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Monday, June 28, 2010  

Tribune Editorial Translator

A week ago it was time to check in on those swaggering pronouncements from December.

What they said: McChrystal was President Barack Obama's choice to lead an innovative counterinsurgency offensive in Afghanistan. It's going slowly. There's mounting frustration in Washington and in Afghanistan.

But our reading of McChrystal's comments is that he's guilty of nothing more than some ill-advised public venting. That's not a firing offense.

What it means: Generals are a lot like newspaper editorial boards. Belittling civilian leaders is no biggie; we do it all the time and it's not like we're generals, at least outside of the op-ed page.

What they said: Washington is sending mixed signals about its commitment to winning in Afghanistan.

That's partly because of the terms set by Obama last December, when he ordered a surge of 30,000 fresh troops to Afghanistan. That order came with an asterisk: Obama set a timetable for their withdrawal, starting in July 2011, based on conditions at that time.

It was a strategy driven in part by domestic political concerns. Timetables for military withdrawal tell our opponents how long they need to hang tough before we start to leave.

What it means: The strategy we advocated is not going well, but that is surely due to the fact that people are wondering aloud whether it was a good idea. Job one: unmixing signals. Job two: defining the workings of democracy as "domestic political concerns." Stupid people with their stupid concerns about endless wars. If we just stay long enough, everyone we don't like will leave the place where they live.

What they said: Now the president is taking fire from critics in both parties for slow progress in building up Afghan forces and for snags in McChrystal's counterinsurgency campaign against the entrenched Taliban. A planned offensive in Kandahar is behind schedule.

The July 2011 timetable already looms large. And that's a problem.

What it means: You see how this works? The worse our proposed policies go, the stronger the case becomes for continuing them without even a whisper about maybe considering some other ways to achieve our national security goals. Believe us, we would love to ask ourselves if we were perhaps mistaken at some point in this process, but that would only embolden the people who want to see us leave.

What they said: Keep in mind, only about 20,000 of the 30,000 new troops have arrived in Afghanistan. All this timetable talk in Washington is premature and distracting.

What it means: It is distracting us from our habit of ignoring the war until we have to publish an editorial calling for its indefinite continuation.

What they said: Obama's pullout strategy puts military commanders in the uneasy position of reassuring skeptical Afghan leaders that, no, all U.S. troops won't bolt for the exit come July 2011. We suspect the deadline is foremost in the addled thoughts of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who recently fired two of his top security aides, reportedly because they were too chummy with ... U.S. commanders.

Karzai is reported to have expressed doubts about whether NATO and the U.S. can win the war. He has talked about negotiating with the Taliban. At one goofy point, he even threatened to join the Taliban — as if they'd have him.

No, not everything is going as planned in Afghanistan.

What it means: Skeptical Afghan leaders should have every assurance that we will never leave. Especially Hamid Karzai, this addled goofball in whose defense our brave soldiers are fighting every day. Can we find another Afghan president maybe? Let's put Dick Cheney on that one in order to send umixed, bipartisan signals

What they said: An allied summer offensive in Taliban stronghold Kandahar was supposed to be in full gear by now. But commanders have delayed the military thrust, because they say winning support from local leaders is taking longer and proving harder than anticipated.

"I don't intend to hurry it," McChrystal recently told reporters. Smart. The stakes are high. As Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "As goes Kandahar, so goes Afghanistan."

What it means: The stakes are indeed high. We can't afford to let go of Kandahar, with its crucial role as a hub for sheep, wool, silk, cotton, felt, and food grains. It is also the gateway to some river or valley or something. Didn't we kick the Taliban out of there in 2001? Anyway, we're sure we and our skeptical Afghan leader/allies will hold it better this time. After we've won their support for this high-stakes offensive.

What they said: Don't forget why we are there: to deny a safe haven in Afghanistan and Pakistan for terrorists who are bent on attacking the U.S. The guilty plea this week from Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber who got training in Pakistan, provided a grim reminder of why we can't walk away from the region.

What it means: Gather round, citizens, for this demonstration of the Commutative Property of Terrorism: an attack plotted and carried out in one place may be used as an argument for a 100,000-troop deployment anywhere else in the world. That's right, folks--we have 100,000 troops fighting goatherders and pedophiles in one country because one guy got trained on explosives in the next country over. Did he ever go to Kandahar? Let's have an intern check on that. Anyway, consider yourself reminded, America, and grimly at that. When we've finally successfully denied safe havens in Pakistan via a long-term counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan, we can leave in the sure and certain confidence that the bad guys won't come back later.

What they said: U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan haven't won yet. There's a long summer of winning friends and fighting enemies ahead. The outcome can't be predicted, or rushed or fixed to a timetable.

What it means: See you in six months.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 10:10 AM
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