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Wednesday, December 02, 2009  

Tribune Editorial Translator

This time it's Whet's fault:

What they said: Obama argued specifically -- and effectively, we thought -- that additional troops can help accomplish three goals: denying al-Qaida a base of influence, reversing the Taliban's current momentum and strengthening the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, "so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."

What it means: We very much believe that "denying influence," "reversing momentum," and "taking lead responsibility" are phrases that denote actions or states of being that can be observed in the real world. This is what we mean by "specifically."

What they said: Afghanistan is but the latest battlefield, but probably not the last, in a war against Islamic extremism that our foes launched roughly three decades ago and, as Obama noted, this nation didn't invite. His evocation of al-Qaida safe havens nurturing attacks "against London and Amman and Bali" was a sharp reminder that we're fighting a broader war -- and that tumult or takeover in a nuclear-armed Pakistan are threats we need to diminish.

What it means: We really like using the "is but the" construction, because it sounds like something you'd hear in the British Parliament. This is big-time Churchill stuff we're talking about, not some dull technocratic and diplomatic conundrum. Attacks were launched from places other than Afghanistan at places other than America, which means Americans must be committed to fighting a "broader war" currently located in Afghanistan.

What they said: Obama correctly insisted that the Afghan government needs to take advantage of improved security to more effectively control and defend the country. "This effort must be based on performance," he said. "The days of providing a blank check are over." In Iraq, that attitude didn't produce a perfect country, but it did force Iraqi leaders to finally confront the reality that U.S. combat troops won't be a permanent protective fixture. Crucial message, well argued.

What it means: Man, do we eat this crap up. Performance, blank checks, wily foreigners finally confronting reality--the reality that the consequences of our military actions are their fault. It's like getting to say "stop invading yourself" over and over again.

What they said: We've argued often that timetables for military withdrawal primarily tell our opponents how long they need to hang tough before we start to leave. Obama's discussion of intended timetables -- more troops now, withdrawals begin in 18 months -- may deflect some of the heat he'll get from his party's liberal base for upping the ante. But he did leave himself ample wiggle room, saying he would take into account facts on the ground. Securing Afghanistan, not placating opponents of Obama's strategy, is the paramount U.S. goal. The sentence we wish we'd heard: I will bring our troops home just as rapidly as they have completed their mission.

What it means: Nobody has yet informed us that Pakistanis and Afghans live in their respective countries, so "hanging tough" is kind of what they do. Perhaps we could look at relocating these difficult people to some other place and restocking the countryside with America's hard-working undocumented immigrants. Then we offer them citizenship after ten years of not shooting at our soldiers or organizing terrorist attacks on our homeland. This solves two problems at once. Where were we? Ah yes, poker metaphors--anything that pisses off liberals and can be phrased as a poker metaphor in foreign policy must be a good thing. This is what you learn at editorial writing school. Facts on the ground--cold, hard facts like denial of influence, reversal of momentum, and readiness to take the lead role--should determine the mission.

What they said: No speech calling for more troops by the tens of thousands can please much of Obama's political base. But he did offer compelling logic and reassurance to the millions of Americans who have seen the Afghan conflict as an effort adrift, a U.S. loss in the making. His show of resolve Tuesday night ought to impress the doubters and, more important, encourage the men and women he'll deploy.

What it means: The most important thing is to anger liberals. Cost, likelihood of success, and the importance of other priorities must take a back seat to this paramount consideration. Adding troops stops drift. We appreciate shows of resolve because they're easier to keep track of than stuff that happens. And we want above all to be reassured, which is after all the noble tradition of American foreign policy.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 4:31 PM
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