Candy Crowley at CNN has to be called out for a special mark of shame as she suggests that one "could argue one way or the other" as to whether the House of Representative's debate on the US government's need to remain in Afghanistan is as important a story to cover as the Eric Massa scandal. This comment came about because Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) criticized the lack of media coverage during a recent debate in the House regarding a resolution to pull out of Afghanistan. The resolution failed, but that's not the point. It's beyond shameful that a CNN reporter of Crowley's stature would even think that chasing a political sex scandal (which happens now, what, every other month?) is anywhere near the level of importance compared to Congress actually debating the future role of US forces in the Middle East.
I liked Kennedy's impassioned speech (at the first link):
And make no mistake about it, this isn't about national security. Because if it's about national security, it's about whether we put our treasure and our lives on the line in Afghanistan, or whether we put it in Kuwait, or whether we put it in the Sudan, or whether we put it in some other place in the world.
All of which is where we need it. Where do we need it the most? That should be the question. Because we don't have the resources to put it everywhere. So don't come and tell me "our national security requires [us to be] in Afghanistan." Because that's not the only place we need it. The question is, where our priorities should be. And you take it from one place, you got to put it somewhere else.
I've heard Andrew Bacevich make a similar speech, and it's right on target. Okay, so Kennedy got a little excited during his speech. He's a
young guy, he'll get better 16-year veteran of the House and leaving soon. But this gives me the excuse to link to this great InkSpot post about a debate between Paul Pillar and John Nagl about the future of US forces in Afghanistan, in particular to address the issue of counterterrorism. Says Pillar:
It would be fruitless to search the contours of current international terrorism for a compelling explanation of why the United States is escalating a military campaign in Afghanistan. Clearly there is a disconnect between where war is being waged and where terrorism is rearing its ugly head. The appropriate response is not to run off, guns blazing, to find new battlefields, be they in Yemen or anywhere else. The U.S. military, pressing the limits of sustainability and winding up one war while slowly winding down another, does not have the resources to open a new front in every territory that may become associated with terrorism. There is no shortage of such places.
Regardless of the available resources, it is a mistake to think of counterterrorism primarily, as Americans have become wont to do, as the application of military force to particular pieces of real estate. This pattern of thinking is rooted in a history in which the vanquishing of threats to U.S. security has consisted chiefly of armed expeditions to conquer or liberate foreign territory. The pattern has been exacerbated by the unfortunate “war on terror” terminology, which confuses and conflates the seriousness of, the nature of and the means used to counter the threat.
The strength of a terrorist adversary, al-Qaeda or any other, does not correlate with control of a piece of territory in Afghanistan or elsewhere. If a terrorist group has a physical safe haven available, it will use it. But of all the assets that make a group a threat—including ideological appeal and a supply of already-radicalized recruits—occupation of acreage is one of the least important. Past terrorist attacks, including 9/11 (most of the preparations for which took place in scattered locations in the West), demonstrate this.
That last paragraph, in particular, is important. Military operations aimed at nation-building, no matter how successful, are not going to stop continued operations by transnational terrorists because they have no state. In this day and age of global economics, global information flow, global transportation, it's beyond stupid to stubbornly stick to the notion that "if we fail in Afghanistan, al Qaeda will flourish." They're already flourishing, adapting, moving around. They don't need Afghanistan as a base of operations, it's actually their training ground.
It's great to hear that there are people in Congress willing to have this debate, because (in theory at least) Congress is supposed to oversee the responsible funding of defense issues. Rep. Kennedy and Paul Pillar represent the views that I wanted President Obama to share, but of course, there are too many chickenshit Democrats out there who are afraid to make the right decisions out of fear that the Republicans will call them out as "weak on security." But to come full circle, I have even less respect for the national media - and CNN in particular - for their ambulance-chasing, sex-scandal stories having priority over issues of national importance.