SPRINGING FORWARD, OR MAYBE BACKWARD. Interesting that George Bush and Dick Cheney are finally talking tough with Pervez Musharraf, no? Bush has warned the Pakistani prez that Congress, now in unfriendly Democratic hands, might cut offaid to Pakistan if the Musharraf regime doesn�t get more aggressive about hunting down al-Qaeda operatives within its borders (so it takes the presence of the �soft-on-terror� Democrats to make Bush tell his man in the region to get tough on terrorists!). Cheney made a surprise visit (does he make any other kinds?) to Islamabad today to drive the point home.

What�s happening here has to do, of course, with the coming expected spring offensive of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Both the United States and Britain are worried and moving troops there from Iraq.

Can we actually �lose� Afghanistan? In the sense that Kabul and the Karzai government would fall, probably not. But in the sense that the Taliban would control a majority of the country and al-Qeada training camps could pop up thither and yon, certainly yes. And it could happen this year. If it does, the worst-presidency-ever title will no longer be open to the small amount of debate it currently is.

--Michael Tomasky