I’m about to take you to a place beyond reality, beyond rational supposition, beyond any attachment to the real world as you and I understand it. We’ll ride cotton candy dragons fed with lollipops. We’ll glide past gumdrop palaces, drifting over sugarplum rainbows on our way to a magical place filled with pillows plumped by puffins, who will fan us and serve us brie. We’ll munch delightedly, gazing at ourselves in the mirrored walls, forever reflecting ourselves upon ourselves, a metaphor for what we do here.
That place, lost forever between here and Never Ever Land?
The editorial offices of the NY Times.
Here they put together things called “editorials,” which are made of stuff that’s almost as intangible as dreams. That stuff is called “opinions,” and can be found everywhere: trolling through comment blocks on blogs, running rampant across stages throwing chairs (I miss Springer), or rattling off, 140 characters at a time, via the tweeting.
Fortunately, the editors of the Times have long ago abandoned the idea that they could somehow ascend to levels of debate above that of Kim Kardashian and Lindsey Lohan. And it’s comforting to know that one of the largest papers in the country is capable of rolling around in the muck of non-informed opinions. Just like regular folks.
Most recently, they published this:
President Obama will soon make critical choices on Afghanistan, including how fast to withdraw 66,000 American troops and whether to keep a small residual force there once the NATO combat mission concludes at the end of 2014. His talks with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, this week will be an important marker in that process.
All of the above is true. And grounded in reality. But they do float away into the land of unicorns delivering pizzas, ridden by Tom Sizemore (I know, right? That guy on a unicorn? Weird.)
Ideally, the 66,000 American troops would already be leaving, and all of them would be out as soon as safely possible; by our estimate, that would be the end of this year.
Ah. Yes. The Times in all of its military and logistical experience that resides there in its offices has determined that the military forces of the United States, and all of the accompanying equipment, could be out by the end of 2013. They’ve said as much in the past, and I’ve responded appropriately, if not entirely civilly. And then there’s the matter of the Afghan Army.
The war that started after Sept. 11, 2001, would be over and securing the country would be up to Afghanistan’s 350,000-member security force, including the army and police, which the United States has spent $39 billion to train and equip over a decade.
So as soon as we go home, the war’s magically over. Oh, and in the hands of that security force, with an army that loses 1/3 of its recruits every year to just flat out not showing up for work anymore. If 1/3 of the US military just walked off the job, that would be a concern. And that’s a first-world, well-equipped and trained fighting force. Do I need to point out how far the Afghan Army is from that standard? Maybe we’ll keep the soldiers here, then.
Another matter of concern is that Mr. Obama is seriously considering keeping a residual military force for an indefinite period after 2014. He needs to think carefully about what its mission would be and make his case to the public.
Somehow I don’t picture this:
OBAMA: Uncle Joe, stop eating that ice cream and get in here.
BIDEN: (wiping hands on his denim shorts) What’s up, boss?
OBAMA: (gestures to dart board) I need you to help me decide how I’m going to tell the American people about Afghanistan.
BIDEN: Sure thing, boss, but you know I don’t play so well when I’m sober.
OBAMA: When are you ever sober, Joe? (Laughter)
Mainly because I don’t think the President used darts. Probably more of a rock/paper/scissors/lizard/Spock sort of thing.
Sure would explain a lot, really. Of course, the current Afghan war commander has done his part to make the path clear:
Gen. John Allen, the commander in Afghanistan, had provided the White House with options for an enduring presence that went as high as 20,000 troops. That was an alarmingly big number, but fortunately now seems to be a nonstarter. American officials on Saturday said the administration is considering a much smaller force of 3,000 to 9,000.
So roughly either a division to cover an entire country, or…a brigade. And yes, basing those numbers off of some fairly shaky sources on the interwebs. Brigades vary in size from 3,000 to 5000 troops. At their smallest, then, with four brigades making up a division, that’s 12,000 troops. For all of Afghanistan.
If Mr. Obama cannot find a way to go to zero troops, he should approve only the minimum number needed, of mostly Special Operations commandos, to hunt down insurgents and serve as a deterrent against the Taliban retaking Kabul and Al Qaeda re-establishing a safe haven in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama will want to discuss all these issues with Mr. Karzai. The United States cannot go forward if Afghanistan opposes a residual force or puts undue restrictions on those troops.
So our options are:
- Some minimal number
- Zero if Karzai doesn’t approve option 1
And this “minimum number” is going to hunt down insurgents and serve as a deterrent to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Which begs the question: If we couldn’t do it with the thousands we’ve already had, is the Times suggesting we could do it with this magically minimal force?
Further, this “minimum” ignores the massive support needed to help special operations troops do…special operations. Helicopters don’t maintain themselves, for example: they’re crewed by conventional troops for large-scale operations, and they’re maintained by conventional troops. And that’s just for helicopters. Think of special operators as being the top of a fairly large and complex pyramid.
There’s a reason that it gets bigger at the bottom: the further down the pyramid, the greater number of people needed to support that level. It’s a common misconception that special operators are somehow more cost effective than their conventional counterparts. While it’s true that your average Ranger/SF/CAG types are more lethal per capita, it’s also true that it took a lot of money and time to get them there. To somehow imply that these troops would have an almost non-existent support footprint makes about as much sense as a banana slicer.
Seriously. Read the comments on that piece of merchandise. Because they are awesome.
In true Times’ fashion, though, they’ve saved the best for last:
Mr. Karzai, a deeply flawed leader who is expected to leave office next year, has his own agenda, which includes requests for updated American aircraft, surveillance equipment and longer-range artillery to modernize his army. Those requests cannot be taken seriously when Afghan security forces are increasingly murdering Americans and the Afghan government remains so profoundly corrupt.
It’s true. He’s “expected to leave office” since, well, it’s the law.
It’s the rest of the paragraph, though, that’s particularly troubling and devoid of apparent understanding of the nuances of foreign aid. In Afghanistan, Karzai’s requests are, essentially, American requests, since that equipment he’s requesting is going to be used in the fight (theoretically) against the same insurgents we’ve been fighting for over 10 years. As Karzai’s army stands now, they do not have any of the following:
- Close air support aircraft, with the exception of too-few helicopter gunships
- Adequate surveillance systems to enable spotting of insurgent movements
- Adequate cargo aircraft support, since we canceled those
While Karzai is never going to get the tanks and jet aircraft he’s asked for, which could be more easily put to use to cross borders, his military is still woefully unprepared to keep the insurgency at bay. And, while Karzai may be deeply flawed, he’s a mess we created. I (nor any sane person) am not advocating for a forever war, but we do own ensuring that Afghanistan, if not perfect, is at least moving in the right direction when we finally turn out the lights.
Leaving it now, like this, as the Times suggests, is another troubling sign that those who speak to power in the United States do not fully understand the world outside the borders. In fact, it’s highly likely that the editorial staff here doesn’t understand much beyond the mirrored, puffin-staffed magicality of their own offices.
Maybe I went overboard with the puffins. To puffins everywhere: I apologize. I’m sure you’d never work for the NY Times. At least not for the editors.
Until next time, stay on the sunny side!