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Gen. Petraeus Goes to Media War

3:33 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

It’s already history. In mid-August 2010, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan launched a huge media campaign to prevent any substantial withdrawal of military forces the next summer.

The morning after Gen. David Petraeus appeared in a Sunday interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to promote the war effort, the New York Times front-paged news of its own interview with him — reporting that the general “suggested that he would resist any large-scale or rapid withdrawal of American forces.”

In fact, the general signaled that he might oppose any reduction of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan a year from now. During the NBC interview, the Times noted, “Petraeus even appeared to leave open the possibility that he would recommend against any withdrawal of American forces next summer.”

On Monday, the Washington Post also published the twisty line of the suddenly interview-hungry Petraeus, reporting that “he remains supportive of President Obama’s decision to begin withdrawing troops next July, but he said it is far too soon to determine the size of the drawdown.” The newspaper observed that “the general’s presence in Kabul, as opposed to the U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, could make him a far more forceful voice for attenuating the drawdown if he chooses to make that case.”

“Attenuating the drawdown” means keeping the war machinery at full throttle.

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here. The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, with the evident approval of the White House, has launched a fierce media blitz to cripple the policy option of any significant military withdrawal a year from now. Riding high in what is supposed to be a civilian-run military, Petraeus is engaging in strategic media operations to manipulate what should be a democratic process on matters of war and peace.

Who bears ultimate responsibility for this manipulative, anti-democratic behavior? The commander in chief.

Ominously, the Petraeus media offensive got underway just days after presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs picked a fight with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — a wing that has been strengthening its opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

More than four decades after President Johnson used the term “nervous Nellies” to disparage the growing number of Democrats who voiced dissent about the war in Vietnam, the Obama White House is now disparaging progressive dissenters with terms like “the professional left.”

Every week, President Obama is sacrificing billions of dollars and uncounted lives in the service of what Martin Luther King Jr. called — at a time of another horrific war effort — “the madness of militarism.” Then, as now, a Democrat in the White House augmented the momentum of the Pentagon’s war train, boosting it with eagerness to appear tough and avoid Republican charges of weakness.

While history is not exactly repeating, it is rhyming. Like a dirge.

Now, as in the era of Dr. King’s final years, war is escalating while the lures of silence or equivocation are widely viewed as prudent. Rationales for muting dissent keep pitching for complicity.

The immediate problem is one of political acquiescence. Right now, it’s time to speak up against the efforts by a top general to stampede this country into more war. No matter who is willing to go along with the madness of militarism, we must not.

War Conformity in the Senate: It’s Unanimous!

8:20 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

For the warfare state, it doesn’t get any better than 99 to 0.

Every living senator voted Wednesday to approve Gen. David Petraeus as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Call it the unanimity of lemmings — except the senators and their families aren’t the ones who’ll keep plunging into the sea.

No, the killing and suffering and dying will be left to others: American soldiers who, for the most part, had scant economic opportunities in civilian life. And Afghans trapped between terrible poverty and escalating violence.

The senatorial conformity, of course, won’t lack for rationales. It rarely does.

An easy default position is that the president has the right to select his top military officers. (Then why is Senate confirmation required?) Or: This is a pivotal time for the war in Afghanistan. (All the more reason for senators to take responsibility instead of serving as a rubber stamp for the White House.)

In today’s Senate, the conformity is so thick that it’s almost enough to make you nostalgic for the Senate of four and a half decades ago. At least there were a couple of clear dissenters from the outset — first and foremost, Wayne Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska, who in August 1964 voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that “authorized” the horrors of the U.S. war on Vietnam.

Within a couple of years, appreciable dissent was coming from William Fulbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as Frank Church and George McGovern. Then Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy and other senators.

The process of getting off the war train was pitifully slow, in view of the wholesale deadly ferocity of the Vietnam War — and in view of the fact that Congress, like the U.S. news media, lagged so far behind the clarity of opposition emerging from many millions of Americans. Whatever good happened on Capitol Hill was a direct result of the anti-war movement and more generalized public sentiment against continuing the war.

In the Senate of 2010, the baseline of conscience and courage is at an abysmally low level.

When the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the course of the Afghan war, his tactical objections dodged the fundamentals of the escalating conflagration. And so, Levin dutifully declared that Petraeus will “bring highly experienced leadership and a profound understanding of the president’s strategy in Afghanistan.”

Chiming in was Sen. John McCain, who lauded the general as “one of the finest military leaders our country has ever produced.” McCain has long been appreciative of Petraeus’ record, including his services as a military spinmeister for President George W. Bush’s Iraq war policies midway through the decade.

In 2007, a notable ad from described Petraeus as “a military man constantly at war with the facts.” There’s no reason to believe that Petraeus is more candid these days. At any rate, the policy from the White House is what really matters, not the proclivities of any particular general.

Like mice who won’t try to bell the chief-executive cat, senators complain but keep on purring. That explains their unanimous vote for a general pledging to stay the course in Afghanistan.

Every few months, I take another look at footage of Sen. Morse directly challenging the war president, a man of his own party. It’s inspiring — yet painful to watch, because of the sharp contrast with today’s mealy-mouthed senators.

A growing number of House members are lining up against the Afghanistan war, although they’re far short of a majority. Meanwhile, the Senate is a bastion of bluster. The overarching congressional problem is a pattern of doing what the war machinery requires — most importantly, voting to pay for the war. Until that stops, the war won’t stop.