In the recent head of state visit, the White House appeared focused more on Karzai’s psychology than on the psychology of millions of Afghans, who hedge their lives daily. There’s plenty of well-earned distrust between sides. It is a dangerous dance for ordinary Afghans as both leaders deliberate. Other governments, American friends and enemies or some quasi-version, are doing the same. Neither wartime president spoke directly to the Afghan people or region, while the American people did hear the administration’s nation-building-at-home mantra.

Until Afghans see U.S. troops staying put, they won’t believe it. And it is in our interest for Marines and soldiers to remain, however few and refocused their mission. Equally, Americans need to see Afghans out front, doing more with less, and fast. Twelve years after 9/11, economic concerns still dominate the homefront. The warfront remains distant as others’ kids dodge the roadside bombs.

But it is not too late to correct our course. We can do a lot with a little, provided we stay long enough. NATO’s most monstrous bases should go away, but not our hard-won foothold. Afghanistan’s east has long been home to the greatest threat—the turf of the Haqqanis and friends—and remains our strategic over-watch platform into a nuclear, unstable Pakistan. We must keep our eyes and resources focused there. And Kandahar will always be the Taliban’s spiritual home. Best to keep “enemies” and inevitable negotiating partners close.