Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Glenn Greenwald, was published by Salon Magazine, October 24, 2009
Something very unusual happened on The Washington Post Editorial Page today: they deigned to address a response from one of their readers, who "challenged [them] to explain what he sees as a contradiction in [their] editorial positions": namely, the Post demands that Obama's health care plan not be paid for with borrowed money, yet the very same Post Editors vocally support escalation in Afghanistan without specifying how it should be paid for. "Why is it okay to finance wars with debt, asks our reader, but not to pay for health care that way?"
The Post editors give two answers. They first claim that Obama will save substantial money by reducing defense spending -- by which they mean that he is merely decreasing the rate at which defense spending increases ("from 2008 to 2019, defense spending would increase only 17 percent") -- as well as withdrawing from Iraq. But so what? Even if those things really happen, we're still paying for our glorious, endless war in Afghanistan by borrowing the money from China and Japan, all of which continues to explode our crippling national debt. We have absolutely no ability to pay for our Afghan adventure other than by expanding our ignominious status as the largest and most insatiable debtor nation which history has ever known. That debt gravely bothers Beltway elites like the Post editors when it comes to providing ordinary Americans with basic services (which Post editors already enjoy), but it's totally irrelevant to them when it comes to re-fueling the vicarious joys of endless war.
The Post attempts to justify that disparity with their second answer, which perfectly captures the prevailing, and deeply warped, Beltway thinking: namely, escalating in Afghanistan is an absolute national necessity, while providing Americans with health care coverage is just a luxury that can wait:
All this assumes that defense and health care should be treated equally in the national budget. We would argue that they should not be . . . Universal health care, however desirable, is not "fundamental to the defense of our people." Nor is it a "necessity" that it be adopted this year: Mr. Obama chose to propose a massive new entitlement at a time of historic budget deficits. In contrast, Gen. McChrystal believes that if reinforcements are not sent to Afghanistan in the next year, the war may be lost, with catastrophic consequences for U.S. interests in South Asia. U.S. soldiers would continue to die, without the prospect of defeating the Taliban. And, as Mr. Obama put it, "if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."
Actually, a recent study from the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance documented that "nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance" in America. Whatever the exact number, nobody doubts that lack of health insurance causes thousands of Americans to die every year. If you're Fred Hiatt and you already have health insurance, it's easy to dismiss those deaths as unimportant, "not fundamental," not a "necessity" to tend to any time soon. No matter your views on Obama's health care reform plan, does it really take any effort to see how warped that dismissive mentality is?
But it becomes so much worse when one considers what we're ostensibly going to do in Afghanistan as part of our venerated "counter-insurgency" mission. In an amazingly enlightening interview with Frontline, military expert Andrew Bacevich explains what that supposedly entails:
I think the best way to understand the term "counterinsurgency" is to understand what the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps today mean by that term. What they mean is an approach to warfare in which success is to be gained not by destroying the enemy but by securing the population.
The term "securing" here means not simply keeping the people safe, but providing for the people a series of services -- effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights. That translates into an enormously ambitious project of nation building. . . .
John Nagl says that in effect we are engaged in a global counterinsurgency campaign. That's his description of the long war.
Now, think about it. If counterinsurgency, according to current doctrine, is all about securing the population, if securing the population implies not simply keeping them safe but providing people with good governance and economic development and education and so on, what then is the requirement of a global counterinsurgency campaign?
Are we called upon to keep ourselves safe? To prevent another 9/11? Are we called upon to secure the population of the entire globe? Given the success we've had thus far in securing the population in Iraq and in Afghanistan, does this idea make any sense whatsoever?
Can anybody possibly believe that the United States of America, ... facing a federal budget deficit of $1.8 trillion ... has the resources necessary to conduct a global counterinsurgency campaign? Over what? The next 20, 50, 80 years? I think [there] is something so preposterous about such proposals. I just find it baffling that they are treated with seriousness by supposedly serious people.
So according to The Washington Post, dropping bombs on, controlling and occupying Afghanistan -- all while simultaneously ensuring "effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights" to Afghan citizens in Afghanistan -- is an absolutely vital necessity that must be done no matter the cost. But providing basic services (such as health care) to American citizens, in the U.S., is a secondary priority at best, something totally unnecessary that should wait for a few years or a couple decades until we can afford it and until our various wars are finished, if that ever happens. "U.S. interests in South Asia" are paramount; U.S. interests in the welfare of those in American cities, suburbs and rural areas are an afterthought.
As demented as that sounds, isn't that exactly the priority scheme we've adopted as a country? We're a nation that couldn't even manage to get clean drinking water to our own citizens who were dying in the middle of New Orleans. We have tens of thousands of people dying every year because they lack basic health care coverage. The rich-poor gap continues to expand to third-world levels. And The Post claims that war and "nation-building" in Afghanistan are crucial while health care for Americans is not because "wars, unlike entitlement programs, eventually come to an end." Except, as Bacevich points out, that's false:
Post-Vietnam, the officer corps was committed to the proposition that wars should be infrequent, that they should be fought only for the most vital interests, and that they should be fought in a way that would produce a quick and decisive outcome.
What we have today in my judgment is just the inverse of that. War has become a permanent condition.
Beltway elites have health insurance and thus the costs and suffering for those who don't are abstract, distant and irrelevant. Identically, with very rare exception, they and their families don't fight the wars they cheer on -- and don't even pay for them -- and thus get to enjoy all the pulsating benefits without any costs whatsoever. Adam Smith, all the way back in 1776, in An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations, described this Beltway attitude exactly:
In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies . . .
Lounging around in the editorial offices in the capital of a rapidly decaying empire, urging that more Americans be sent into endless war paid for with endless debt, while yawning and lazily waving away with boredom the hordes outside dying for lack of health care coverage, is one of the most repugnant images one can imagine. It's exactly what Adam Smith denounced. And it's exactly what our political and media elite are.
This open letter, from the National Lawyers Guild, was posted to the Atlantic Free Press, October 10, 2009
We, the undersigned, are writing to request that you hold firm against any attempts by former Vice President Dick Cheney, the CIA directors, and the media to silence those who demand that the United States hold accountable those who have committed and authorized torture.
We call on you to appoint a special independent prosecutor who is not part of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute all those who ordered, approved, justified, abetted or carried out the torture and abuse. The people who are held accountable should not be limited to low-level operatives.
We are particularly disturbed by the efforts of the reporters at the Washington Post to distort the facts and ignore the illegality of torture. They cited anonymous sources who allegedly said that torture works; these “reports” contradict the newly released report of the CIA’s Inspector General.
Cheney’s claim that your decision to open an investigation into the conduct of the CIA is a politicization of this issue is shameful. If anything, political pressure has led to your office taking too narrow an approach to the investigation.
The world community has expressed its revulsion at the use of torture in any form. Torture is illegal under all circumstances. The prohibition against torture is considered in international law on par with laws against genocide, slavery and wars of aggression. Under the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, it is a crime against humanity.
The United States is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Geneva Conventions. Both treaties expressly require the United States to either extradite or initiate prosecution of persons who are reasonably accused – this is a legal obligation. The U.S. Torture Statute that Congress passed to fulfill our obligations under the CAT outlaws torture committed outside the United States. The U.S. War Crimes Act punishes torture as a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. In 2006, the Supreme Court affirmed in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that all prisoners in U.S. custody are protected by the Geneva Conventions.
There are many who claim we should ignore the facts and the law and refuse to hold accountable all those responsible for the use of torture. Whether actionable intelligence was gained is not the issue. Nor is the morale in the CIA.
We believe the oath of office you took requires that you not pick and choose those laws you will enforce.
National Lawyers Guild
Center for Constitutional Rights
U.S. Human Rights Network
American Association of Jurists
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Psychologists for Social Responsibility
The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Lawyers Against the War (Canada)
Japanese Lawyers International Solidarity Association
National Association of Democratic Lawyers in South Africa
European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights
Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers (England)
Progress Lawyers Network (Belgium)
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (Philippines)
Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers
Marjorie Cohn, President, National Lawyers Guild; Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights
Bill Quigley, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director, US Human Rights Network
Jeanne Mirer, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Roland Weyl, First Vice President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Micòl Savia, UN representative in Geneva, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Vanessa Ramos, President, American Association of Jurists
Max Boqwana, General Secretary, National Association of Democratic Lawyers in South Africa
Mike Mansfield QC, President, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Liz Davies, barrister, UK, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Richard Harvey, Bureau member of International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Executive member, Haldane Society.
Bill Bowring, Professor of Law, University of London; President, European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights; International Secretary, Haldane Society
Sister Dianna Ortiz, U.S. Torture Survivor and founder of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Harold Nelson, Advocacy Coordinator, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Gail Davidson, Chair, Lawyers Against the War
Osamu Niikura, President, Japanese Lawyers International Solidarity Association
Edre Olalia, Vice President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
Neri Colmenares, Secretary General, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
Jan Fermon, representative, Progress Lawyers Network
Fabio Marcelli, Executive Committee and Speaker for International and European Affairs, Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers
George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary
Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
Dr. Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, University of San Diego; Associate Fellow, Transnational Institute
Jordan J. Paust, Mike and Teresa Baker Law Center Professor, University of Houston Law Center
Terry Karl, Gildred Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies Department of Political Science, Stanford University
Marc Falkoff, Assistant Professor, Northern Illinois University College of Law
John W. Lango, Philosophy Professor, Hunter College of the City University of New York
Elizabeth M. Iglesias Professor of Law & Director, Center for Hispanic & Caribbean Legal Studies, University of Miami School of Law
Ray McGovern, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Michael Avery, Professor, Suffolk Law School
Michael E. Tigar, Professor of the Practice of Law, Duke Law School; Emeritus Professor, Washington College of Law
Andy Worthington, journalist and author of "The Guantanamo Files"
Michael Rooke-Ley, Professor of Law Emeritus, Nova Southeastern University
William J. Aceves, Professor, California Western School of Law
Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies
Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor, retired, Dept of Linguistics & Philosophy, MIT
Alfred W. McCoy, J.R.W. Smail Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Susan Rutberg, Professor, Golden Gate University School of Law
John Ehrenberg, Professor and Chair of Political Science, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY
Radhika Balakrishnan, Professor, Rutgers University
David Swanson, author of “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency"
Kristina Borjesson, Member, Robert Jackson Steering Committee Institute for Victims of Trauma
This article, by Tom Engelhardt, was posted to Alternet, September 26, 2009
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.
This article, by Norman Soloman, was p;osted to Common Dreams, August 26, 2009
This month, a lot of media stories have compared President Johnson's war in Vietnam and President Obama's war in Afghanistan. The comparisons are often valid, but a key parallel rarely gets mentioned -- the media's insistent support for the war even after most of the public has turned against it.
This omission relies on the mythology that the U.S. news media functioned as tough critics of the Vietnam War in real time, a fairy tale so widespread that it routinely masquerades as truth. In fact, overall, the default position of the corporate media is to bond with war policymakers in Washington -- insisting for the longest time that the war must go on.
In early 1968, after several years of massive escalation of the Vietnam War, the Boston Globe conducted a survey of 39 major U.S. daily newspapers and found that not a single one had editorialized in favor of U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. While millions of Americans were actively demanding an immediate pullout, such a concept was still viewed as extremely unrealistic by the editorial boards of big daily papers -- including the liberal New York Times and Washington Post.
A similar pattern took shape during Washington's protracted war in Iraq. Year after year, the editorial positions of major dailies have been much more supportive of the U.S. war effort than the American public.
In mid-spring 2004, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll was showing that "one in four Americans say troops should leave Iraq as soon as possible and another 30 percent say they should come home within 18 months." But as usual, when it came to rejection of staying the war course, the media establishment lagged way behind the populace.
Despite sometimes-withering media criticism of the Bush administration's foreign policy, all of the sizable newspapers steered clear of calling for withdrawal. Many favored sending in even more troops. On May 7, 2004, Editor & Publisher headlined a column by the magazine's editor, Greg Mitchell, this way: "When Will the First Major Newspaper Call for a Pullout in Iraq?
Today, the gap between mainline big media and the grassroots is just as wide. Top policymakers for what has become Obama's Afghanistan war can find their assumptions mirrored in the editorials of the nation's mighty newspapers -- at the same time that opinion polls are showing a dramatic trend against the war.
While a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 51 percent of the public says the war in Afghanistan isn't worth fighting, the savants who determine big media's editorial positions insist on staying the course.
Recycled from the repetition-compulsion department, a spate of new hand-wringing editorials has bemoaned the shortcomings of Washington's allied leader in the occupied country. Of course the edifying pitch includes the assertion that the Afghan government and its armed forces must get their act together. (Good help is hard to find.)
"President Obama has rightfully defined success in Afghanistan as essential to America's struggle against Al Qaeda," the New York Times editorialized on Aug. 21. Yet Al Qaeda, according to expert assessments, is scarcely present in Afghanistan any more. There are dozens of countries where that terrorist group or other ones could be said to have a much larger presence. Does that mean the U.S. government should be prepared to wage war in all of those countries?
Paragraph after paragraph of the editorial proclaimed what must be done to win the war. It was all boilerplate stuff of the sort that has littered the editorial pages of countless newspapers for many years during one protracted war after another -- in Vietnam, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
When congressional leaders and top administration officials read such editorials, they can take comfort in finding reaffirmed support for their insistence on funding more and more war. If only public opinion would cooperate, there'd be no political problem.
But, increasingly, public opinion is not cooperating. While the media establishment and the political establishment appear to belong to the same pro-war affinity group, the public is shifting to the other side of a widening credibility gap.
In a word, the problem -- and the threat for the press and the state -- can be summed up as democracy.
Now, one of the pivotal questions is what "liberal" and "progressive" online organizations will do in the coming months. Many are led by people who privately understand that Obama's war escalation is on track for cascading catastrophes. But they do not want to antagonize the leading Democrats in Washington, who contend that more war in Afghanistan is the only viable political course. Will that undue deference to the Obama administration continue, despite the growing evidence of disaster and the sinking poll numbers for the war?
A cautionary note for those who assume that the impacts of public opinion will put a brake on the accelerating U.S. war in Afghanistan: That assumption is based on a misunderstanding of how the USA's warfare state really functions.
Under the headline "Someone Tell the President the War Is Over," the New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote: "A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him." That was way back in August 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/14/opinion/14rich.html (The next day, I wrote a piece headlined "Someone Tell Frank Rich the War Is Not Over.") http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0815-24.htm The war on Vietnam persisted for several horrific years after the polls were showing that most Americans disapproved. The momentum of a large-scale and protracted U.S. war of military occupation is massive and cataclysmic after the engine has really been gunned.
That's one of the most chilling parallels between the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan. The news media are part of the deadly process. So are the politicians who remain hitched to some expedient calculus. And so are we, to the extent that we go along with the conventional wisdom of the warfare state.