Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Blitzer! Brazile! Obama! Axelrod! It's DECISION: AFGHANISTAN, 2009!
Ok, just kidding, that's actually CNN's name for their preview show. (Did anyone think for a second that I was serious about that?) Just trying to bring a little levity to what -- if the advance draft I've seen is correct -- is bound to be a depressing evening.
So instead of LIL! GUNSLINGER! ALMA! MK! In surround-sound and full effect!, you've just got me. The lady of the house is trapped at work (ironically, by the steaming pile of text that the President will deliver in about 14 minutes), and our little team is wracked by flu and overwork. But never fear, I've got my wine glass full of Guinness (and a backup bottle of Jim Beam), a 90-count freezer bag of Totino's pizza rolls, and no one to complain about the volume of the TV, so I'm ready to take this speech strong to the rack. (I guess I have to turn off the Wizards-Raptors game, first.)
1949: I just learned that we've yet to use the label "Barack Obama," or anything like it, in 200 posts and five months of blogging. Weird. You can't accuse us of being starry-eyed!
1951: We need about 500 pageviews in the next 250 minutes to top our all-time busiest day at Ink Spots. I have a good feeling I'll do that just by refreshing my own window, but help us out! Tweet us, or something (whatever that means).
1957: Check out Wings Over Iraq's "The Afghan Troop Surge Drinking Game." Make sure there's someone around who can take you to the emergency room.
2001: Charlie Gibson says the president has been considering this strategy for three months. The part before the March announcement doesn't count?
2002: Stephanopolous: Obama has to convince people in Afghanistan and Pakistan that we're staying, and convince Americans that we're coming home.
Gates, Clinton, Mullen, Petraeus all in the audience along with the Corps of Cadets. (A little surprised not to hear them all yell back "GOOD EVENING!" when the president greeted them.)
2004: "Important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight this war." Took under 30 seconds to bring up 9/11.
Al-Qaeda have "distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions."
President cites 2001 vote on Afghan war -- 0 votes against in the Senate, only one in the House. In other words "remember when you guys thought this was a good idea?"
2006: Interesting to hear reference to the fact that the Taliban were first given the opportunity to turn over AQ leaders, before U.S. invasion.
"Wrenching debate over the Iraq war is well-known, and need not be repeated here. But seriously dudes, it was really dumb." (Ok, he didn't say the last part exactly, but pretty close.)
2008: "Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al-Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government."
D/D/D al-Qaeda -- drink, Crispin!
"Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backward."
"Our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with ANSF and better secure the population." Focus on training and partnering is fair enough, but there's gonna be some fighting.
2012: When is it going to be acceptable for presidents to stop wearing the American flag lapel pin? Dude, we know you like America -- you're the President of the United States! Seriously, one day somebody's just gonna have to man up and say "this is ridiculous."
2014: "If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow." Well, great. I mean, I'd hope so, right? But we need a more compelling explanation of the WHY part than just "there be TEERRRRRRORISTS tharrr!"
2015: D/D/D AQ in AF and PK again! Finish that drink!
2017: We're going to break the Taliban's momentum and build the Afghan government's capacity. Sounds like an awesome idea. How? And why haven't we been doing it up until now?
Boom, there it is: help create the conditions to transfer responsibility to ANSF. Because that seems imminent, right?
"Our allies have fought, bled, and died alongside us in Afghanistan." True: more than 600 non-US ISAF KIA in Afghanistan.
2018: And there's the money shot: American troops will start coming home in the summer of 2011. Apparently we need to make it clear to the Afghan government "and more importantly, the Afghan people" that they'll have to be responsible for running their own country. Geez, if we'd done that in the first place, they probably woulda tried harder! (Really, do we think it's just a failure of resolve?)
2019: I'm not gonna lie, I found it a little creepy when the President looked straight into the camera and said we're not interested in occupying Afghanistan. True, obviously, but a little weird in the delivery.
2020: Success in Af "inextricably linked with our partnership with Pakistan." This is consistent with the news stories we've seen today that talk about a new package of incentives for Islamabad, a more expansive relationship, a longer-term outlook, and so on.
This part about the relationship with Pakistan and our long-term, post-war interest in that country is actually pretty strong.
2023: Vietnam comparisons dependent on a "false reading of history," according to the president. Unlike Vietnam, Americans "were viciously attacked from Afghanistan." Fair enough, but if the Soviets had launched an ICBM at us from a platform in Hanoi, then run back to Moscow, we wouldn't have been fighting in the jungle, would we?
2024: Ha, now the president dismisses a nation-building campaign as being too difficult, too long, and too divorced from our interests. (Someone should tell him that building up security forces and governance is nation-building.)
2025: ANV says that the stare-into-the-camera shot was a producer's fault, but I'm not buying that -- it's the only time he's done it in the whole speech!
2026: Life is hard in America, "so we can't simply afford to ignore the price" of the war. Fair enough. But if it's too expensive, then it's too expensive for half-measures. Prez says that this plan is going to cost us "$30 billion this year." Would like to see where he got that number.
2027: "The nation that I'm most interested in building is our own." Good line, but I bet the Republicans will have fun with that one.
2028: Af-Pak a test of our leadership in the world. "America will have to show our strength in the way that we end the wars and prevent conflict." Ok, good. But then: AQ's appearance in other places will have to be confronted by "growing pressure and strong partnership." Er... And dudes in ninja suits and black helicopters, and Tomahawk missiles, and Reaper drones. How about that?
2030: We have to make it clear to people everywhere that America will speak out for their human rights. For at least 18 months.
2031: Man, now he's got to go making me all mushy by talking about how badass America is, and how no one thanks us for being badass, and how we underwrite global security. All true, all awesome. All largely irrelevant to this, but it gives me a semi just the same.
2032: The Prez is rounding into form now. Very good when he gets into the soaring stuff, as expected. A little bit nebulous to the task at hand, but certainly moving.
"Now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age." Damnit, we're getting into the goosebumpy stuff.
Anybody expect Dick Cheney to give a damn about how united we were when this war began, or how rancor has poisoned our discourse?
2035: "America, we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right make might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears, but the highest of hopes."
Unfortunately, the highest of hopes ain't gonna square this thing away in 18 months. Not with 30,000 troops, and probably not with 300,000 troops.
What we were missing here was any sort of elucidation of HOW THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Are we going with the McChrystal plan? Some other variant of counterinsurgency? An oil spots approach that concentrates on population centers, as has seemed to be the case over the last several weeks?
We heard some vague noises about training and mentoring Afghan forces, and it sounded a lot like what President Bush and his folks said about Iraq in 2005: Iraqi security forces that are capable of maintaining order in their own country are our exit strategy, as they stand up, we'll stand down, etc etc etc.
But what exactly are they going to stand up to? Getting their asses kicked by insurgents? If 100,000 ISAF troops can't quell the insurgency in 2009, and 130-140,000 can't in 2010, then how will even 200,000 ANA do so in 2011 without American/ISAF enablers? Without American kinetic power?
BOTTOM LINE DOWN BOTTOM (to reverse a military custom): 30,000 additional troops, as if you didn't already know that. They'll start getting there in the late spring or early summer of next year, which the President insists is as quickly as they could possibly have done so even if he'd made this call three months ago. (What he didn't mention is that he's basically giving you everything that's available, there, that there's not a whole lot of slack in the ARFORGEN cycle to ship over another 40K for GEN McChrystal's "low risk" option.)