What Obama didn’t mention is that this surge and this strategy were not a success. He’d treated the strategy as an experiment; he gave it 18 months to work, and his generals assured him that would be enough time for the Afghan military to take the lead in a majority of the country’s districts, even though some of them knew very well it would take longer. They gambled that enough progress would be made to convince the president to give them more time and more troops. They gambled wrong. After 18 months, almost to the day, Obama announced that he would start pulling out all 33,000 surge troops—and not replace them with any new ones. This too he publicly presented as a victory, and by the same rationale: bin Laden had been killed, al-Qaida decimated, Taliban foot soldiers routed. But the goals of the surge—the goals of the counterinsurgency strategy—had not been accomplished. Obama simply—and wisely—rejected them; the experiment was over; he wasn’t going to double down. …

Of all the foreign leaders installed by Western powers in the last 60 years, Karzai has been one of the most frustrating. In 2009, the U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, complained in a widely leaked memo that Karzai was “not an adequate strategic partner.” A year later, after one of the Afghan president’s more petulant fits, the top U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, threatened to pull his support for the mission, telling one of Karzai’s advisers, “Your president has put me in an untenable position. Please take note of that word. I chose it carefully.” Karzai calmed down, for a while.