The shifting landscape around Afghanistan is closing off options for Obama, who must now begin to think about unsavory compromises if he wants to make progress in the Afghan campaign. Washington may yet find a way to maintain its supply lines without returning to Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz leadership could relent, perhaps in the face of increasingly generous offers of financial remuneration from the Pentagon. Uzbekistan might refuse American overtures. Or maybe not. Hope works better on the campaign trail than in the conduct of foreign policy.
President George W. Bush, though largely indifferent to public opinion, could afford to do the honorable thing in 2005 by walking away from an ugly regime in Uzbekistan, when Afghanistan was looking better and the base in Kyrgyzstan was still available. Obama, whose inauguration speech promised that the ideals of rule of law and rights of man "still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake," may have to let his image suffer because he lacks the options of his predecessor. But that's the rub of realism: Sometimes, the wrong people get hurt.