At the risk of beating a dead horse . . . Yesterday I blogged on what I regard as the craziness of spending billions of dollars on Afghanistan. My lens on the problem was primarily the math but mostly it was about the impossibility of success given the frame on the problem.
Low and behold the always entertaining GOP Chairman Michael Steele was thinking the same thing. Sort of.
The story everyone is focusing on his yet another Steele-gaffe.
Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, drew fierce criticism on Friday after declaring at a party fund-raiser that the United States was on the wrong side of history with its conflict in Afghanistan, a military fight he called “a war of Obama’s choosing.”
“This is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in,” Mr. Steele said in a speech on Thursday evening in Connecticut in which he offered a strong critique of President Obama’s military strategy.
“It was the president who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should be Afghanistan,” Mr. Steele said, according to a video of his remarks that was circulated by Democrats on Friday. “”Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?”
Wow. Really? More than enough people have piled on this one so I won’t bother to comment beyond wondering when the spaceship is scheduled to return to the planet Mr. Steele comes from. No, the part that gets me spouting is what comes next.
Mr. Steele, seeking to clarify his remarks, issued a statement on Friday afternoon, saying, “There is no question that America must win the war on terror.”
And this . . .
“For the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war,” Mr. Steele said. “As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one.”
He added: “That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus’s confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.”
I have a good friend named John who always kindly reminds me that politicians aren’t to be listened to, especially when they’re talking to the true believers as was the case with Mr. Steele. Notions like telling the truth (in all its forms) are really only suggestions in these instances. My issue is more pedantic: You can’t solve a problem when you define it like . . .
“There is no question that America must win the war on terror.”
“The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.”
“As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one.”
Can someone please tell me what “winning the war on terror” would look like? I mean really, how would we know? Who would keep score? How would we verify? How would we enforce it? For how long would the win have to be won for it to be regarded as a real win? This isn’t meant to be an exercise in rhetoric, but really, words do matter.
The same line of inquiry applies to the concept of “success.” For example, we have successfully burned through nearly $300 billion dollars and 1,000 American war dead. If that was the objective, and clearly it was not, we succeeded. Can we go home now?
And “necessary?” Really? How necessary? Necessary enough to consider genocide? That would do the trick. There would be no more Afghans and by definition, none could engage in terrorist-like activities.
I get it, I get it. This is political-talk, not decision-talk. Mr. Steele is in the business of raising money from the faithful and scoring political points, not actually governing or solving real problems. Given the low standards of the job description he can be forgiven for his less that helpful words and thoughts about the trillion dollar black hole that is our foray into Central Asia. As a matter of public policy it would be nice if someone could offer we the people a problem definition that was useful, understandable, and achievable. Not that I think anyone in Washington is in danger of doing that.
On a smaller scale, think about how you frame the decisions you make on a daily basis. Pay particular attention to the big ones. Make sure you’re not declaring the equivalent of war on [fill in the blank]. You’ll never get there.