Afghanistan - Ripped from the Headlines

Like watching a runaway train tearin' up the track, I can see the impending doom, but can't do anything about it. Maybe that was a little dramatic, but I can't help it. The Afghan dilemma matters. The front page above the fold of the New York Times today was dominated by Afghanistan:

Dexter Filkins, "Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll"
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.
"Current and former American officials" - one step away from "they say" - are the only source for the C.I.A claims. But it really doesn't matter, the writing is now on the wall. We've thrown President Karzai under the bus. There is probably no greater insult for Pashtuns than being accused of collaborating with Americans. Turnout in the Taliban south will be minuscule. The chances of a coalition government between Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah have suddenly risen greatly.

Lots of things are wrong with the article, but here's the worst:
Like most of the officials in this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the information.
Not very secret now, is it? This is also the only disclosure about why anonymity was requested - rather than why it was granted - and it only covers "most of the officials." Shame, shame, shame / shame on you, NYT.

Thom Shanker, "U.S. to Protect Populous Afghan Areas, Officials Say" This article was number two, but contains the hard news bombs:
Mr. Obama has yet to make a decision and has other options available to him, but as officials described it, the debate is no longer over whether to send more troops, but how many more will be needed. The question of how much of the country should fall under the direct protection of American and NATO forces will be central to deciding how many troops will be sent.
AfghanistanWell, the dream is dead, the hope is still 20,000, but the reality is probably 40,000 - the original "Goldilocks" option. Prediction: it will be spun as not very many when compared to the maximum option of 80 or 100 thousand.
Military officers said that they would maintain pressure on insurgents in remote regions by using surveillance drones and reports from people in the field to find pockets of Taliban fighters and to guide attacks, in particular by Special Operations forces.

But a range of officials made the case that many insurgents fighting Americans in distant locations are motivated not by jihadist ideology, but by local grievances, and are not much of a threat to the United States or to the government in Kabul.

At the heart of this strategy is the conclusion that the United States cannot completely eradicate the insurgency in a nation where the Taliban is an indigenous force — nor does it need to in order to protect American national security. Instead, the focus would be on preventing Al Qaeda from returning in force while containing and weakening the Taliban long enough to build Afghan security forces that would eventually take over the mission.
Wow. This is really good news. Finally someone is being realistic. Fittingly, Stephen Walt agrees.

The change of assumptions is really quite striking. Many insurgents are not much of a threat to Kabul, let alone the U.S. COIN can't completely eradicate the insurgency. The Taliban is an indigenous force. American national security is not dependent on "defeating" the insurgency. Only the last one about building Afghan security forces is based on a pipe dream. I certainly hope this narrative builds quickly. Links after the jump.

Bilal Baloch, "The US doesn't understand Afghanistan" Guardian, October 19. How can the US hope to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people when we don't even know how they think?

Richard Simon, "Reps. Dana Rohrabacher and Barbara Lee - a political odd couple" Los Angeles Times, October 19. A Huntington Beach Republican and a Bay Area liberal oppose a U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan, but they came to their positions differently.

Stephen Walt, "High Costs, Low Odds" The Nation, October 21. Deciding what to do in Afghanistan requires a hard-nosed assessment of the costs of the war, the alleged benefits of victory and the likelihood of success.

Marc Lynch, "Online rifts between al-Qaeda and the Taliban" ForeignPolicy.com, October 22.

Peter Spiegel, "Troop-Boost Plan Gains Backing" Wall Street Journal, October 26.

Robert Dreyfuss, "Obama's Afghan Compromise?" TheNation.com, October 26.

Garrison Keillor, "Time to Move On from Afghanistan" Salon.com, October 27. We don't admire quitters, but no one wants to be the last person to believe in a mission, either.

Peter Galbraith, "Afghanistan Votes, the U.N. Dithers" New York Times, October 28.

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