The interesting point is the fact that he announced that troops would start to leave within 18 months. This is clearly not just a complete withdrawal after 18 months, so what is it? I get the feeling that the President thinks this is the least worst strategy. If, after 18 months, things are in a position where withdrawal and handover is an option, great. If the surge accomplishes nothing in 18 months, it probably won't accomplish much in 18 years, so it's time to get out. The timetable also puts more pressure on the Afghan government to get their shit together. We won't be there forever, so something needs to be done to create a functioning government and security force.
On that note, this line made me fall out of my chair laughing:
"In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and - although it was marred by fraud - that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and Constitution."
The president played some real verbal twister to avoid using the word "legitimate" in regards to the Karzai government. Again, COIN strategy only works if you have a legitimate and trusted government. This one is neither. The President put some of the onus on the Afghan government and people to clean up their act in the speech, but I'm far from confident that it is enough.
Best case scenario, in my mind: In 18 months, the situation has gotten noticeably better. There's still certainly no shining beacon of democracy in Central Asia, but the situation has improved enough to declare victory and pull out. Let's hope that (or something better) happens.
At the end of the day, I'll probably grudgingly admit that this is the President's "least worst" option, and I'll join the ranks of Jim Fallows and Andrew Sullivan in sighing "Well, I hope he's right."