Progress in Afghanistan? Book isn’t closed.

Al Kamen
Columnist May 2, 2012

President Obama’s trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday to sign a partnership agreement with President Hamid Karzai got us to wondering how much progress has been made in the effort to train Afghanistan’s security forces.

So we turned to the Defense Department’s twice-yearly report — just out last Friday — titled “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan.” It assesses the plan for improving the capacities of the Afghan national security folks.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The report, which covers matters including the rule of law, corruption, economic growth, road conditions, and overall military and security issues, was itself something of a mixed bag, our colleague Greg Jaffe wrote Tuesday.

Things are improving, attacks are down and the Taliban ain’t what it used to be, we’re told, but it’s still formidable and operates “with impunity” out of Pakistan.

There’s a nice review of what other players in the region are up to in that country, including a summary of an impressively heavy Indian aid footprint and strategic partnership agreement with Kabul — something that doubtless makes the Pakistanis immensely happy.

And while much of the report is boilerplate update from previous ones, we still like all the neat color charts and maps and diagrams, such as one green-and-orange octagon on Page 69 that shows the process for vetting recruits to guard against Taliban infiltration of the Afghan army.

Budget hawks will also enjoy the little sticker on the report that says that it cost the Pentagon “approximately” $207,000 to prepare the study.

The sticker is there — and on most congressionally mandated reports the Pentagon does — because former secretary Bob Gates in 2010 got tired of wasting huge amounts of time and effort on the thousands of duplicative and unneeded reports done each year that hardly anyone on the Hill actually reads.

So the report, which for the first time features an Afghan soldier — not an American — on the cover, cost “approximately” $1,605 a page.

Good thing it wasn’t “War and Peace.”

Let the feathers fly

When Founding Father Gouverneur Morris wrote the preamble to the Constitution, specifically the phrase to “insure domestic Tranquility,” he probably wasn’t thinking of Tom and Christie Vilsack.

But there may be a serious political split brewing in the home of Iowa’s former governor (now Agriculture Secretary Tom) and former first lady (now congressional candidate Christie). The issue: the agency’s plan to privatize the country’s poultry-inspection program.

Tom Vilsack reportedly claimed that budget cuts required replacing 800 food-safety inspectors with company employees, and USDA officials say the move won’t have adverse health effects on consumer of the fowl. (Seriously.)

But Christie Vilsack, who’s running against Rep. Steve King (R), saw demonstrators from the advocacy group Food & Water Watch and the American Federation of Government Employees in front of her office in Ames, Iowa.

She issued a statement in response saying that “we should not privatize jobs” and that she was concerned about “allowing companies to inspect themselves.” But she didn’t say, for now, whether she specifically opposed the rule. (And she didn’t sink to the fox-and-henhouse cliche.)

“I won’t, now that I’ve made that statement, I will not ever talk to my husband about it again,” she told the Des Moines Register. “Or, I should say, he will not talk to me,” she said. “He made it clear that we will not be talking about this again. But he certainly educated me on the department’s position.”

Not quite the War of the Roses, but it’s not over yet.

Meanwhile, substantial national controversy over the rule — even outside the Vilsack residence — has caused the department to extend the public comment period to May 26.

Brains! Brains!

Night of the Living Dead meets the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Are you an out-of-shape bureaucrat? Short of breath? Feel like an endangered species?

Then hustle on over to Arlington Square to join some employees from that Interior Department agency and learn how you can live forever — as the undead.

Yes, you’ll get in shape (or hurt yourself very badly in the process) as you learn “how to dance like a zombie, dress like a zombie and do the Thriller dance” a la Michael Jackson, says an e-mail we received the other day.

You missed the first class on Wednesday, but the plan is to hold them every Wednesday from 4:15 to 5 p.m. in Room 530 of the agency’s offices in Arlington — “subject to getting bumped by groups with legitimate need” to use that room. (Unclear how many of those there will be.)

The e-mail notes that “surprisingly, this is not considered ‘work,’ therefore you will need to either take annual leave or schedule your time accordingly.”

Costumes and makeup not provided, best we can tell.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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