Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution writes in the Wall Street Journal:

It is certainly too much to call Tuesday’s killing of Ahmed Wali Karzai in Kandahar good news. The half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai had unsavory ways, but the United States had generally come to see him as a person we could work with.

As head of Kandahar’s provincial council, he was the most senior elected leader in the region. Some U.S. officials thought he was gradually mending his ways—which for years included building a considerable patronage network and mafia-like dominion over Kandahar’s political economy. Moreover, another assassination will keep Afghans on edge and probably lead to retaliatory killings.

Yet as the U.S. mission in Afghanistan gets new leadership next week, with Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Karl Eikenberry being replaced by Gen. John Allen and Amb. Ryan Crocker, it’s important to make the best of this turning point.

Well, that certainly is a gallant effort to make lemonade out of lemons, but we should be realistic about what the assassination means.

Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative tells me, “This, as well as the attack on the Kabul Intercontinental, are likely to feed the notion that the security situation is deteriorating. Whether that is true is another matter, but it is just a reminder that much work remains to be done for the U.S. in Afghanistan, and a precipitous withdrawal is not in our long-term interest.”

Another foreign policy analyst critical of the president’s handling of the war put it this way: “He was obviously a problem for us and hardly an ideal partner. But when ‘your’ thugs are assassinated, just after you announce a retreat, the Taliban can claim credit. Whether deserved or not, you look like the weak horse.” He added, “One might hope that it knocks some sense into [President] Hamid [Karzai], but it is likely to have the opposite, save-yourself effect.”

Once again, it is hard to see a rationale for the president’s withdrawal schedule other than a political one. However, one suspects that there is virtually no event or series of events on the ground that would persuade President Obama to alter his timetable. It’s all about getting American firepower out of Afghanistan and getting Obama back into the Oval Office in 2012.