasional dysfunction. That makes the costly escalation of U.S. involvement questionable in its logic, particularly given America's economic crisis.