In the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia - the most prestigious burial plot in the United States - where America's war dead are buried, there is a Section 60 devoted to those soldiers slain in the post 9/11 conflicts of Afghanistan and Iraq. There are long neat rows of graves with rectangular white tombstones, including the graves of Muslim US army officers, a crescent and star inscribed above their names, distinguishing them from the mostly cross-engraved headstones. Each day, those left behind by the fallen come to the cemetery to mourn, say prayers, place flowers and mementoes on the graves, and mark special days. It is a vivid testimony of the human cost of distant interventions hitting home. Afghanistan has now touched the popular consciousness as well as Hollywood. A newly-released high-profile movie, Brothers, examines the traumatic after-effects of the conflict on an average American family. This is the legacy that Obama has inherited. And this is what he is trying to wrestle with, as articulated through his speech of December 01, which carried the title The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan, at the US Military Academy at West Point - before sober-faced young cadets who face deployment to Afghanistan. An element of political calculation was there. This is the first year of Obama's presidency, which gives him some margin for manoeuvre and space to take risks. By mid-2011 - the designated timeframe for a condition-based gradual reduction of forces - it won't be the same with his re-election bid looming ahead in 2012. Obama is sending multiple messages to different audiences. To his Republican hawkish opponents on his right, he sent a message that he is muscular enough to pursue the military task in Afghanistan. To his Democratic supporters on his left, who are worried that the spiralling expense of the conflict may supersede domestic social programmes, he tried to assure that the road ahead is not one of endless conflict, by envisioning an exit. To the Karzai government, he gave a July 2011 deadline to impart a sense of urgency that they need to step up to the plate. To Pakistan, he strove to stress that the US values its security needs and recognises the relationship as a vital and expanded partnership. The absence of the word "India" here was not coincidental. It is a tacit acknowledgement that the Afghan strategy won't work without a complementary Pakistan strategy. To his European allies from whom much back-up support is expected, he sought to show that, by upping the US presence, the Obama administration is serious in staying the course while, at the same time, positioning that it is not going to be a "forever war". And to the American public, it was an artfully constructed perhaps even a contradictory message that, in order to reduce American forces later, he has to increase them now. Instead of the word "withdrawal", more flexible wording like "transition" and "transfer" is being used. Underlying all this is the core unstated message of the limits of power. The illusion of sole supremacy and the neocon myth of the unfettered American writ to re-shape the world have been stripped. Given Obama's speech and the escalating conflict on the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier, what lies next? Situational awareness suggests that America is in for the long haul. Afghanistan, although subject to multiple foreign interventions, has never before experienced the scale of the present global engagement which will leave its own profound consequences. Pakistan, too, is going to bear the unintended consequences of Obama's enhanced presence in Afghanistan. While Pakistan's external threats are transparent, more opaque and more deadly are its internal threats - some of them stemming from the inefficacy of its ruling classes whose pelf and perfidy fan the flames of militancy. India, which was relishing the prospects of a cosy US-India nexus sidelining and subordinating Pakistan, is rattled by seeing its hegemonic designs overshadowed for now by the strategic compulsions of Afghanistan. And America, which abandoned Afghanistan 20 years ago, now has Afghanistan thrust upon its lap. Obama's ambitious agenda on healthcare, jobs, and economic recovery has to compete with the rising costs of its Afghan undertaking. If mishandled, it can consume his presidency, just as Vietnam consumed Lyndon Johnson, and 9/11 consumed the Republican administration of George Bush. Obama now owns the Afghan war. Already, America's immersion in Afghanistan is its lengthiest. The 19th century "Great Game" on the Frontier for ascendancy and influence has now, in the 21st century, become the long duel. The writer is a barrister and senior political analyst.