October 12, 2009

COIN 101

One thing is clear in the cyclone of Afghanistan propaganda.

Though a vigorous debate may appear in session, the American people are witnessing a mirage. Confusion reigns supreme, more cacophony than dialectic, a mixture of Pentagon discontent, Congressional talking-point competitions, and an uninformed media pretending to understand counterinsurgency. The American people only matter in the form of polls. We are not part of the process.

President Obama has vanished since Afghanistan's election, but though his stalling is annoying and mostly self-inflicted, hesitation isn't necessarily the problem. Silence has followed his delays, leaving his own defense to officials and negating his most valuable commodity - himself. America is trying to debate Afghanistan without Obama. This makes no sense.

We're fed impression management instead of transparency, enlarging the information black hole. Misinformation instantly fills the void and creates friction between parties. Obama is paying a heavy price for his deliberation, which isn't synonymous with choosing the right strategy. In a further sign of the military's irritation with the White House, officials are warning that Obama is now downplaying Afghanistan.

We know for certain that Afghanistan's government hangs on life support while the Taliban rapidly expands, the countryside is so insecure that US civilians have stopped leaving Kabul, American support for the war is falling, and Obama is leaking credibility.

Yet his own officials claim he's frustrated that the debate is playing out in black and white, escalation or withdrawal. Obama is still searching for a middle path to the annoyance of both parties. Chafing under the pressure, the White House responded that both sides are creating strawmen and should lay off, an unconvincing argument.

Obama's choice is fundamentally in or out, black or white though, he can't change this with public relations. America needs more troops - lots of them - to do the job right, and staying without them is futile. Obama wants the debate framed his way without entering the debate, an equally futile endeavor.

But this last quote deeply disturbed us. The NYT documents a complete breakdown in civilian goals, which isn't a surprise, but one official described Obama as "impatient" with the war's progress. “The president is not satisfied on any of this," said the official.

For the second time Obama has been labeled impatient, the first being over Israel and Palestine. If President Obama is impatient after nine months with a protracted conflict spanning 200 years, Octopus Mountain wonders if he has the patience to entangle America in Afghanistan.

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