This speech is a welcome step toward a sustainable Afghanistan policy, one that realizes that our interests in that country are real, but limited. This speech puts us on a path that aligns our commitment to Afghanistan with these limited interests -- a foreign policy one might almost call "humble."
There are, of course, some political flourishes in the speech. While al-Qaida may well be on the ropes, it is not clear that the same can be said of the Taliban. The Taliban retain considerable strength in many parts of Afghanistan, and appear to be expanding into areas where their presence was previously limited. I can't imagine that many analysts would agree that there is much reason to believe that the Taliban will accept talks under the conditions outlined by the president.
The real test of this policy will almost certainly occur in years to come. While it is possible that the Afghan government will rise to the challenge put to them by President Obama, it is by no means certain. While making Afghanistan a "perfect place" is a straw man, it may take political courage to realize that it may not even be a good, or even a marginal place in some areas. But we can not make it so at any reasonable cost.
But the president does much to dispel the bogeyman that failing to hunt down every last Taliban will somehow result in a return of al-Qaida sanctuaries. Implicit in his speech is the stubborn fact that our partnership with the Afghan government will include the ability to fly drones over that country more or less at will and continue to strike large groups of terrorists or Taliban when and if they emerge. We will not disengage from Afghanistan, but we will "right-size" our presence there.
But ultimately the president is right. In his concluding paragraphs that could have been written by any number of his predecessors, he emphasizes the bipartisan truth that the true strength of American is not its military -- though the military is indeed a thing to be proud of -- but instead America's innovation economy that permits us to pay this magnificent military. To focus scarce resources at home is not isolationism, but instead to play to American's true strength and let commerce be our international engagement.