Talking About Afghanistan

[ Posted Thursday, October 8th, 2009 – 16:29 UTC ]

I should start out by saying that the title I chose for this article (which is meant to be taken literally, more on that in a moment) wasn't the first which suggested itself. Because the image I've got in my mind is a duck screaming: "AfPak! AfPak!" But I felt that was too frivolous a title to use for a very "not-frivolous" subject.

Still, the image remains. The media has apparently discovered that we have troops in Afghanistan. This may come as a shock to some, since the mainstream media (at least on television) have pretty much ignored this fact for around seven years now (so much so that Afghanistan became known as "the forgotten war" for a while). But the reporting on what President Obama is going to do next in Afghanistan has been so over-the-top in the past few weeks, it has astonished me (and I do not astonish easily, especially when it comes to the idiocy of the evening news). More stories have run on Afghanistan, I would be willing to venture, in the past two weeks than have run in the past two years.

Which is why I settled on the much-less-provocative title I did. Because in all this talk of what Obama should do next, the media seems to have a very selective case of amnesia. Or perhaps they are just severely memory-impaired or logically-challenged. With today's media, it's certainly possible. But then, to paraphrase a fired Secretary of Defense, we go to war with the media we have, not with the media we'd like to have.

So instead of sweeping conclusions about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, the very public battle over what military strategy to implement there, or what would be a "successful" conclusion to the war (all worthy subjects, for another column perhaps); today instead I'd just like to snipe from afar over the way we are having this public debate. Because it seems to me there are quite a few very important points which are simply not being made currently, by any "side" in this debate. Meaning that no matter what your stance on what to do next, you may find you agree with at least a few of these.

In no particular order, then, here are my observations so far.


Obama has already "surged" our troops in Afghanistan

OK, I lied. This is first on the list because it is the biggest elephant in the room -- the fact which, for some bizarre reason, no one ever mentions. Obama has already "doubled down" our presence in the Afghanistan. President Bush never sent more than a fraction of the troops into Afghanistan that he ultimately would send to Iraq. When President Obama took office, there were between 30,000 and 40,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Obama, almost immediately, sent in almost 30,000 more troops. Some of these troops may (media reports vary, astonishingly enough in the midst of such a media frenzy on the topic) not even have arrived in the country yet.

What is truly astonishing is that this fact is so rarely mentioned. It seems to me -- no matter which side of the debate you're on -- that this would be a point to make to back up your position. For those advocating more troops, it could be phrased: "We've sent more in, and they're doing a better job, but it just proves we need more." For those advocating a halt to troop increases, it could be put as: "We've already 'surged' and we should give Obama's first 'surge' a chance to work." In other words, it really could be spun either way.

Instead, it is blatantly ignored by both sides in the debate -- aided and abetted by the media itself. When talking of 40,000 more troops, it is much more accurate and intellectually honest (no matter which side of the debate you're on) to say "Obama is considering tripling-down our presence in Iraq, after he already has doubled-down the troop levels there."


Generals always ask for more troops

This is a basic fact. It is so basic, it applies not only to the military but to corporate America as well, where they even have a term for it: "empire building." Show me an instance where any military commander in the field has said: "You know what? We have too many troops, we should free some of them up so other generals can utilize them better." It just doesn't happen, folks. Generals are always happier when they have more troops under their command. And they always ask for more.

Now, I'm not saying this to denigrate General McChrystal's specific position. He may well be right in requesting 40,000 more troops. I don't have access to the data he does, and even if I did I doubt I would know what to do with it, seeing as how I am not a military strategist or tactician. So let me be perfectly clear -- I am talking generalities (no pun intended) here. But this generality should at least be mentioned to put General McChrystal's position into some relevant context. Which has been absent from the debate about his troop request. I have yet to see one "journalist" on television state this fact "...of course, generals always ask for more troops, this is a historic fact..." in any of their "reporting."


The calendar [Part I]

The media, thankfully, has backed off a bit from last week's breathless reporting that "Obama has to act by four in the afternoon tomorrow, or else the Afghan war is lost." When the whole debate erupted in the media (due to McChrystal leaking his report to the president before the good general gave it to his commander-in-chief), the storyline immediately became all about the immediacy. Obama was losing the war by dragging his feet, or Obama was losing the war because of his indecisiveness, or similar sky-is-falling themes were prevalent.

As I said, thankfully, the media has realized the ridiculousness of this position and backed off a bit this week, instead turning to a more sober discussion of the choices Obama faces (more on what they were talking about before this sober discussion in a moment). All it really took for them to realize the idiocy of their position was a reminder that President George W. Bush took three months to mull over his Iraq "surge" policy before he decided upon it, and announced it to the world.

You know what? I wasn't a fan of Bush's "surge." But I do not believe that at any time either during the debate or after Bush decided did I (or the mainstream media) chastise Bush for not acting fast enough. I could be wrong about that, but I simply don't recall any such debate. Intelligent adults realize that wars are big, complicated things. Sweeping strategic decisions have vast implications on the ground, especially when it comes to the logistics of getting men and supplies where they need to be in a timely manner. So if we're contemplating a large change in a war's strategy, you don't want it to be a shoot-from-the-hip snap decision, you want it to be a reasoned, well-thought-out plan. Which holds true for Obama as much as it did for Bush.

Which, as I said, the media finally did realize, and backed down from their earlier breathlessness. But the argument "Obama's dragging his feet, which will doom us all" is still made in some quarters.


The calendar [Part II]

In Afghanistan, because much of the fighting either takes place in mountainous regions, or mountain passes are used for troops to travel, there are "seasons" of war. And winter is the season when the least fighting takes place. The Taliban troops all pull back to Pakistan for the winter (while the mountain passes are closed due to snow), regroup, and plan their spring offensive. We do the same, on "our" side of the mountains.

What is being discussed by Obama and his advisors right now is the strategy for next spring. Obama could order in 40,000 troops tomorrow, but (1) they wouldn't arrive any time soon (the Army just doesn't move that fast), and (2) they won't really be needed for months anyway.

This is why there is nowhere near the pressure on Obama which the media tried to put on him. There simply is no rush, because winter is coming and the snow is about to fly. Next spring is when any strategy (again, no matter what strategy you advocate) will take effect. So taking an extra week now to get it right is not going to change anything.


Who said anything about a pullout?

President Obama himself had to smack down this ridiculous and false "either/or" choice, which was made up out of whole cloth by the media (unless, to be charitable, it was fed to them by Republicans wishing to tarnish Obama or "put him in a box") -- the notion that Obama could either (a) send in the 40,000 troops McChrystal was about to request, or (b) immediately pull every American troop out of Afghanistan.

Again, I have no idea where choice (b) came from, since nobody outside the media had mentioned the idea previous to the media's obsession over it last week. It's not like Dennis Kucinich was named Secretary of Defense while we all weren't looking, or anything. President Obama has already doubled down on Afghanistan, and not (as the media tried to set up) someone who has ever advocated pulling everything out of Afghanistan (see: Obama's entire presidential campaign and term in office so far). Which makes it all the more puzzling why the media can't seem to remember this simple fact.

The media delightfully played this game during the presidential election last year, when they tried to present the choices in Iraq as a duality -- either a "precipitous withdrawal" or a "100-year war," as if there were no points on the spectrum between these two insane choices. The media did a disservice to both candidates at the time, and they were attempting to do the same disservice to President Obama last week.

Until Obama himself, in the first meeting he held this week on the issue, put it to rest. He specifically said that this is not a choice between (a) 40,000 more troops, and (b) immediate and total withdrawal. This sort of thing looks obvious when someone points out the fact that the media empire has no clothes, but it's always amazing how the herd mentality of the inside-the-Beltway media portrays things at times, in hindsight.


The Taliban is not Al Qaeda

Again, the media is slowly getting better on this one. The Taliban is a distinct and separate problem from Al Qaeda. They may be (to use an old anti-Communist term) "fellow travelers," but they are not one and the same, and to equate them in this fashion is counter-productive to the discussion about what to do about either group.

Al Qaeda is a terrorist group with Osama Bin Laden at its head, which sees itself as being at war with the United States (and the rest of the West). These are the folks who flew airplanes into buildings. They plotted these attacks from "safe havens" given to them by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has a longer history, and is much more focused on controlling Afghanistan. When we pulled out of supporting the mujahedeen (see: Charlie Wilson's War) after the Soviets left the country in the 1980s, a power vacuum developed quickly. The country retrogressed to "warlordism" and the United States labeled it a "failed state" -- and essentially washed our hands of the whole affair. This led to the eventual rise of the Taliban. They took over the country (or, more accurately, "pulled the country back together again"), and set up their very harsh version of Islamic rule. These are the guys who blew up ancient statues because of religious reasons, remember. But when they came into power, many Afghanis (at first) welcomed them, because order (even a stringent theocracy) was much better than the absolute chaos which preceded it.

We deposed the Taliban after 9/11. We kicked them out, with the help of some local resistance groups, and set up the Kharzai government in their place. They've been fighting back ever since, in an effort to gain back control of the country. That is the Taliban's objective.

Now, I draw no conclusions here about the best strategy for defeating either the Taliban or Al Qaeda -- I am merely pointing out that they are two distinct enemies, each with their own goals and their own reasons for fighting. In any debate about "what to do" in Afghanistan, it behooves whoever is advocating this position or that to address these two very separate groups in specific and separate ways.


Why Afghanistan is not Iraq [Part I] -- Talibanistan

Afghanistan is not Iraq. This is patently obvious to anyone familiar with the concept in physics that two things may not occupy the same space. Or, for that matter, to anyone with a map.

Kidding aside, though, there is a real danger of oversimplifying the Afghanistan situation by suggesting that "this is what worked in Iraq, let's try it in Afghanistan" -- no matter what the actual suggestion is. There are two reasons for this; one geographical, and one political.

Geographically, there is a gigantic problem in Afghanistan which we just did not face in Iraq. Call it the "Talibanistan" problem. The region which is used as a base by the Taliban is quite possibly the most "ungovernable" region on Earth. And yet an artificial line on a map runs right through it -- the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But, in reality, this is a "tribal" area -- a concept with which most Americans are unfamiliar (and somewhat uncomfortable even thinking about). What this means is: (1) the "border" doesn't matter, because the tribal organizations have been there many centuries longer than that line on a map, and they fully expect to be there many centuries longer than the line itself survives; and (2) the central governments in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have never been able to exercise much control over the region -- no matter who is in power at the time.

While this is akin in some ways to the "Kurdistan" problem in the Iraqi region (an old association of peoples who got shafted when the lines on the map were being drawn up by Westerners, and hence have no country of their own), that's about as far as any analogy should go. Because the Taliban is a very different kettle of fish than the Kurds. Plus, the Kurds were the most pro-American group in Iraq, from the very beginning.

Exacerbating America's problem, we have a much freer hand militarily in Afghanistan than we do in Pakistan, meaning that the Taliban in essence has a "safe harbor" to retreat to where we have limited military influence. This makes the war much tougher than in Iraq, where such a thing (no matter how much the Iran/Iraq supposed "links" were played up at the time) simply was not true.


Why Afghanistan is not Iraq [Part II] -- the "Taliban Awakening"

A large part of changing the game during the "surge" in Iraq was the buying-off of the Sunni militias. Let us not mince words. What we did was exactly the same as someone paying "protection money" to the mob. Groups of armed men who had previously been killing American soldiers decided that it was time to switch their allegiance (they were getting fed up with Al Qaeda In Mesopotamia, making it easier to convince them to switch sides). They stopped killing Americans, and instead started supporting the American effort (the whole "enemy of my enemy" thing). One of the main reasons they did so is that we started paying them.

This was given lofty and noble monikers by us (the "Sunni Awakening" is the one we all settled on, eventually). But when stripped of rhetoric, we paid off armed gangs so they wouldn't shoot us any more, and instead shoot the other people who were also shooting at us.

But again, Afghanistan -- as tempting as it is for military planners to draw parallels -- is not Iraq. Because the equivalent in Afghanistan would be to start paying off the Taliban, and getting them to turn on their Al Qaeda cohorts. This is not as insane an idea as it originally sounds, because loyalties in this part of the world are even more fluid than in Iraq. So, conceivably, this could actually work. We could get the Taliban (who are the vast majority of the fighters on the other side of the battlefield, it should be pointed out, as opposed to the much-smaller Al Qaeda) to stop shooting at us, and instead help us destroy Al Qaeda.

But such a "Taliban Awakening" would be disastrous politically -- both here and in Afghanistan. Because in this case, it's not really about money. The Taliban have been doing quite well exploiting the fact that ever since the U.S. invaded, the opium crop has been exploding (and so have the profits). In this case, it would likely involve concessions of territory. We might agree to "give up" on certain provinces in Afghanistan, and essentially turn them over to Taliban control. They would then set up their harsh theocratic government there, and we would have to accept all the ugly ramifications of them doing so.

Politically, at home, this would be very hard (if not impossible) to spin. We would be seen by the rest of the world (rightly so) of simply "selling out" the people in those provinces, and sacrificing them to expediency. To say nothing of what the Afghans themselves would think of us.

But the real danger with this scheme is the old joke about what constitutes an "honest cop" or an "honest politician" (answer: one who stays bought). Because, after they get some actual territory semi-officially under their control, there would be nothing to stop the Taliban from "turning their turban" once again (yes, this phrase is actually used in the region), and allowing Al Qaeda (very quietly, no doubt) to set up their terrorist camps once again (this is what started the whole problem, remember).


Kharzai and the future governance of Afghanistan

The biggest problem in Afghanistan, one that did indeed have Iraqi parallels for a while, is that the central government is somewhat of a joke. The country's titular leader, President Hamid Kharzai is contemptuously called "the Mayor of Kabul" by his own countrymen, because his influence (and the reach of the central government) pretty much ends at the city limits. The Afghan government simply does not control most of the country, and indeed has very little influence over it. Add to this the fact that what government there is seems to be the traditional (for the region) "kleptocracy," where having a "government job" means "to become rich by demanding bribes from absolutely everyone who walks by your door." The corruption is so deep and so ingrained that it's hard to picture it changing at any time in the near future.

And on top of all this, Kharzai appears to have stolen the recent "election" to regain control of the country. It's pretty hard for us to, one the one hand, denounce Iran for their fraudulent recent "election," while at the same time keeping in power with our military someone who just as blatantly stole the Afghan "election." Kharzai is not exactly George Washington, in other words, "first in the hearts of his countrymen."



That's a false promise, because I really have none here. But I had to call the final paragraphs something....

The only conclusion to be drawn from all of this is actually an easy one and has nothing to do with what President Obama should or shouldn't do in Afghanistan. The overwhelming conclusion is a familiar refrain, unfortunately. The problem is a complex one. Solutions will be complex, by definition. Relative success or failure might not be apparent when it happens. Nobody's going to be happy with every facet of any decision. It is a subject worthy of studying (and of debate), in the hopes of getting it right and making the right decisions.

In other words, it is precisely that kind of intricate issue which today's media simply cannot handle very well. Look for "either/or" descriptions of the problem, instead. Look for simplistic answers to be bandied about by many sides. Look for the media to miss out on three-fourths of the real debate happening around the National Security Council table. Look for either jingoism ("Send in more troops! More!") or defeatism ("It's a lost cause, always was -- they don't call it the 'Graveyard of Empires' for nothing!") or other such simplistic summations of the problem. But don't look to the media for easy answers, because there simply aren't any (if there ever were) when it comes to Afghanistan. I think everyone's in agreement on that last one.


-- Chris Weigant


10 Comments on “Talking About Afghanistan”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Addendum -

    Two things here, for the commentariat:

    (1) I still have not read the 50+ comment thread from a few days ago, where Afghanistan came up. I will do so now, since I didn't want to prejudice what I was going to write about today (cough, cough... sheer laziness... cough). OK, well, that's my story anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

    (2) I'd like to publicly thank Michale for providing a word I was searching my brain for while writing this article. I knew he had a military background, and also that he is never far from the keyboard, so I sent him an email and he provided the correct term. So, even though he can be a pest here, he can also be useful at times.

    :-) [just kidding, M...]

    The word, if you're curious, was "logistics," and the closest I could get was "provisioning" which I just knew wasn't right....

    Anyway, public thanks to Michale.

    OK, I now officially declare this comment thread open. Have at it!


  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I just knew I wasn't the only one who had that duck on my mind, ever since everyone started referring to Afghanistan/Pakistan with that cringe-worthy shorthand construct. Not surprisingly, I never liked the shortened version.

    Now, before I dig into today's great column, I just wanted to sing the praises of CHRIS WEIGANT'S FRIDAY TALKING POINTS!

    Having long become a fan for life of FTP, I must highly recommend a weekly dose of this unparalleled column to anyone who craves intelligent and essential political analysis that will always leave a lasting smile on your face and who still hold onto hope that the Democrats will someday learn how to play the power game.

    If you have not yet experienced the enlightenment of FRIDAY TALKING POINTS, then you have quite a lot of must-read catching up to do. You can find them all right here...


    ...Michale, you have the floor...take it away!

  3. [3] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Chris, as always you do the subject justice with thorough analysis. Three points:

    1) Obama seems to have recognized that Kharzai is going to win the recount.

    2) The UN recount method treats all cheaters equally, which means it's not going to help the challengers. There probably won't even be a runoff.

    3) Al Qaeda has already made moves to expand in Somalia due to Pakistani pressure on their hosts.

  4. [4] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Liz -

    It's even easier!


    Osborne -

    Hadn't heard that #3 before... interesting...

    Everyone -

    Toles has a funny, if crass, look at the politics of the situation that is worth a look.

    [Hmmm.. that link may have problems. Look for the cartoon which ran on 10/8/09...]


  5. [5] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Note to regular commenters -

    I have finally answered last week's FTP comment thread, even before I attempt writing this week's!

    So, if you joined in the epic thread last week, check it out and see what I had to say.


  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    Let me start with a total non-sequitor...

    I am officially boycotting the Fox News web site..

    ANY web site that lists the TOP TEN Alien "Hotties" and DOESN'T include Seven Of Nine (Or 36 Of D as she is affectionately known.. :D) is not worthy of my time...

    I'd like to publicly thank Michale for providing a word I was searching my brain for while writing this article. I knew he had a military background, and also that he is never far from the keyboard, so I sent him an email and he provided the correct term. So, even though he can be a pest here, he can also be useful at times.

    :-) [just kidding, M…]

    :D Glad to help out. Since I have been working more at home now, I am available for all your linguistic and thesaurasitical needs.. :D

    OK, enough with the prelims... Let's light this puppy...

    {Michale cracks his knuckles and begins his marathon...}

    Overall, this commentary raises some good points and is replete with really good info. However, there are one or two glaring errors that must be pointed out.

    The most glaring of which is the idea that this insurgency is different than the Iraq insurgency..

    Now, CW is correct when he says that the REASONS behind the insurgency are different. This is true. The cabals and tribes that creates the conflict in Afghanistan are vastly different than than Sectarian violence of Iraq.

    However, I am constrained to point out that the differences in the cause have absolutely NO BEARING on best way to combat the insurgency.

    An insurgency is an insurgency is an insurgency.

    WHY the insurgents do what they do is irrelevant. The Afghanistan insurgents use the same methods to achieve the same goals as those of the Iraqi insurgents.

    So, from a strictly combat ops perspective, what worked in Iraq WILL work in Afghanistan.

    Now, of course, once one breaks the back of the insurgents, THEN and ONLY then, will the causes of the insurgency come into play. At THAT point, yes, we will need to tailor our ..ahem.. "logistical" :D troops to fit the specifics of the Afghani people and their way of doing things.

    But, we are no where NEAR being even CLOSE to that point. We must first break the insurgency and to do that, we need troops.

    Obama ran on a platform of listening to the commanders in the field. He castigated Bush for, initially, not listening to the generals and their calls for more troops.

    But now (like in many other things) Obama seems intent on making the EXACT same errors that Bush has made.

    Obama made big fanfare of his Afghanistan Plan back in March. He sung the praises of McChrystal to high heaven, saying THIS was the man to get the job done.

    But now that it's become a political problem, all of the sudden, McChrystal is in the doghouse and is incompetent..

    This is why Politics should never, ever, EVER be given a seat at a war council. Anytime one let's politics have a say in operations, nothing but disaster happens.

    Biden et al.....

    (As an aside to Liz, I am not picking on Biden specifically. He is only one of many who have adopted this attitude. I just can't recall who else is making statements such as these and I am too lazy to research it)

    ....are fond of saying that McChrystal's assessment is just one of many factors being considered.

    This is complete and utter BULLSHIT. It's a political statement, pure and simple.

    The ONLY assessment that should be at the first and foremost TOP of the consideration list is the ground commander's assessment. Sure, one can consider other issues and the like. But if those secondary and tertiary issues conflict with the primary assessment, they should be discarded immediately.

    History is replete with CnCs who ignored that one basic tenet of warfare and they failed. Some, as in the case of Bush, were able to realize this and change course.

    Moving on to Karzai. As I mentioned above, Obama unveiled his grand Afghanistan Plan back in March. Many today say that the faulty elections have required that a NEW plan be put into place.

    Here again we see the incompetence of Obama, the Commander In Chief, rearing it's ugly head.

    Shouldn't Obama's Masterful March Plan have included the possibility of disputed/faulty elections? When has there EVER been a third world hick country that DIDN'T have "disputed" elections? Such a possibility should have been incorporated into Obama's March plan which would NOT require so much debate BS right now.

    No, the truth of the matter is, Obama was surprised that his own party would dispute his Afghanistan plan. He IS "The One" after all, right?? And THAT, not the Afghani elections is what prompted the debate.

    This "debate" has solely been brought about by the political football here at home. And it plays right into the hands of the enemy. ANY delay of getting boots into Theater will make the Taliban and Al Qaeda stronger and more bold.

    The other glaring error in this commentary is the idea that Al Qaeda and The Taliban are two separate problems. While they definitely are two distinct groups with their own motivations and such, they ARE part and parcel to the same problem.

    All things being equal, there is absolutely NO WAY we could ignore the Taliban and go after Al Qaeda. The two groups are ideologically and logistically linked. One combat op undertaken by one group is designed, in part, to aide and abet the other. There is absolutely NO WAY that we can make peace with one group in an effort to combat the other.

    Yes, I know. It worked in Iraq.. However, as the Left delights in pointing out again and again, ad nasuem, Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq until the US was there. So, AQ in Iraq was a new phenomenon. AQ didn't have the long history of mutual support that AQ and The Taliban have. A historical link that cannot be broken, no matter how much money we throw their way..

    We have about as much chance of making peace with the Taliban to fight Al Qaeda as we have of making peace with Al Qaeda to fight the Taliban. And anyone who thinks otherwise is completely ignorant of the region, the history and military matters in general. No offense meant.

    "There is no dishonor in not knowing everything."
    SubCommander T'al, STAR TREK The Enterprise Incident

    In CW's conclusion, he is dead on ballz accurate. Afghanistan IS a complex situation and careful thought must be put into addressing the situation. My point is that Obama *SHOULD* have done that "careful thought" BEFORE he put his plan into action. It's obvious he did not.

    "One doesn't change horses in mid-stream"
    -Abraham Lincoln, 1864

    On the other hand, it's a well-known military fact that no plan, no matter how well thought out, survives contact with the enemy. I believe it was Patton that said that. Or it might have been MacArthur.

    However, neither of them said anything about a well thought-out plan surviving contact with an ally!!

    Regardless, if Obama et al wants to fiddle-fart (an old industry term I just made up.. :D) around then he should do so AFTER he has enough boots in Theater to keep our troops safer.. I have heard a couple of people from the Cut Troops clique say, "The only thing that more troops on the ground will do is buy us time."

    Well, Obama et al said the exact same thing about the nearly trillion dollar porkulus package that was passed. "It's designed to buy us time." with the economy.

    And, I have to admit that overall, it **APPEARS** to be working.

    So, why not buy us time in Afghanistan? Surely if "buying time" is worth it for the economy it is infinitely more "worth it" for our combat troops, no??

    McChrystal's assessment should be accepted and followed to the letter. Morale is plummeting in Afghanistan while politicians frack around with their lives..

    Afghanistan is burning. I think we have had enough fiddling...


  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    On a totally unrelated note (or, maybe not, considering....)....

    Apparently, Obama has received a pay-off for losing Chicago's Olympic bid...

    Does ANYONE think that Obama has deserved the Nobel Peace Prize??

    That prize became irrelevant when they awarded it to Al Gore. Now, giving it to Obama (who was nominated just ELEVEN DAYS into his administration) seems to seal the complete and utter irrelevance of the Prize.

    This will simply add another political dimension to the Afghanistan issue. An issue already replete with political dimensions. Unfortunately, the military necessities will even more so, fall by the wayside.

    If Obama had ANY brains whatsoever, he would refuse the prize..

    It's not deserved and it's an unwelcome and potentially dangerous distraction.


  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    This was a great subject to write about - I don’t think I’ve come across a similar piece analyzing how this debate is taking place and whether we’re all participating with all of the facts on the table. But, then again, there is no one more capable of providing this baseline for the debate than you, Chris.

    The reporting on the internal debate in the White House and the public debate outside of it as to how best to proceed on the Afghanistan/Pakistan file has been predictable and par for the course. And, that goes most especially for cable news and the punditocracy. Collectively, they couldn’t accurately and intelligently report on a war - or a debate over its course - if their very lives depended on it. That is just to be expected. It’s no wonder why so many people are so ill-informed. In any event, it seems as though the Obama-Biden foreign policy and national security team is not letting the sad state of affairs within the fourth estate throw them off track. Though, I must admit, I’m thinking eight months is an awfully long time to settle on the right policy for Afghanistan/Pakistan. Call me impatient. Of course, we have to understand that this situation is a rapidly evolving one and, in particular, consider the huge impact that the recent national Afghan election and its aftermath is having on military and political/diplomatic strategy - though, we might have seen this one coming.

    As for the fact that Obama has already surged troops in Afghanistan...frankly, I don’t see this as being much of an argument, regardless of where you stand in the debate. I don’t find either argument persuasive and therefore I would never make it part of my case, for or against more troops. I just think that the number of troops that we need in Afghanistan today is so intimately related to what strategy is finally decided upon as to render the earlier Obama surge irrelevant to today’s debate.

    While the media have failed to state the obvious...that military commanders always need more troops...I have to question the basic fact that Generals always ask for more troops. If that were the case in Iraq during the latter half of 2003, then we may have averted much of the disaster that intervention has become - from the loss of law and order and looting seen in the months following the invasion to the fragile and reversible state of affairs we see there now with little, if any, progress toward national political reconciliation.

    It had become obvious to most of us that Iraq needed more troops very, very early on in this conflict. It took three more years and a vicious sectarian civil war to prod them into asking for more troops. But, by then it had become too late for more troops. Let’s recall that while the surge may have taken place at about the time that the security situation improved somewhat in Iraq, it is a stretch to say that the troop surge was responsible for improved security.

    ...continued.... :)

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I thought the days of the false choice, a hallmark of the previous administration, were long gone. Silly me. The media have portrayed this entire debate in much the same way they cover any complicated subject matter - by turning it into a simple choice between two extremes...and they do it so well, to the detriment of having a healthy and intelligent debate on life and death issues. What is even more disturbing is how so many news consumers simply parrot this asinine analysis as if it were the gospel truth...disturbing and utterly frustrating!

    The media and media consumers had better learn about the distinctions between al-Qaeda and the Taliban...and between different elements of the Taliban, for that matter, if they want to make persuasive arguments about what military and political/diplomatic strategy will be needed to stabilize and secure Afghanistan in a sustainable way. I have found that the failure to make these distinctions is the Achilles heel of arguments for or against any particular strategy.

  10. [10] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Finally, Chris...

    It's really a shame that this column doesn't appear at the Huffington Post, too. Well, it's really too bad that this column doesn't appear in every major newspaper across the US and beyond - especially now, when the debate is really heating up!

    Anyway, I'm hoping you'll consider a column - in the not too distant future - taking a closer look at the what the options are in Afghanistan/Pakistan or a critique on what the Obama-Biden administration finally announce.

    Great per usual!

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