An underlying conceit of the new spin about benchmarks and timetables for Afghanistan is the notion that pivotal events there can be choreographed from Washington. So, a day ahead of the president's Tuesday night speech, the New York Times quotes an unnamed top administration official saying: "He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down."
But "eventually" is a long way off. In the meantime, the result of Washington's hollow politics is more carnage.
The next days and weeks will bring an avalanche of hype about insisting on measurable progress and shifting burdens onto the Afghan army -- while the U.S. military expands the war. In the groove, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed, told CNN viewers on Sunday: "The key element here is not just more troops. The key element is shifting the operations to the Afghanis [sic]. And if that can be done, then I would support the president."
That's the kind of talk that I. F. Stone disparaged at the height of the Vietnam War, in mid-1970, when he concluded: "Not enough Asians are going to fight Asians for us even if the price is right."
Now, President Obama's decision to massively escalate the Afghanistan war is confronting people and institutions in the United States with a challenge of historic dimensions.