War, More War, or Morer War

Maui Time | December 1, 2009
The headline ran in The New York Times a month ago, on November 7th: "All Afghan War Options by Obama Aides Said to Call for More Troops." According to White House insiders, Obama considered three choices for digging our way deeper into the "graveyard of empires": General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the occupation forces, asked for 40,000 additional soldiers. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wanted 30,000 more. Other generals wanted to send 20,000 more.

Obama, reports U.S. state-controlled media, has chosen the "middle option"—30,000 more troops, bringing the total American occupation force to 98,000.

Obama is many things: cool, calm and collected. What he is not is unpredictable. Give the man a middle course, a happy median and a compromise to choose from, and he'll split the difference every time. "Hope"? "Change"? Awesome campaign slogans. The posters will make handsome collectibles.

The weirdest aspect of this Afghan spin game is that everyone is buying into it. Most American voters, after all, are against the war in Afghanistan entirely. (52 percent say the war isn't worth fighting, according to the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll. 44 percent say it is.) Objectively, therefore, the "middle ground" is immediate withdrawal.

(I don't know what's to the left of that. Retroactive withdrawal? We'd need Superman to do his flying around the world superfast thing for that, though, and I hear he got laid off last year.)

The real "middle ground" sure as hell isn't Obama's prescription: 30,000 more troops and completely out by the year 2017, by which time there'll be flying cars and stuff, and he won't be president anymore, and maybe the U.S. will be just a memory, so he's writing a check he won't have to cash.

What a joke! When you ask a bunch of generals and the secretary of defense for advice about a war, the results are pre-determined: more bang bang, more soldiers, more planes, more bombs, more coffins. The amazing part is how far we've traveled down the path towards all war, all the time: Obama didn't even have to pretend to consider pulling out of Afghanistan. He didn't even have to appoint a token peacenik to his cabinet. He didn't even have to talk to one.

Which perfectly mirrors the media. You could read newspaper after newspaper, listen to hour after hour of radio and watch day after day of television news, and never once be exposed to the opinion that the Afghanistan war sucks and should be ended yesterday.

"I've seen the public opinion polls saying that a majority of Americans don't support the [Afghanistan war] effort at all," Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on August 26th. "I say, good. Let's have that debate, let's have that discussion."

Nice sentiment. Very small-d democratic. And if you support the war, it's essential—no society can win a war without strong support on the homefront. But we haven't had any debate whatsoever, as notes Steve Rendell. "Rather than airing a full range of voices on the war, prominent media have downplayed proponents of withdrawal in favor of a debate that reflects the narrow range of elite, inside-Washington opinion," Rendell reports in Extra!, the magazine of the media watchdog group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting.

Fareed Zakaria, a Washington Post columnist whose prognostications have consistently proven wrong since, well, always, encapsulated the corporate media's blackout of antiwar opinions in his September 14th column. He began: "It is time to get real about Afghanistan. Withdrawal is not a serious option."

Which is exactly what they used to say about Vietnam. Until we withdrew. And guess what? Nothing happened. Southeast Asia didn't turn communist. The dominoes didn't fall. Nowadays, even ex-"sky pirate" John McCain receives a warm welcome when he visits Hanoi. Of course withdrawal is a serious option. It's the only sane one.

The nation's two leading newspapers set the tone for the lack of debate in Washington. "In the Washington Post," found a FAIR study of op-ed pages during the first ten months of 2009, "pro-war columns outnumbered antiwar columns by more than 10 to 1: Of 67 Post columns on U.S. military policy in Afghanistan, 61 supported a continued war, while just six expressed antiwar views."

It's the same story—or lack of story—a six-hour drive up I-95. "Of the New York Times' 43 columns on the Afghanistan War, 36 supported the war and only seven opposed it—five times as many columns to war supporters as to opponents. Of the paper's pro-war columns, 14 favored some form of escalation, while 22 argued for pursuing the war differently."

There was only one major exception to the "bring 'em on" din. Times columnist Bob Herbert, said the report, is "by far the loudest antiwar voice in the study period, and the author of the majority of the Times' seven antiwar columns."

Alas, as it was in George Orwell's Oceania—where the "resistance" was a figment of the ruling Party's imagination—so it is in our own Ministry of Truth-run publications. Even though Herbert's December 1st column opposed Obama's escalation, he parroted the official state media line that Afghanistan had once been, in pundit parlance, the "right war at the right time."

"There was every reason for American forces to invade Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001," he wrote. "But that war was botched by the Bush crowd, and Barack Obama does not have a magic wand now to make it all better."

Actually, there was no reason whatsoever for the U.S. to invade Afghanistan after 9/11:

On 9/11 Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan. He has been there ever since.

There were only two Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan on 9/11. Both had been closed. There were, and remain, hundreds of camps in Pakistan.

There were very few Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan on 9/11—by some estimates, fewer than two dozen. All were low-level. The big fish and the big numbers were and remain in—you guessed it—Pakistan.

This information has been known by experts on South and Central Asia, all of whom—not coincidentally—oppose the U.S. war against Afghanistan. But none of them have ever been invited to the nation's op-ed pages...much less a meeting with the president.

(Ted Rall is the author of the graphic travelogue "To Afghanistan and Back" and the book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?" His website is tedrall.com.)


Maui Time

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