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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Karzai and the US : Backing a Winner?

November 20, 2009 - 7:03 AM | by: Greg Palkot

KABUL AFGHANISTAN   Afghan President Hamid Karzai is, perhaps, basking in the warm Friday Kabul sunshine…and certainly the warm “afterglow” of his inauguration to a second term. He has reason to be pleased

Foreign dignitaries present at Thursday’s ceremony seemed happy with an Inaugural address “made to order.” The speech certainly read like it had been written by western officials (some speculated here it had been!).

In it, Karzai said all the things the international community wanted him to say. He’d wipe out corruption. Reconcile with political foes and the Taliban.

And, most tantalizing to the US and allies, Karzai stated, his soldiers would eventually be able to defend Afghanistan and allow US and other troops to return home.

“We are determined, in the next five years,” he said, “that Afghan forces are capable of taking the lead in securing stability across the country.”

(Anyone who has spent time in the Afghan “battle space” lately knows what a tall order that is.)

There is no shortage of Karzai critics in this country who say they’ve endured years of inept and uncertain leadership and who were critical of the speech.

“It’s the kind of promises he’s made in the past,” journalist Akmal Dawi told Fox News. “He’s been failing again and again.”

But following the speech, Secretary of State Clinton, who was in town for the event, more than gave Karzai the benefit of the doubt, she heartily endorsed him.

Regarding his promise to take over the defense of Afghanistan, she remarked “I was personally pleased to see the President set such an ambitious goal…We want to assist him and the military and police leadership in Afghanistan to move as quickly as they can.”

Gone was the skepticism of before. And silent (but at her side) were one-time critics of the Karzai government, Ambassador to Afghanistan Eikenberry, Commander in Afghanistan General McChrystal and Special Envoy Holbrooke.

(Not present, another Karzai critic, Vice President Biden. VP Cheney attended the last Karzai oath-taking in 2004).

It’s reported Clinton met with Karzai before the inauguration and he told her all the right things. It’s also reported Clinton and Karzai have reached a new political and personal understanding.

Along with this “building-up” of the Karzai government, Secretary Clinton and the White House have been actively “ratcheting down” expectations for the Afghan “end state.”

Defeating what’s left of Al Qaeda and preventing them from returning is the goal. Dealing in whatever way possible with the Taliban the “back strategy. “

And there’s no talk of turning Afghanistan into a “Jeffersonian” democracy and a well-developed country. Officials now are content to leave the place simply relatively stable and self-sufficient.

All of this is an attempt to find a strategic “sweet spot” from which President Obama can launch his long-anticipated new US strategy for Afghanistan. That’s now expected to come in the next few weeks.

In conversations with Fox News, military and diplomatic officials here, portray this as the “last chance” for the US and allies to get Afghanistan right. And a few admitted, there are a whole lot of “What if’s” that have got to break the right way for it to work.

One of the “What if’s ” is President Karzai performing. Following this year’s bumpy and scandal-plagued election , the US now appears to realize they’ve got to make their relationship with Karzai work. There’s no one else.

He is the person the US “bet on” after 9/11 and the one the US will have to continue to “back.”

That’s probably one reason, in addition to appearing satisfied, President Karzai seemed a bit nervous Thursday He, as well anyone knows, what a “gamble”  the next few years could be.