The Obama administration has a pretty clear and realistic idea about US goals in Afghanistan, but is having a hard time reaching them. That at least is the meaning of the very important Washington Post story this morning that covers the outlines of a deal reached between the US and the Taliban and the collapse of that deal as a result of pressure from the Karzai government.While Vice President Biden has caught some flak over his comment that the Taliban “are not our enemies,” a statement that will come as a surprise to the hundred thousand Americans fighting the Taliban under direct orders from the Vice President’s boss, there is a strategic truth there. The conflict between the US and the Taliban is situational, not existential. We invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government because the Taliban associated itself with Al Qaeda’s attack on the US and refused to hand over Bin Laden and his associates.If the Taliban had disavowed the attack and sent Bin Laden and company to the US for trial, there would be no US troops in Afghanistan today. We did not and do not approve of the Taliban’s political philosophy — that whole adulteress-stoning, hand-chopping, public-beheading, historic Buddhist statue exploding, girls-school-closing thing they do strikes us as unutterably barbarous — but the US generally feels that as long as people thousands of miles away aren’t attacking and trying to kill us, we need not go to war with them because we don’t like the way they live.The US and the Taliban can conceivably inhabit the same planet in peace if not in amity — if the Taliban is ready to accept a live and live let approach to us, we can do the same for them.This is what the Obama administration believes, and at Via Meadia we agree. More, the death of Bin Laden and the progressive destruction of Al-Qaeda’s capabilities in Afghanistan have done much to remove the original source of the quarrel between us, and reduced America’s need to keep fighting forever on the slopes of the Hindu Kush.The trouble is that it is one thing to recognize the potential that an agreement could exist, and another thing to reach an acceptable agreement, especially when other players — like Pakistan, India and President Karzai — also have red lines and priorities. President Obama’s choice to announce a withdrawal timetable at the same time he announced the surge has now left US negotiators in a tough position. Other parties sense that the US is desperately eager to get out of Afghanistan come what may, and they are using that desperation as bargaining leverage in the peace negotiations.Fight and negotiate makes sense as a strategy; fight and negotiate and withdraw is a harder trick to pull off. To put that another way, the military is having more success right now at doing its part of the job than the politicians are having on their end. The military seems to have fought the Taliban to a place in which it is ready to do some kind of deal, but the politicians can’t get the deal done.The danger now is that the deal will get harder to reach as the self-imposed withdrawal timetable approaches. The Taliban has more incentive to wait us out (and other players care less about what we think) the closer we are to reducing the military pressure on them.If President Obama decides to drop the withdrawal timetable, let us hope the Democrats in Congress will understand that this would be an effort to end the war, not to escalate or indefinitely prolong it. The Taliban may not be our enemies, but they are certainly not our friends, and they have no interest in giving us a better deal than they must.