by RAY FLEMING

I WISH I could understand the increasing tendency of presidents and prime ministers to arrange for the main content of their important speeches to be “leaked” to the media before they actually get to the podium or in front of the TV cameras. For weeks, even months, the world has waited for President Obama to make up his mind about the direction of his future policy on Afghanistan. We have been briefed about the various options open to him and who supports which of them. At the end of last week it became known that Mr Obama would announce his decision yesterday, at a time that would be late afternoon or night in western Europe. Yet for most of the day and with increasing intensity throughout the afternoon the internet was alive with apparently authoritative advance accounts of the detail of his speech -- how many extra troops and for how long -- and analysis of the pros and cons.

Was there anything left for him to say? Would it not be better for the debate on the speech to take place after, rather than before, it is made? An immediate dispute arose yesterday over a predicted US plan to put a “high representative” in Kabul to “bypass” President Karsai and his government. There was strong criticism of this idea from the United Nations representative in Kabul and by Nato who both think, not without reason, that they have a role to play.

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