4 years, 7 months ago
When a newspaper as biased and agenda-driven as The New York Times begins to voice even cautious optimism about Afghanistan, there is only one question to ask: how does this help the liberal agenda?
Herschel covered the opinion piece by Nathaniel Fick and John Nagl in his most recent post and threw considerable cold water on Fick and Nagl’s optimism. Within the space of a day, The New York Times runs an almost companion-piece/follow up article by Carlotta Gall that reports on growing “fissures” between the fighting ranks of the Taliban and their Pakistani-based masters.
Consider this hopeful tone:
Recent defeats and general weariness after nine years of war are creating fissures between the Taliban’s top leadership based in Pakistan and midlevel field commanders, who have borne the brunt of the fighting and are reluctant to return to some battle zones, Taliban members said in interviews.
After suffering defeats with the influx of thousands of new American troops in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand last year, many Taliban fighters retreated across the border to the safety of Pakistan. They are now coming under pressure from their leaders to return to Afghanistan to step up the fight again, a Taliban commander said. Many are hesitant to do so, at least for now.
“I have talked to some commanders, and they are reluctant to fight,” one 45-year-old commander who has been with the Taliban since its founding in 1994 said in an interview in this southern city. He spoke on condition he not be identified because he was in hiding from American and government forces. “Definitely there is disagreement between the field commanders and the leaders over their demands to go and fight.”
It is a bit disorienting, I admit. I will have to ask my father, a WWII veteran, whether this is what newspapers used to sound like before they began bleating unashamedly for American defeat.
At any rate, after reading these, two articles (and regaining my equilibrium) I wonder whether we are beginning to see the first bit of 2012 Campaign messaging on Afghanistan.
I should state up front that I would like to believe that the war in Afghanistan is going better. I am not afraid to use the word, “victory.” Indeed, it is almost impossible to believe that the influx of additional troops — although far too few vis a vis the Iraqi Surge– could not achieve at least some tactical gains. Furthermore, when I reflect on the unbelievably negative reporting from liberal media throughout the Iraq campaign, I consider that a few, like Michael Yon, who spent long embeds with combat units, pointed to a turnaround in Iraq long before it became clearly established, so, perhaps, Fick and Nagl have insights that the rest of the media is missing.
Could major media outlets like the NYT have learned from their mistakes on Iraq and actually be catching the first signs of a turnaround in Afghanistan?
Maybe. But I doubt it. As any parent will tell you, when your 12-year old, who is allergic to washing dirty dishes, starts cheerfully cleaning the kitchen, the first reaction is suspicion not sudden conversion. It is about knowing with whom you are dealing.
And when we are dealing with liberal media like the NYT, we know that they have a congenital predisposition to echo whatever talking points they are given by Obama and the Democrats in general.
Turning to the Fick/Nagl piece and the Gall article, is there a discernible message being conveyed? Yes, it seems that way. When you compare these, two pieces on Afghanistan, there is a narrative that emerges that may very well be Obama’s re-election theme for 2012 on foreign policy: bringing Afghanistan back from the drift of the Bush years and making it possible to “Afghanize” the war by 2014, ending U.S. involvement.
Consider the Fick/Nagl opinion piece.
It stresses themes that are clear, Obama policy goals such as drawing down troop levels:
It now seems more likely than not that the country can achieve the modest level of stability and self-reliance necessary to allow the United States to responsibly draw down its forces from 100,000 to 25,000 troops over the next four years.
Here is another liberal talking point that argues that we can prevail in Afghanistan by simply protecting population centers and key road:
Half of the violence in Afghanistan takes place in only 9 of its nearly 400 districts, with Sangin ranking among the very worst. Slowly but surely, even in Sangin, the Taliban are being driven from their sanctuaries as the coalition focuses on protecting the Afghan people in key population centers and hubs of economic activity, and along the roads that connect them. Once these areas are cleared, it will be possible to hold them with Afghan troops and a few American advisers — allowing the United States to thin its deployments over time.
Again, the key aim emphasized is to leave behind a “few American advisers… to thin [U.S.] deployments over time.” I am not against reducing deployments “over time,” but this is a basic disagreement over strategy between having enough troops to beat down the Taliban and getting by with insufficient numbers for too short a time to do any, lasting good. In order for the “less is more” approach to work, however, the ANA has to get much bigger, much better and, most importantly, much faster. Strangely enough that is just what Fick and Nagl find:
Afghan Army troop strength has increased remarkably. The sheer scale of the effort at the Kabul Military Training Center has to be seen to be appreciated. Rows of new barracks surround a blue-domed mosque, and live-fire training ranges stretched to the mountains on the horizon.
It was a revelation to watch an Afghan squad, only days from deployment to Paktika Province on the Pakistani border, demonstrate a fire-and-maneuver exercise before jogging over to chat with American visitors. When asked, each soldier said that he had joined the Army to serve Afghanistan. Most encouraging of all was the response to a question that resonates with 18- and 19-year-old soldiers everywhere: how does your mother feel? “Proud.”
And then we have the theme that Obama and liberals everywhere hooted constantly– the tragic distraction of Bush’s Iraq (the “bad war”) that we are now, at long last overcoming; the prospect of negotiating with the Taliban to end the war that is “vital” to our national interests (the “good war”):
Not since the deterioration in conditions in Iraq that drew our attention away from Afghanistan have coalition forces been in such a strong position to force the enemy to the negotiating table. We should hold fast and work for the day when Afghanistan, and our vital interests there, can be safeguarded primarily by Afghans.
The planned drawdown of forces in 2014 is a foregone conclusion. Negotiations with the Taliban is a favorite fantasy of the Administration.
The news article by Gall picks up the ball from Fick and Nagl nicely. As noted in the quote above, the “influx of thousands of…troops” has worn down the Taliban and created “fissures” between the fighters and Taliban leadership in Pakistan. The opportunity for negotiation just keeps getting better and better. In fact, as Gall frames it, if it wasn’t for those stick-in-the-mud-mullahs in Pakistan, Hillary Clinton would be signing peace deals all over the place:
The differences point not just to the increasing stresses on the battlefield for midlevel Taliban commanders like him, but also to the difficulty of ending the insurgency as long as the Taliban’s top leadership has sanctuary in Pakistan, which has long protected and sponsored the Taliban.
Secure across the border, and tightly controlled by Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, the top Taliban leadership remains uncompromising. At the urging of their protectors in Pakistan, Taliban members say, they continue to push midlevel Taliban commanders back across the border to carry on the insurgency, which extends Pakistan’s influence in southern Afghanistan.
The midlevel commanders have little choice but to comply, as they also depend on sanctuaries in Pakistan, where they maintain their families, say residents in Kandahar who know the Taliban well. The Taliban commander said in his interview that the field commanders would obey their orders to resume the fight, however reluctant they might be.
We have this about won, it seems. But as Herschel has repeatedly noted, the Taliban cannot be beaten with the whack-a-mole strategy. We have too few troops spread out across too much territory. This Administration has been trying to find the exit ramp out of Afghanistan since day one.
If the NYT stories are any indication, the message from Obama on Afghanistan in 2011 and beyond is more smoke and mirrors. Or is that ‘hope and change’ ?