December 20, 2010

From the Dept. of Horrible Message Discipline

Here's the VPOTUS on Meet the Press yesterday:

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about Afghanistan.  The president's
review released this week, you've been described in The New York Times
as "Obama's in-house pessimist on Afghanistan." Are we winning or
losing in Afghanistan?


VICE PRES. BIDEN:  Let me separate this out, remind everybody what
our goal is.  Our overarching goal and our rationale for being there is
to defeat and--to dismantle, ultimately defeat al-Qaeda,
residing--central al-Qaeda residing in the Fatah, the western regions
of the mountains of, of Pakistan. Secondly, to make sure that
terrorists do not, in fact, bring down the Pakistani government, which
is a nuclear power.  Toward that end, we think it's important that
there be stability in Afghanistan so that al-Qaeda cannot re-establish
it as a base from which to attack the United States of America. With
regard to our efforts to degrade al-Qaeda, we're making great progress.
The so-called C.T., that is counterterrorism, the use of special forces
and the like to go after individuals who make up the leadership of
al-Qaeda and of the Taliban.  On the issue of counterinsurgency, that
is where we clear, hold and build and transfer, we're making progress
not as rapidly as we are on the other front.  President's been frank to
say that in his release, pointing out that we need two things that
we're working on very hard and we're making some progress:  one,
Pakistan and safe havens; and two, governance in Afghanistan.


MR. GREGORY:  All of this is so complicated.




MR. GREGORY:  After 10 years, Mr.  Vice President, can't you just say straight whether we're winning of losing?




MR. GREGORY:  Don't the American people deserve to know something about where we stand?


VICE PRES. BIDEN:  Well, no--they--I, I--the one thing I've never
been accused of is not being straight.  They are--we are making


MR. GREGORY:  Yeah...


VICE PRES. BIDEN:  Are we making sufficient progress fast enough? 
The answer remains to be seen.  Here's what we said.  We said we were
going to--we--after seven years of neglect of an Afghan policy when we
came to office, we had to sit down.  I went off to Afghanistan at the
president's request, came back with a recommendation, and said we have
to clarify our objectives and then decide what forces we need in order
to sustain the possibility of making sure we accomplish those
objectives.  We've done that.  We said we'd sit down in December and
make--and look at it and review the progress we're making.  We were
honest with the American people, we're making progress in all fronts,
more in some areas than in others.  We are going to, come July, begin
to draw down American forces and transfer responsibility to the...


MR. GREGORY:  Will that be a token amount of soldiers?  Will it be a couple of thousand troops and no more?


VICE PRES. BIDEN:  No.  Well, well--it, it will not be a token
amount, but the degree to which we draw down--if I can make an analogy
to Iran--I mean, excuse me, to, to Iraq, which I've been put in charge




VICE PRES. BIDEN:  What happened there?  We signed, three years ago,
an agreement with the Iraqis saying that what we're going to do is, two
summers ago we're going to draw all combat troops out of the cities,
populated areas. Then we said, our administration, we're going to draw
100,000 troops out the next summer.  And we're going to be totally
out.  In the meantime, we're going to help build a government, we're
going to transfer responsibility, and we're going to be gone.  That's
exactly what we did at the recent Lisbon conference, the NATO
conference, where we said, "We're starting this process, just like we
did in Iraq.  We're starting it in July of 2011, and we're going to be
totally out of there come hell or high water by 2014."

This is just horrible, horrible message discipline. It became immediately clear to pretty much everyone but a few folks who think of only winning another election in 2012 that the president's 1 December 2009 declaration that U.S. troops would begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan in July 2011 was a terrible mistake: the message may have reassured a domestic audience, but it was exactly the wrong thing to tell the Taliban, the Pakistanis, and the Afghan people. You need to be telling the latter audiences, for a wide variety of reasons, that U.S. support for Afghanistan will be enduring. You are simply not going to make any progress on the president's policy aims if everyone in Afghanistan and Pakistan thinks you are headed for the exits. It is clear the VPOTUS is not a fan of the president's current strategy, and that's fine, but he actively undermines what the president and troops and diplomats on the ground are trying to do when he says this kind of stuff, which, oh, by the way, is false. Biden's completely wrong about what was agreed upon at Lisbon, and if he honestly believes that last sentence I highlighted, he needs to invest in a new pair of hip waders.

The sad thing is, this is not, of course, the first time the VPOTUS has exercised shockingly poor judgement, failing to understand how an audience outside his base might interpret his words or actions: