Obama, all of Washington, and most of the military are totally clueless about Afghanistan.
I do believe there are some in the military - probably mostly junior folks with lots of time in the field and a serious will to understand the situation - who have a pretty good feel for what to do and how to do it. I don't know how much influence those smart junior folks have on the chain of command.
The "tribal strategy", which is offered as a blueprint for success in Afghanistan, is not the panacea and will not solve our dilemma there, except in the context of a much larger and more sophisticated strategy.
First of all we have got to get over our obsession with lines on the map: "seams" in military parlance, which are the ways that ignorant wonks in Washington and careerists in the military divide up the world for their own personal, short-sighted, benefit. The enemy doesn't have seams. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb doesn't have to coordinate and synchronize their deployment schedules with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula before carrying 0ut operations. The only seams the enemy has are created by us, e.g. limitations on their abilities to cross international borders because of security, surveillance, or local allied policy. The only seams we have are created by us: artificial lines on the map created by our own bureaucrats for our own bureaucratic purposes.
Next we have to honestly assess and understand the war we are fighting. It is unfortunately a clash of civilizations between the west and the Islamic world. It is a measure of how dire this conflict has become that many of you reading this paragraph will think "that's intolerant of Islamicist religious freedom". I'm not going to spend a long time footnoting it now, but only a very few years ago the idea that other civilizations opposed western ideals was not controversial. Sometime since I graduated from college our civilization has lost its identity. If you don't think this idea is overtly self evident, you have not read, much less understood, the writings and speeches of our adversaries: Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Ayman al Zawahiri, Osama, et al. If you don't think those guys reflect and represent the intellectual and ideological center of global Islam, you simply aren't paying attention. While a substantial percentage of Muslims around the world may be normal, reasonable, peaceloving folks, at least 90% of the money and power in the Islamic world is with Osama. This is important, and as long as we willfully deny it we will lose.
Next we have got to accept that we are a 2nd Generation power in a 4th Generation world. The information revolution has transformed international politics and warfare. It has made the weak strong and the strong weak, but the information-savvy hold most of the cards. Conventional military power is mostly a liability - we deploy our regular forces to irregular conflicts, then torment ourselves with "force protection" of our troops in situations were they simply don't belong. This problem was bad enough in Iraq, which was a vastly more conventional, comprehensible problem than is Afghanistan. We snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Iraq by overlaying a pretty sophisticated unconventional strategy and the credit was given to the "troop surge", which was a massive oversimplification of what we did and how it worked. Warfare is now unconventional, information-based, non-linear, and more psychological than kinetic. Large numbers of conventional troops are usually just a liability.
Next we have to understand Afghanistan. Probably there are some folks who have spent a lot of time there who have a good feeling for the place, but it is really not an easy place to understand. It is not a nation-state by any conventional understanding of the term. The tribal model is good, and useful, but won't solve all problems there because Afghanistan is mainly a proxy, a tool, and a buffer of surrounding powerful nation-states. Take away state sponsorship of the Taliban (Pakistani and Iranian) and they wouldn't last a year. I only give them that long because they have drug trafficking and corruption working in their favor. (Ever wonder why the Taliban banned opium cultivation when they were in power? Because they were sitting on the world's largest stockpile of heroin and they wanted to drive up the price.)
The factors which govern events in Afghanistan are mostly totally different from what Obama says they are and what Washington thinks they are. Drug trafficking is one big fat example of that but there are bigger and more significant factors that are totally unknown in Washington but totally axiomatic in Islamabad, Teheran, and Dubai (hint: it's mostly about money). If we can't figure that stuff out we'll never stand a chance. At the moment we're just deceiving ourselves and the Islamic world is laughing their asses off at our cluelessness. I kind of doubt that will change, but I was somewhat surprised at how we engineered a politically appealing result in Iraq. It's just amazing how naive and simple we are.
That's the final point: we're all shocked, shocked at the corruption in Afghanistan and how it is thwarting our democratic idealism. The corruption in Afghanistan is kindergarten-level compared to Iraq, where bigger games are still being played. The difference is that there isn't much else going on in Afghanistan, so it's more obvious. If we want to succeed we have to learn to understand how things work in that part of the world and integrate that understanding into a more strategic strategy.
Such a strategy should seek to contain Iran, discredit and roll back Wahhabism, promote and encourage adoption of ideas and values that are at least not detrimental to our interests, and reduce the ability of our 4th generation adversaries (also known as terrorists) to threaten the US homeland. That's what we should be doing in Afghanistan - not seeking to do enough "nation building" to permit a graceful exit.
I thought Obama laid out a plan for willful failure - a theme that will not be missed by the real players over there. They are thinking tonight "this is going to work out well for us".