No foolin’. They’re looking for any way they can to avoid giving McChrystal the troops he says he needs to secure the country, so they’ve come up with a way out. If the people we’ve been fighting for eight years aren’t the enemy, then the country no longer needs to be secured from them, does it?

If you thought troop morale was low now, wait.

Though aides stress that the president’s final decision on any changes is still at least two weeks away, the emerging thinking suggests that he would be very unlikely to favor a large military increase of the kind being advocated by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal…

Obama’s developing strategy on the Taliban will “not tolerate their return to power,” the senior official said in an interview with The Associated Press. But the U.S. would fight only to keep the Taliban from retaking control of Afghanistan’s central government — something it is now far from being capable of — and from giving renewed sanctuary in Afghanistan to al-Qaida, the official said…

Bowing to the reality that the Taliban is too ingrained in Afghanistan’s culture to be entirely defeated, the administration is prepared, as it has been for some time, to accept some Taliban role in parts of Afghanistan, the official said. That could mean paving the way for Taliban members willing to renounce violence to participate in a central government — though there has been little receptiveness to this among the Taliban. It might even mean ceding some regions of the country to the Taliban

Obama kept returning to one question for his advisers: Who is our adversary, the official said.

In other words, rather than eat crap by forthrightly admitting he’s prepared to abandon huge swaths of the country to Islamist fascists rather than invest another 40,000 troops, he’s going to create an artificial distinction between the Taliban and Al Qaeda to let him save face by claiming he’s focused on “the real enemy.” Much like how he was focused during the campaign on “the good war” in Afghanistan rather than “the bad war” in Iraq. I wonder how long it’ll be before he decides that not everyone who’s in Al Qaeda is an enemy either — or, better yet, that AQ’s been “substantially defeated” or something, which has been the unstated thrust of all those WH-leaked pieces in the press lately about how weak Bin Laden’s gang has become. Why, I’ll bet in a year or so we’ll be told that they’re so weak that we can start pulling out of Afghanistan altogether. Things sure have improved over there since Bush was president, huh?

How this squares with what Bob Gates said just days ago about the colossal danger of giving the Taliban a propaganda victory, I have no idea. Sounds like Hillary isn’t a big fan either: According to Fox News, “A State Department spokesman said Thursday that Clinton believes the Taliban and Al Qaeda are both a threat and the U.S. is fighting the whole idea of killing in the name of religious extremism.” More from the Times, which was first out of the gate this morning with quotes from unnamed senior officials straining to distinguish AQ from our new patriotic partners in peace in Afghanistan:

Some analysts say that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have actually grown closer since the first American bombs fell on the Shomali Plain north of Kabul eight years ago Tuesday.

“The kind of separation that existed between the Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001 really doesn’t exist anymore,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has advised General McChrystal. “You have much more ideological elements in the Taliban. In the east, they’re really mixed in with Al Qaeda.”

Frances Fragos Townsend, who was President George W. Bush’s homeland security adviser, said the two groups remained linked.

“It’s a dangerous argument to assume that the Taliban won’t revert to where they were pre-9/11 and provide Al Qaeda sanctuary,” she said. Referring to General McChrystal, she added, “If you don’t give him the troops he asked for and continue with the Predator strikes, you can kill them one at a time, but you’re not going to drain the swamp.”

A thought experiment: What if the Taliban’s leadership “promises” not to shelter Al Qaeda and in return we pull back to some sort of wide perimeter around Kabul, only to find a few months later that AQ is indeed returning to Taliban-controlled territory? What’s our move then? Give McChrystal the troops he asked for initially and try to push the Taliban out of land we’d held before? Wouldn’t that require even more troops? Beyond that, if the U.S. military cedes areas of Afghanistan to the Taliban instead of pushing them out of the country to whatever extent possible, doesn’t that practically guarantee a civil war between the Taliban and Afghan troops loyal to Kabul after we leave? At best, you’d end up with a Lebanon-type situation where the Taliban, a la Hezbollah, dominates the country but allows the central government to exist to handle state business while it plots jihad in its own secure areas. At worst, you’d end up with them launching an offensive against Kabul from their territorial bases to try to retake the capital.

My sense is that Obama’s treating this as a sort of reprise of what happened in Anbar, where the U.S. made a deal with the local insurgents that they could police their own areas and suddenly attacks dropped off to practically nothing. The one problem with that analogy: Aside from AQI and a few other outfits, most of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq was a nationalist movement, not a religious one. That’s what the White House wants you to believe about the Taliban too, but it ain’t so. So freakishly fanatic is the Taliban leadership that Bin Laden’s actually sworn religious allegiance to Mullah Omar, not the other way around. If you read nothing else that this site has linked today, read Bill Roggio’s absolute total destruction of the artificial AQ/Taliban distinction that Obama’s trying to draw. AQ is nothing more than “the tip of the jihadist spear.”

It is remarkable that anyone would argue that a Taliban safe haven in Afghanistan would not necessarily lead to an al Qaeda safe haven there given that the two currently enjoy the same safe havens in Northern Pakistan. After the two jointly established the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan in 2006, for example, it should have become painfully obvious that they had not given up on their combined territorial ambitions.

Just as in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, these safe havens are home to broad cooperation between the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Taliban hosts camps for al Qaeda’s paramilitary army, as well as al Qaeda’s external network – that is, those terrorists responsible for striking the West. By some estimates there are more than 150 training camps, of various sizes and configurations, in the tribal areas in Northwestern Pakistan.

Senior al Qaeda leaders are routinely killed at Taliban safe houses, training camps, and compounds during U.S. airstrikes. Numerous Taliban leaders, including the Haqqanis (a father and son team who are based both in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas, as discussed below), Hakeemullah Mehsud, Mullah Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Omar Khalid, Mullah Fazlullah, and Faqir Mohammed host al Qaeda’s leaders and foot soldiers. These Taliban commanders conduct cross-border operations in Afghanistan, and aid al Qaeda in doing so as well.

That’s a tiny portion of the most comprehensive answer to the White House spin that you’re likely to find in the blogosphere. Don’t miss it. I leave you with a clip, also via Roggio, from of all places Al Jazeera, which is also under the impression that AQ’s become an integral part of the Taliban’s machinery. But then, what would Al Jazeera know about jihadists?