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New York Times Grills Pres Obama’s Afghanistan Strategy in Full Page Editorial

In place of its customary three editorials, the New York Times today dedicated its entire editorial page to a single, long, blunt critique of the Obama Administration’s efforts in Afghanistan. “The State of the War” argues that the American people are fed up with the “cacophony of conflicting signals” regarding the war and are growing ever more disheartened by the “relentlessly grim” reports from the ground. President Obama, the editorial says, owes his country some answers.

The editorial acknowledges the complexity of U.S.-led efforts in Afghanistan and, perhaps alluding to an argument most recently articulated in a Time Magazine cover story, notes that the implications of withdrawing from the region – of “abandoning the Afghan people to the Taliban’s brutalities” – are hard to swallow on moral as well as strategic grounds. Still, in the aftermath of the failed Marja offensive (which was billed as both a test for the counterinsurgency strategy as well as a rehearsal for the now consequently postponed offensive in Kandahar) and the recent WikiLeaks scandal, straight forward policy answers from the administration are long overdue.

“Like many Americans, we are increasingly confused and anxious about the strategy in Afghanistan and wonder whether, at this late date, there is a chance of even minimal success…

Obama needs to do a better job of explaining the strategy and how he is measuring progress.”

What follows is a relentless line of questioning concerning both the philosophical reasoning behind the war and its technicalities.

“Do the president and his generals still believe that counterinsurgency — securing crucial areas and building up local governments — is the best chance for driving back the Taliban? Is it even possible? What lessons were learned in Marja? How has it changed their approach in Kandahar?”

The editorial continues its interrogation, asking what should be done about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s younger brother, who happens to be the chief of Kandahar’s provincial council. Rumors of corruption surround the younger Mr. Karzai and damage his credibility as a reliable partner in the crucial Afghan region. And speaking of credibility, the editorial notes that even Ahmed’s older brother, President Hamid Karzai himself, hasn’t proven particularly reliable either, though he isn’t fully to blame for not taking U.S. efforts seriously.

“The constant infighting among top American officials over how deply to invest in the war has to end. It has undermined Americans’ confidence and made it far to easy for Mr. Karzai to ignore Washington’s advice and demands.”

The editorial acknowledges the increasing likelihood that “any exist strategy will almost certainly include some deal with some Taliban.” But given Washington’s demands – that “Taliban leaders must forswear all ties to Al Qaeda and accept the Afghan Constitution, with its protection of women’s right – the editorial questions how exactly the administration plans to reach out to leaders of the insurgency in such a way that they accept these terms.

Similarly, the editorial is critical of negotiations with Pakistan, noting that given Pakistan’s concerns in the region, it is unclear if our approach is getting through to Pakistani officials.

“The most alarming parts of the WikiLeaks reports were the ones that described how Pakistan’s military intelligence service was cynically colluding with the Afghan Taliban, which is sees as a proxy force to ensure its influece in Afghanistan and keep India’s at bay.”

Last December, the NYT Editorial Board agreed with President Obama’s idea of setting a deadline for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Now, however, it is fed up with the mixed signals the administration is using to dance around that deadline.

“Since then, the administration has sent a host – a cacophony – of conflicting signals about the deadline, the strategy and its commitment to the war.

Americans need regular, straight talk from President Obama about what is happening in Afghanistan, for good and ill, and the plan going forward. More ambiguity will only add to the anxiety and confusion.”

Though the Times is often supportive of Obama, it hasn’t shied away from critiquing the administration in the past. That said, a full page editorial is unique enough, and that this particular editorial relates to Obama’s Afghan strategy is particularly noteworthy.  August is typically a dull month in the media world. But it seems the New York Times is putting the month to good use.

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