Quagmire, anyone? | Slag Heap
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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Quagmire, anyone?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 8, 2009 at 1:57 PM

I'm a little surprised that the folks at 2 political junkies haven't tackled this week's Jack Kelly column about Afghanistan. Because it's a hoot.

Kelly hasn't paid very much attention to Afghanistan over the years. If I thought Kelly was capable of embarrassment, I'd say maybe his silence was the product of shame.

He was, after all, spectacularly wrong about the U.S. invasion, as I wrote a few years ago. Back when the invasion was grinding along in October 2001, Kelly was fretting that "[t]here is no longer enough time to achieve significant military success before winter and Ramadan bring military operations to a virtual close." Us civilians thought things were going great, he said, because reporters who had "virtually no knowledge of military affairs" were presenting a "Pollyanna-meets-Dr. Pangloss view... of how things are going in Afghanistan."

Days after Kelly wrote that column, U.S. forces toppled the Taliban, thereby achieving significant military success before winter after all. Kelly had been wrong, and all the Pollyannas had been right. But by February 2005, Kelly was complaining that reporters had been too pessimistic when the war was taking place. "Those who get their news from the 'mainstream media' are surprised by developments in Iraq, as they were surprised by our swift victory in Afghanistan," he sneered. Uh-huh.

Since the Taliban's fall, Kelly has periodically heaped scorn on those who worried about Afghanistan's fate. For example:

"Pundits who predicted we would fall into a 'quagmire' in Afghanistan are now forecasting failure if the war on terror is extended to Iraq."

he wrote in 2001

He used the quagmire label again in 2003:

"Anti-war spokesmen rely on arguments that are demonstrably false and logically inconsistent. Those who predicted a 'quagmire' in Afghanistan now predict a quagmire in Iraq. But the war in Afghanistan was won quickly and easily."

And he briefly revisited it for a column about a special election in California:

"Afghanistan. Iraq. Now California. And still no 'quagmire.'"

Once Kelly's own dire predictions about Afghanistan proved false, in other words, he began mocking anyone else who had similar misgivings. (Characteristically, Kelly hasn't admitted to his own previous doubts: Being Jack Kelly means never having to say you're sorry.) And note how that word "quagmire" -- once used by critics of Vietnam --  comes up repeatedly, always in quotes. Because, see, it's only America-hating liberals who could ever see the specter of Vietnam in the war on terror. Only liberals could fret about the prospects for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.

Until, of course, there's a Democrat in the White House. When that happens, guess who is using the Vietnam analogies? None other than our boy Jack:

If [Obama] accedes to Gen. McChrystal's request [for more troops in Afghanistan, he will own the war in Afghanistan in the same way Lyndon Johnson owned the war in Vietnam ...

As we learned in Vietnam, more troops are not a substitute for a well-thought-out strategy ...

I share the view of my friend Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer, that Afghanistan is rapidly becoming Vietnam redux:

"The core reason we failed in Vietnam was our largesse. We poured in so much wealth that we corrupted the Vietnamese leadership, from presidents down to battlefield commanders."

To continue on as we have in Afghanistan will be to suffer defeat at maximum possible cost, as we did in Vietnam.

Also, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam.

So for those playing along at home, during the Bush Administration, Kelly had nothing but disdain for those who fretted about getting bogged down in Afghanistan. Back then, Afghanistan was a war that had been won "quickly and easily." But now that there's a Democrat in office, well, Vietnam comparisons are back in season! 

To be fair, Kelly's column this week does acknowledge, grudgingly, that the Bush Adminstration fucked this up: 

Robert Gibbs -- who is rapidly replacing the hapless Scott McClellan as the worst White House press secretary in modern times -- says the mess in Afghanistan is all George Bush's fault. Mr. Gibbs says this about every mess President Obama finds himself in, but in this instance he's mostly right.

You'll note the gratuitous reference to Gibbs' haplessness, which Kelly doesn't bother to explain. But thanks for the honesty, Jack. Too bad it's so belated.

Kelly would be a bit more credible on this stuff if he'd been warning us about it six years -- or even six months -- ago. He's supposed to be the one reporter who really knows what's going on, right? The story of Afghanistan's corrupt government has been front-page news for weeks after its recent election ... any dumb bunny can say things are a mess over there now

And indeed, Kelly's column this weekend had much to say about the ineptitude of Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai. But as far as I can tell from searching the P-G web site, he only mentioned Karzai once (very briefly) during the entire Bush Adminstration. During the Bush years, the Afghan elections were a big success -- a model to mention in the same breath as California's special election for governor. Now it turns out, suddenly, that the guy the Afghans elected was a total fraud. 

Thanks for telling us, Jack! Good looking out, buddy! Just glad you're on the case now.

I won't argue with the larger thrust of Kelly's column, which is that Afghanistan is a mess -- a mess that Obama inherited, and that he will find very difficult to solve. But it is pretty rich to hear Kelly lament that "Basing national security policy chiefly upon domestic political posturing has its downside" -- as if we didn't live through eight years of that under Bush. ("Mission Accomplished," anyone?) Kelly doesn't seem to have noticed, however. I guess he was too busy basing national-security columns on domestic political posturing too.

This is the sad irony of Jack Kelly. The sin he accuses other journalists of -- choosing which facts to report and ignore based on their political beliefs -- is the sin that he is most guilty of himself. And when he accuses politicians of short-sightedness, he's diagnosing his own myopia as well. 

But look on the bright side, folks: If we just get a Republican into the White House, Afghanistan will be right as rain again! At least, as long as you're relying on Jack Kelly for news. 

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