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NYT blindly reports Obama’s reluctance to let troops defend themselves in Afghanistan

These days, it seems like you need a Rosetta Stone to interpret the national security reporting in the New York Times.

A case in point is the disclosure this weekend that, in the Times writers’ words, “President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned.”

It is quickly clear that this “more expansive mission” doesn’t require more troops.  It’s the same 9,800 we’ve been expecting to stay on after the drawdown and “end of combat” next month.

But it takes the writers until paragraph 7 to get to what the “more expansive mission” will be.  First, they have to frame the situation by stating that Obama’s top advisors didn’t want to buy into that mission, but the military insisted.

What in the world could the military have insisted on as a mission in Afghanistan?  Keep in mind that the military doesn’t decide what the mission is.  We have an obedient, civilian-subordinated military, which is told by the president what the mission is.  The military then executes it.  The military has no opinion on what the mission “should” be; it advises the president on the feasibility of what he wants to do, and the requirements his policy will generate.

But if journalists don’t understand this – or if they have an ideological viewpoint that misconstrues the role the military actually plays in policy decisions – they can end up framing events in a bass-ackward way.  So we have this tale of the military demanding to “expand” the mission in Afghanistan.

Here’s what it turns out the military wants to do:

[G]enerals both at the Pentagon and in Afghanistan urged Mr. Obama to define the mission more broadly to allow American troops to attack the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militants if intelligence revealed that the extremists were threatening American forces in the country.

The generals, in other words, want to be proactive in defending their troops against terrorist threats.  They don’t want to just wait – hunkered down on bases, or exposed and vulnerable while they’re out supporting the Afghan national forces – for terrorists to find American troops and attack them.

Now, in any sensible assessment of conditions for the follow-on mission in Afghanistan, it would be taken for granted that American forces should be able to attack the terrorists who threaten them.  Adequate force defense is inherent in a stabilization mission like the one we will transition to, not only for the troops’ sake but for the sustainability of the mission.  If we’re not prepared to give our troops the most effective defense possible, then we shouldn’t even be in Afghanistan.

More here.

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