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Journalism is not an Attack, Wikileaks is not Warfare

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on Firedoglake or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Wikileaks is under attack!

Journalists and politicians are calling for the criminalization of Wikileaks, or worse, the assassination of its members. The US government is coercing companies into blocking access to Wikileaks, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is normally very strong on internet freedom, has been forced to “evolve” her positions.

If you’re a supporter of Wikileaks, or even a relatively dispassionate observer, you likely find these actions to be offensive, or even downright criminal. How dare the US move so arrogantly, so aggressively, against Wikileaks for what seems to be nothing more than the second coming of the Pentagon Papers? We believe in free speech, in transparency and accountability for our government. It’s outrageous that Washington would move so decisively to crush a project like Wikileaks.

But are Wikileaks’ supporters actually feeding this response from the government? In our rush to rationalize and defend Wikileaks and their actions, have we inadvertently opened the door to attacks by the US government?

The answer can be found in how we’ve chosen to frame the debate so far. Read the rest of this entry →

Forget the Generals, Americans Are Committed to Ending War

5:30 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

General Petraeus began his rogue propaganda tour earlier this week, and it’s caused quite a stir among policy wonks about the crisis in civilian-military relations. Bernard Finel and Jason Fritz, in particular, have had a fascinating discussion on the origins of the civ-mil crisis. I admit the crisis is deeply troubling, certainly for a President struggling against a reputation for weakness. But I took a slightly more stubborn line to the renegade Petraeus:

We’ve heard this propaganda from Petraeus before, it’s nothing new. They’ve been shoveling this garbage on us for years. Now the majority of Americans are pushing for an exit, and no matter what any rogue general says, we’re ending the war in Afghanistan.

In other words, bring it on. Well, Petraeus did bring it, and now we have our first public poll conducted (partially) after his campaigning began. As expected, he’s failing.

A majority of Americans see no end in sight in Afghanistan, and nearly six in 10 oppose the nine-year-old war as President Barack Obama sends tens of thousands more troops to the fight, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

With just over 10 weeks before nationwide elections that could define the remainder of Obama’s first term, only 38 percent say they support his expanded war effort in Afghanistan – a drop from 46 percent in March. Just 19 percent expect the situation to improve during the next year, while 29 percent think it will get worse. Some 49 percent think it will remain the same.

Even a heavy media push by Petraeus can’t deter the movement to end the war. When they sell us war, we push back. We’re done listening to this nonsense about "oil spots" or progress or breaking Taliban momentum or whatever it is they’re hocking this week. We’re ending the war, period.

Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Can’t Control His Generals – Time for Congress to Step in

5:12 am in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

One of the best parts of learning about foreign countries and their cultures is the sudden realization that these places aren’t actually foreign at all. You’re not studying an opaque alien world, you’re only looking in the mirror. As Americans, it fills us with hope to look across at, say, our progressive allies in Pakistan and note that they’re working hard, just like us, to correct and reform their country’s policies. But are we also capable of seeing the negative parallels? It’s all well and good to lecture the Pakistanis about total military subservience to a strong civilian government, but what about our own weak President and our own anti-democratic generals?

American military officials are building a case to minimize the planned withdrawal of some troops from Afghanistan starting next summer, in an effort to counter growing pressure on President Obama from inside his own party to begin winding the war down quickly.

With the administration unable yet to point to much tangible evidence of progress, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who assumed command in Afghanistan last month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is taking several steps to emphasize hopeful signs on the ground that, he will argue, would make a rapid withdrawal unwise. Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become experts over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials that they need time to get their work done.

When something like this happens in Pakistan, we completely lose our s**t and call them a failed state, a tyrannical dictatorship, a collapsing nuclear-armed time bomb full of apocalyptic religious fanatics and corrupt, out-of-touch plutocrats. When it happens here, it’s called a "media blitz." Oh you know, General Petraeus is just out there to "counter the growing pressure" by the American people, and hopefully force the Commander-in-Chief’s hand on war making policy. The young officer corps is simply pressuring your elected politicians to give them more time to occupy foreign lands and engage in aggressive wars. Totally normal, everything is fine.

It’s time for Congress to wake up. Petraeus needs to be reminded of exactly who he works for. The generals don’t tell us what to do, we tell them what to do. This is not Pakistan, this is the United States, and if President Obama is too weak to preserve our civilian-military order, then Congress is obligated to enforce its constitutional authority over the power – and the purse – of war. Read the rest of this entry →

The Petraeus Propaganda Tour: Who Supports the Troops?

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.


The military is working very hard to push the war on the public. US casualties were at an all time high in June, it was worse in July, and August isn’t looking any better. Still, what is General Petraeus up to? Politico reports [emphasis mine]:

After seven silent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus begins aggressive messaging on Afghanistan: David Gregory announced yesterday that he will broadcast “Meet the Press” from Kabul next Sunday, with Petraeus’ first U.S. interview since he took command in Afghanistan. That will launch a spate of appearances that are being spread out over three weeks so Americans will be more likely to hear his message, even during the August doldrums. This week, Petraeus will begin communicating with the Afghan people. Then after “Meet,” the general will do the BBC later that week. The following week, Petraeus has sit-downs with “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric, then Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, who’s returning from breast-cancer treatment. At month’s end, George Stephanopoulos will take “Good Morning America” on the road to see the general. Major U.S. and European print and radio outlets will be sprinkled in. Then in the weeks that follow, the general plans to keep up a strong battle rhythm of engaging with the media and making his case.

But Petraeus isn’t the only one doing propaganda duty for the White House. Last week, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was on Meet the Press pushing the war policy. Check out this heart-breaking exchange [emphasis mine]:

MR. GREGORY: But true or untrue, the big fear is that Pakistan’s working against us and not with us?

ADM. MULLEN: In many ways, Pakistan is working with us. I mean, their, their military, their intelligence agency. I mean, we’ve got a very strong relationship in the positive sense with, with their intelligence agency. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some challenges with some aspects of it.

MR. GREGORY: They are actively supporting elements killing U.S. soldiers.

ADM. MULLEN: But they have, they have shared intelligence with us, they’ve killed as many or more terrorists as anybody, they’ve captured them. And certainly, the, the focus on changing the strategic shift, if you will, in that agency so that that doesn’t happen at all, is a priority for us.

Pakistan is killing Americans, and Admiral Mullen won’t even deny it. Surreal, isn’t it? So much for "support the troops."

It’s no wonder then that so much of the opposition to the war is being led by soldiers and their families. The candidates we’ve so far spoken with have all made some very strong personal choices about their positions on the war, but they can’t hide who’s pushing them in that direction. Read the rest of this entry →

Fresh Talking Point: Poor Afghanistan, They’re Rich!

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Josh Mull

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

By now everyone has just about lost their damn minds about this New York Times article detailing Afghanistan’s "discovery" of vast amounts of mineral wealth. Yes, it’s way crazy old information (like the 70′s old). Yes, it’s Pentagon propaganda. If you’ve been reading us here, you already know ISAF’s counter-insurgency strategy is a flaming wreck, and you already know what they’re going to do about that. Propaganda and misinformation are all part of it.

But if your reaction has been typical, that of only sneering derision and snide condescension (guilty!), you’ve missed the point. Part of understanding propaganda is knowing its intended audience. We do this automatically when, say, Iranian President Ahmadinejad blames evil CIA spies for whatever it is that’s bothering him that day; unemployment, tummy ache, whatever. We understand right away that this is not about us, about Americans. Rather, it’s aimed at a domestic Iranian audience with very real fears about foreign interference. Only in the case of Afghanistan’s minerals, we’re personalizing it, assuming it’s aimed at us. It’s not for you, though. This propaganda has a very specific audience, and so far it’s working perfectly. Read the rest of this entry →