Recently, the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan was killed by a US rocket launched from a drone. This was a major achievement, and is expected to result in a serious weakening of the Pakistani Taliban. With it, the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan will also be meaningfully weaker.
Yet, there was little if any fanfare from the Administration. Had this happened under Bush, we'd have had a full-court press from Bush about how meaningful and important and decisive this was, how it reflected just how well Bush was handling the war (think not, go back and look at the grand-standing done when we killed the leader of "Al Qaeda in Iraq", a rather second-rate figure leading a group which didn't have that name prior to our entry into Iraq and which was pretty well a second-rate group in the struggle in Iraq). By comparison, the death of Hakimullah Mehsud is far more significant. He was the replacement of Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed by US forces in August 2009, and his death is meaningful because it shows that Al Qaeda and the Taliban, after seven years of moribund action by the Pakistani and US forces, are under continuing and real threat.
Further, Pakistan has joined the fight in it's northern "frontier" provinces in earnest. This is a major shift of the actions and intent of Pakistan in the past year. It is due in no small part to the threats and pressure placed upon the Pakistani government by Obama, partly in response to needing to distance itself from the ISI-funded terror group which attacked Mumbai, and partly in response to Clinton's visit where the US promised to be more careful and discrete in its use of drones and aeriel bombing. This latter point had been a major sticking point during the Bush years.
Finally, this week, as part of 'the surge' in Afghanistan, the Marines and the Afghani Army have launched a major offensive - this offensive is likely to take several major Talibani strongholds in southern Afghanistan. The question remains open whether they will be held long-term of course, but this is a massive shift of strategic approach from only a year ago where the Afghani government was openly mocked for ruling essentially ONLY Kabul (the Capital).
Each of these three events are significant. They show a combined US, Pakistani and Afghani force taking direct action against the Taliban/Wahabi extremists in an area of the world and in nations in which it is FAR TOUGHER to deal with Al Qaeda and jihadists than Iraq EVER was, on its worst day. Iraq was a secular nation which generally abhored jihadism and fundamentalist Muslims. Hussein rather frequently purged/attacked Sunni and Shia extremists, and he was hated by the likes of Bin Laden for allowing the teaching women in schools, for the embrace of technology, and of course for not seeking to establish a Sunni-lead Caliphate in the way that Bin Laden seeks to do. Iraq was only a hotbed of Sunni extremism because of the colossal ineptitude of the Bush-lead war/occupation there which tortured innocent civilians, and generally considered any concern for civilian casualties or the treatment of prisoners to be 'molly-coddling' in their own words. As Rush Limbaugh famously said, "apparently what the Democrat Party wants to do is offer terrorists therapy" (Ok, that's a paraphrase- but it's damned close to the actual quote) - which he said, and then members of the Republican party repeated, when complaints surfaced about the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison (and elsewhere).
Contrastingly, Pakistan was and is the home of hundreds of Madrasas, religious schools normally founded and run by pro-Wahabi fundamentalist extremists from which suicide bombers are recruited and willing martyrs are sought. These Madrasas were funded by the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia, including Bin Laden's reputed $300 Million. It is a nation with 180 Million people, many of whom are barely literate, and a great number live in barely governed frontier provinces, like those in the Punjab and Kashmir regions. These regions have been the source of outside defeat for centuries (most recently the British were defeated in their attempt to conquer the region in the late 1800 and early 1900's. The Pakistani government signed peace treaties with the Taliban in 2008 to allow them to control sections of important roads and areas - a peace treaty which has subsequently been torn up as the Taliban proved to be untrustworthy (I suspect so did the Pakistani government). Afghanistan, if anything, is even MORE difficult to control, as the Soviets found out. Yet, when we invaded in 2001, we found ourselves welcomed by a people tired of being brutalized, brutalized by the Soviets, then the warlords, then the Taliban. All we had to do, according to Afghanis, was establish something which was moderately effective and importantly, not blatantly corrupt. Instead, whether due to negligence or overt hostility, the Bush government allowed EXACTLY the same type of government which preceded the Taliban, i.e. one lead by warlords - which the Afghani people had already rejected in place of the Taliban - to return. Consequently, the country slipped inexorably back into the hands of the Taliban. Afghanistan became probably the most corrupt nation on earth under Bush's leadership and our occupation. Estimates put corruption at 20% for any action, meaning, in addition to taxes, you had to pay 20% of your salary to just get ANYTHING done. The people were furious.
Obama insisted on a major change in the Karzai government, and has insisted on the placement of officials not for nepotism or favors, but based on seeking to employ those who aren't corrupt. It's not changed things much YET, but it IS a start, and vastly superior to the apathy and neglect heaped upon the nation by Bush. Afghanistan is the FAR HARDER war to win, but as can be seen by these three events, progress is FINALLY being made. Will it result in some sort of stable, non-extremist government, I don't know, and I can't say. I advocated leaving because I thought we'd gone too far, lost too much, to have a chance. We may not win, but I was wrong, and we have a chance.
The shame of it all is, despite these MASSIVELY more meaningful events than anything Bush ever accomplished in Iraq, Obama is seen as weak. He is anything but in terms of placement of military leaders, of insistence on listening to military and intelligence experts, in terms of gaining the cooperation of reluctant allies, but he IS in terms of holding his political opponent's feet to the fire. In short, Obama may win all the battles, but lose the war (of popular opinion) because rather than engage in the same kind of mean, but effective politics Bush so ably engaged in, Obama desires to be "Presidential" and tactful. If he continues to be unwilling to call a spade a spade, he will see his majority in the House shrink to a very small number, and possibly lose his majority in the Senate - and with it, he will become an impotent President - and with THAT, he likely will not win reelection in 2012, and we will put back in place the same kinds of mendacious people as we ousted in 2008 from the White House. We'll have President Palin or President Huckabee or some other Limbaugh boot-licker who will again neglect Afghanistan and Pakistan and we will see a resurgent extremist movement. If Obama doesn't get that his job is to protect the country first before his legacy as a statesman with a virulently uncooperative Republican party which has shown time and again it puts party and political victory FAR ahead of country - then he is a weak leader and the country will follow him and his legacy down the rat-hole.