Rich Galen

President Barack Obama was in Chicago hosting the NATO conference over the weekend trying to negotiate, literally, a pathway through the twin Stan thickets - Paki and Afghani.

Afghanistan is officially a NATO project even though it is possible to buy a faux shoulder patch for the ISAF (which is supposed to stand for International Security Assistance Force) with the subhead: "I Saw Americans Fighting."

At least they were still available in a German PX the last time I was there.

President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met, as the U.S. national press corps called it, "on the sidelines" of the conference in an effort to plot a course which will allow NATO forces to turn over the heavy duty ground duty over to the Afghan army as quickly as possible.

NATO has agreed to keep troops in Afghanistan until 2014 but not in a combat role.

That led Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to remind viewers of Sunday talk shows that the nature of fighting in that country - which has remained largely unchanged over the past 50,000-or-so years - "doesn't mean that we won't be fighting. It doesn't mean that there won't be combat."

According to the Washington Post, the new President of France, Francois Hollande - who has been in office for about a week - pledged during the campaign to have French troops out of there this year.

That prompted German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (again, from the WashPost) to "pointedly cite the credo of the allies in the Afghanistan war, 'in together, out together,' and her foreign minister cautioned against a 'withdrawal competition' by coalition countries."

And that was the easy part of the conference for President Obama.

The hard work was attempting to deal swith President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan.

Zardari has closed the supply routes through Pakistan into Afghanistan. If you read (or saw) "Charlie Wilson's War" you know how crucial the passageways between Pakistan and Afghanistan are.

He was invited to the NATO conference with the specific intention of working something out between NATO and Pakistan on this issue.

According to the New York Times, "even though Mr. Zardari flew to the NATO summit meeting in Chicago ostensibly to finalize the supply line agreement. refused to meet one-on-one with Mr. Obama," called a "Bi-Lat" for bi-lateral in diplomatic parlance.

Zardari did meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The issue for which Zardari wants a "permanent solution" is the use of drones in Pakistani airspace which is, according to the Pakistani Foreign Minister "not only violate [Pakistani] sovereignty but also inflames public sentiments."

To make its point, Pakistan has said NATO could drive trucks across the border into Afghanistan for a fee of $5,000 per truck, which pretty much crosses the line between a toll and a ransom.

It was not clear from the reporting as to whether this fee needs to be paid in cash, in small denominated, non-sequential bills but you don't have to be an expert in international finance to see where this is headed.

The Obama Administration had hoped to have a deal ready to announce in Chicago, but such a deal is nowhere on the horizon leading one Administration official to say, "The main thing is to get a deal. It's less important as to when," which is State Department-speak for "we failed."

Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan weren't improved with the killing of Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan after it became obvious that bin Laden was living with his family more-or-less just outside the mess hall of Pakistan's version of West Point.

So, the NATO conference, on the heels of the G-8 conference at Camp David the day before, sees France set against German, Pakistan v the United States, and Hamid Karzai calling the shots.

Good meetings, I think, don't you?

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to pieces on Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as a pretty good Mulfoto from Marietta, Ohio 45750 over the weekend and a Catchy Caption of the Day showing (and defining) the annular solar eclipse.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.