Monday, August 30, 2021

View From Nowhere


Spectroscope, British Library collections, via SolvingForPattern.

Peter Baker,  the New York Times reporter so devoted to the View From Nowhere that he notoriously refuses even to take sides in secret by casting a ballot in an election, has a characteristic take on the withdrawal from Afghanistan: that angry partisans missed a chance to find a compromise between the extreme positions, that US forces should withdraw or US forces should not withdraw ("All In or All Out? Biden Saw No Middle Ground in Afghanistan."):

“There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict,” Mr. Biden said as the Taliban seized Kabul this month.

Critics consider that either disingenuous or at the very least unimaginative, arguing that there were viable alternatives, even if not especially satisfying ones, that may not have ever led to outright victory but could have avoided the disaster now unfolding in Kabul and the provinces.

Baker wouldn't presume to consider it disingenuous or unimaginative himself, of course—that's for the "critics". He's just reporting the news, that Biden is getting criticized, in the name of unsatisfying but viable disasters that differ in some vital way from the undefined unsatisfying but viable disaster we're getting.

“The administration is presenting the choices in a way that is, at best, incomplete,” said Meghan O’Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush who oversaw earlier stages of the Afghan war. “No one I knew was advocating the return of tens of thousands of Americans into ‘open combat’ with the Taliban.”

Telling inflation from Biden's "thousands" to O'Sullivan's "tens of thousands". Nobody was advocating the latter, but the administration (which actually considered a wide range of options) certainly heard from advocates of the former, as Baker immediately notes:

Instead, some, including the current military leadership of Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asserted that keeping a relatively modest force of as few as 3,000 to 4,500 troops along with the extensive use of drones and close air support could have enabled Afghan security forces to continue holding off the Taliban without putting Americans at much risk.

Without "much risk" from attacks by the Taliban after blowing off the terms of Pompeo's deal with them would mean, though, many more American deaths than the 13 from last week's ISIS-K attack, closer to the 20 per year who'd been dying in Afghanistan between 2016 and the signing of the deal, and another inevitable "surge that would bring it back up to eight or ten thousand at least. Not to mention the thousands of deaths per year of Afghan Forces troops which their negotiated surrender has really brought to an end,

Nobody was "advocating" ten thousand troops, but anyone advocating anything other than compliance with the Pompeo agreement was advocating policy that would of necessity lead to Americans at risk, not to mention orders of magnitude more Afghan deaths, with the same kind of willful blindness that has been applied for the whole 20 years, typified by Meghan O'Sullivan, who was there at the beginning, and who wrote (with Richard Haas, just last April)

The United States should also make clear that it expects the Taliban to live up to the commitments contained in the February 2020 agreement it signed with the United States. In this deal, the Taliban pledged that it would not “allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

But the US would not be expected in turn to live up to its own commitments in the very same agreement to withdraw all the troops?

That was the op-ed in the Washington Post that was later criticized for its failure to mention that O'Sullivan is a member of the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies, with other profiteering connections, and a financial stake in the prolongation of the war. But what business is that of Peter Baker's, for goodness sake? He's just gathering the quotes from the dewy ground, like mushrooms, wherever they magically appear.

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