Recently the New York Times ran an op-ed giving some less-than-compelling reasons for us to be leaving Afghanistan. Like now.
I had some initial thoughts on this.
This, more than anything, sums up the Times piece.
While there’s much that could be said with regard to style, poorly organized thought, and a general sense of moral superiority implying that we, as readers, care so very very much about the opinions of the New York Times editorial staff, I’m going to stick to three of the worst things about the article. At least for the first part. We’ll call this first section moral high(ish) ground.
The petty stuff is at the bottom. So as a follow up to yesterday’s initial response, here are:
Three Things (or “Facts”) the Times Ignored in Their Op-Ed
1. No one wants to see America blow up its own stuff. Again.
The task is to pack up without leaving behind arms that terrorists want and cannot easily find elsewhere (like Stinger missiles) or high-tech equipment (like Predator drones) that can be reverse engineered by Pakistan or other potential foes. The military can blow those things up if it must.
OK, so a little of the petty, but…the Stinger (while a classic Afghanistan quagmire graveyard of empires symbol) is, historically, used against aircraft.
Just like Charlie don’t surf, Taliban don’t fly.
That being said, yes, Times editors, for the sake of American force projection and our image around the world, let’s blow up a bunch of really expensive American military hardware.
This was quite clearly written by someone for whom the phrase “last chopper out of Saigon” holds little or no meaning, and thinks that Miss Saigon is just a darling little story about some country that makes great food.
I was two years old when that happened, and even I still shake my head at the images of Hueys being pushed off of carrier decks during the Vietnam evacuation.
Blowing things in place is the last thing you do, and not like on a checklist after “buy bread” and “change the air filter in the Yugo.” I mean, the last thing you do so you get to make it out alive.
The last thing America needs is to be seen evacuating yet another war zone, and not just out of some sense of macho chest-beating bravado: if we’re perceived as losing this one, and nothing says “the other guys one” like burning…Stingers…that puts us in a decidedly untenable situation from the point of view of national security.
Which brings me to the next point:
2. We’re not done in the region, so there’s no way we’re leaving now.
President Obama has not tasked military commanders with recommending a pace for the withdrawal until after the election. He and the coalition partners have committed to remain engaged in Afghanistan after 2014 at reduced levels, which could involve 15,000 or more American troops to carry out specialized training and special operations.
In that last sentence, American planners (if there is such a thing) care very little about the training, but care a whole lot about the operations. We didn’t invade Pakistan because, well, it’s Pakistan, and picking a fight with a nuclear power is usually a bad idea.
We will continue to use Afghanistan as a point from which to conduct operations along the border region, leveraging our increased cooperation with Afghan special operations units to prosecute the war we probably should have in the first place. Our efforts to date have helped achieve that goal: a country stable enough over which we can exert just enough control to continue the pursuit of America’s enemies.
The drone wars are not going away, either in the FATA or anywhere else, even if Romney is elected in November. Yes, our footprint will change. But our special operations actions will not. Longer term, is the training and equipping of the ANSF vital to American interests? Absolutely. But there’s a reason we’ve engaged so heavily and consistently with Afghan special operations forces (SOF), and that’s for a post-2014 world.
3. Afghanistan’s hosed. Americans don’t care.
Americans are desperate to see the war end and the 68,000 remaining troops come home. President Obama has not tasked military commanders with recommending a pace for the withdrawal until after the election. He and the coalition partners have committed to remain engaged in Afghanistan after 2014 at reduced levels, which could involve 15,000 or more American troops to carry out specialized training and special operations. Mr. Obama, or Mitt Romney if he wins, will have a hard time convincing Americans that makes sense — let alone Afghans.
Apparently the Times has not actually met the shiny-stuff-Pussy-Riot-is-a-big-deal-wait-there’s-a-squirrel group of folks most commonly knowns as “voters.” “Voters” are the people who only care about wars we don’t think we’re winning only as long as it takes for us to forget about Speidi. And the amount of attention we pay to a place we couldn’t pick out on a map is directly correlative to how many Americans are dying there.
If Obama or Romney can cut down on the number of flag-draped transfer cases coming from CENTCOM, they’re golden. There’s a reason Obama’s waiting for that assessment on withdrawal until after the election: it’s not something he wants to make a talking point. Because he knows (as does Paris Hilton…remember her?) that the American voter is a) easily distracted and b) hey, Lady Gaga’s doing stuff!
Afghanistan is an issue because it is an election year. Once that passes there will be little or no need to convince the American people of anything. Show that troop numbers are being reduced, keep the coffins off the planes, and you can stay there as long as you like. How do I know? ‘cuz Bosnia. And the Phillippines. And Djibouti. Yeah — think we care about troops overseas? We don’t. We do, however, care about dead troops coming home.
Thanks for the words, New York Times!
I’m sure that the Times’ editorial staff is populated by wonderful people who make each other cookies, and probably spend very little time flinging fecal matter at each other. They’re all probably very smart, and the only reason they didn’t see the larger picture here is because Friedman had a hard time hailing a cab in Peshawar.
So why bother? If I really don’t care about what the Times has to say, then what’s the point, beside snark just because I’m an angry, bitter, man?
Because people read the Times. And respect the Times. And they will take poorly constructed editorial opinions as facts that will guide their decisions. Because other people who really do make decisions know this about those that do read the Times. Opinions at that level matter. They help drive policy, and strategy. And when those opinions are this wrong, that scares me. So it’s either this or drink myself silly.
As promised…pettiness. Also some charts-y stuff.
From the article:
After Mr. Bush’s years of neglect, we believed that a new president, Barack Obama, was doing the right thing by at least making an effort. He set goals that made sense: first, a counterinsurgency campaign, stepped-up attacks on Al Qaeda, then an attempt to demolish the Taliban’s military power, promote democratic governance in Kabul and build an Afghan Army capable of exerting control over the country.
I know it’s the Times, so facts and figures don’t have much of a place in their editorial work, but the course they’re outlining is almost completely backward from the progression of the war here in Afghanistan.
It actually went more like this:
- Attempt to demolish the Taliban’s military power…was pretty much done under Bush. Force-on-force with the Taliban hasn’t happened for quite a while.
- Promote democratic governance in Kabul. Again, first elections after the start of the war were in 2004. Four years before Obama took over.
- Stepped-up attacks on Al Qaeda. Sure, this happened most visibly under McChrystal. But pretty sure JSOC and their ninjas were active in Afghanistan before then. Under Bush.
- A counterinsurgency campaign. Started under McChrystal, followed up by King David.
- Build an Afghan Army capable of exerting control over the country. This happened mostly under Obama, when Caldwell took over the newly-formed NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan. Me, I’m a big fan of Caldwell’s work.
So of the five items attributed to Obama’s sensible goals, only two of them actually were accomplished (or begun, at least) on his watch.
Wait, still not done with the petty:
But it is now clear that if there ever was a chance of “victory” in Afghanistan, it evaporated when American troops went off to fight the pointless war in Iraq.
The tone here is that somehow the forces in Afghanistan were reduced in order to fight the war in Iraq, which just simply isn’t true. Granted, the majority of deployed forces were in Iraq, but the numbers of troops in Afghanistan continued to increase every year, even during the Bush administration.
Oh, and one last thing — Obama’s effort? Killed a lot more people in Afghanistan than Bush ever did. Not a fan of the Gee Dubs, but troop deaths in Afghanistan spiked…significantly…when Obama took over.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 American troops have died in this war, more than 50 of them recently in growing attacks by Afghan forces, and many thousands more have been maimed.
I acknowledge the fact that the increase in casualties (and enemy attacks) was due to the increase in troops and coalition activity. But if you’re going to cite troop deaths as a reason for withdrawal, at least be honest about who got them killed.
And a parting shot:
Last week, the Pentagon blamed the Pakistani-backed Haqqani network for some of the recent “green on blue” attacks.
That…is in reference to this:
The U.S. officials said Friday that although there is no hard evidence tying the Haqqanis to specific insider attacks, the pattern of shootings and the movements and backgrounds of some of the shooters – including travel into Pakistan shortly before the shootings – point to a likely connection to the group Washington last month officially labeled a terrorist organization.
So that’s conclusive.
Until next time, hail a cab. Learn something. And get you a job at the Times.
- Afghan Bugout Will Have Consequences (commentarymagazine.com)
- US chief blasts Karzai over troop deaths (bigpondnews.com)
- Clinton waives terror restrictions, gives Pakistan $2 BILLION more US taxpayer dollars (creepingsharia.wordpress.com)
- The Afghan war: Do the numbers add up to success? (mcclatchydc.com)
- 5 Things (+1) I Learned in Afghanistan: Irrelevant Playlist Edition (findingmytribe.me)