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Vail Daily Editor Don Rogers: All the wrong moves

Don Rogers
Vail, CO, Colorado

OK, so last week I learned precisely why you don’t want me calling the shots in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

The Vail Valley Institute was kind enough to let me sit in on two days of discussions with four of the top thinkers on affairs there. Alas, so little of their wisdom stuck.

For starters, I’m not firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal. No way. That’s a move for a pointy-headed, effete Democratic president trying to show who’s boss.



Yeah, yeah, the general broke the chain of command again, has a staff that frequently uses the “F” word, too obviously views the president as a pointy-headed and effete Democrat, drinks Bud Lite (OK, there might be a limit).

But seriously. Over a Rolling Stone article, between gossip about rockers and CD reviews? The big difference between Rolling Stone and The Onion is that The Onion actively tries to be a joke.



So no, I don’t go all Truman on MacArthur here. I don’t sack the

general.

I do dress him down privately, man to man, and demote him to pretty much the same job he has been doing, only I also send in Gen. David Petraeus to oversee (and focus squarely on) the operations in Afghanistan.



Of course, I ask McChrystal what exactly was in his head to entertain Rolling Stone, of all publications. And I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to resist asking him if he eats quiche with that “lite” instead of real beer.

I stick with publicly proclaiming a timeline for starting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Not only do I do that, but I repeat this every chance I get for roughly the next two months. “Can we say, 2011? Good. I suggest you all get busy preparing an Afghani army and police force capable of dealing with that Taliban. …” I mean, this open-ended thing has only gone on for, what, almost nine years with nuthin’ to show for it?

I chuckle, perhaps too loudly, at yesterday’s New York Times piece with, er, interesting timing that has the Pakistanis discussing how they are negotiating with the Taliban for a power-sharing arrangement in which Pakistan controls Afghanistan.

I’m pretty sure the Taliban will continue being little more compliant with the Pakistanis than with us. And I’m very sure that neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan really wants us to leave, Afghan President Amid Karzai less than anyone. Too many American dollars and his own neck are involved.

If I’m in a mischievous mood, I let it leak that we’re seriously considering giving India a large presence in Kabul. Never mind Rolling Stone. I give it to Fox News and tell Sean Hannity it’s a Republican idea the White House is trying to quash.

I throw out all foreign contractors, including American ones, and save a boatload of money by insisting on the novel concept of dealing straight with Afghanis to build their roads and so on. Let’s not beat up on Karzai about corruption too much while we lead the way in that sad, institutionalized business.

I add troops to the surge – to the max McChrystal asked for – and throw in as many diplomats as can be mustered, along with squads of investigators adept at following financial trails and disrupting drug networks. (Journalist and speaker Gretchen Peters called this the “surge of the nerds.”)

I don’t go small. I go big. I remind the public over and over again that we’ve already tried leaving Afghanistan and Pakistan to their own devices, so we well know the results of abandonment: a rather direct line to 9/11 and extra incentive for Pakistan to go nuclear to match their mortal enemy, India.

Trust me, it’s a lot cheaper in the long run to hit this hard now, at last. And oh, don’t tell the Taliban, but I might be fudging on that deadline.

Now, aren’t you glad I’m not the king?

Some of the speakers might agree with some of what I’d do, although at least three of the four would have fired McChrystal and none support Obama’s declaration of a date for beginning to pull troops out – “a colossal blunder,” as one put it. Certainly there’s the very real complication of the bad guys selling the populace on “When the Americans leave. …”

Everyone agreed that adding more troops and spending even more than we do now makes no sense politically, especially in this economy.

I listened carefully to West Point professor Kori Schake, journalist Peter Bergen, Peters and ex-Army Ranger and current think-tank fellow Andrew Exum – all thoughtful, candid experts on our thorniest challenge.

No, really. I did. As always with these seminars, I learned a lot, too. Including that my instincts concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan probably are all wrong.

Worst of all, I left unsure that my wand could possibly make any greater of a mess than we have now.

The experts seemed to agree that the more you learn about this corner of the world, the more you realize how futile it is to predict what absurd turn is coming next.

Speaking of which, who’d a thunk a rock ‘n’ roll magazine would have such influence on how this war is fought? It might even prove to be the tipping point, you never know.

How’s that for the power of pop culture? No wonder I’m all wrong. The world’s upside down.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2920.


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