Mark, I couldn’t agree more about U.S. credibility, and this “exit strategy” stuff is infuriating — although it is probably natural if the appearance is that we’re adrift. That’s why I think the heart of the matter is the “continue to target al Qaeda” part. That goes to the government’s credibility with Americans.
The primary mission, post-9/11, is to defeat this enemy. If people start to think our government believes that can be done by delegating the problem to other governments (particularly new, struggling ones), that would rightly be seen as a severe breach of trust. On the other hand, if we recommit unambiguously, in word and deed, to routing al Qaeda and its state sponsors (the Bush Doctrine as originally articulated), most Americans will pleased and our international credibility will take care of itself.