The latest rhetoric on Afghanistan
The Obama administration’s top leaders on Afghanistan have been awfully sensitive these days about their stalled efforts there. Michele Flournoy, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy wrote a letter to the Washington Post this morning disputing an editorial that suggested the U.S. effort there wasn’t clear. It is, she wrote; the United States wants to dismantle, disrupt and defeat al Qaida. She also testified last week that overall things are headed in the right direction there. U.S. Central Command commander Gen. David Petraeus went to great pains last week to assure a dubious Senate Armed Services committee that while things look bad, in a few months there could be a marked improvement. And last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the narrative on Afghanistan “too negative.” He went on to say that the talk about Afghanistan felt like déjà vu to him when many were pessimistic about Iraq in 2007, just right violence dropped.
It feels like déjà vu to me as well. It reminds of when I lived in Iraq and the situation was collapsing around me. I would read comments from top military leaders out of both Washington and Baghdad and ask myself, “Are we talking about the same Iraq?” "Reports of violence are exaggerated," they told us as we buried friends and awoke daily to the sound of nearby car bombs; "the media is misinformed," officials barricaded inside the Green Zone told us as we lived amongst Iraqis; "things will get better soon," they said as the situation deteriorated around us on a daily basis. Back then, domestic politics defined the rhetoric, not the reality on the ground. But those comments had a long-term impact as well. They delayed leaders having a serious, candid and thoughtful discussion about how to improve the situation.
I fear the same is happening again What does the end state look like? Does the United States care or is it just aiming to kill al Qaida? If it is the latter, should the military be in Afghanistan or in al Qaida's new safe havens in places like Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and throughout Europe? Will troops leave in masses around the July 2011 deadline and Vice President Biden promised or slower as Petraeus suggested? Assuring a successful outcome in Afghanistan begins with an honest appraisal of the situation there. Delusions of otherwise cost the United States creditability – and the lives of her troops.