Washington’s spin machine is in overdrive to counter the massive leak of documents on Afghanistan. Much of the counterattack revolves around the theme that the documents aren’t particularly relevant to this year’s new-and-improved war effort.
The White House seized on the timeframe of the documents released by WikiLeaks. “The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy,” a White House email told reporters on Sunday evening. “Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.”
Unfortunately, the “change in strategy” has remained on the same basic track as the old strategy — except for escalation. On Tuesday morning, the lead story on the New York Times website noted: “As the debate over the war begins anew, administration officials have been striking tones similar to the Bush administration’s to argue for continuing the current Afghanistan strategy, which calls for a significant troop buildup.”
Even while straining to depict the U.S. war policy as freshly hatched since last winter, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs solemnly proclaimed that the basis for it hasn’t changed since the autumn of 2001. “We are in this region of the world because of what happened on 9/11,” Gibbs said on Monday. “Ensuring that there is not a safe haven in Afghanistan by which attacks against this country and countries around the world can be planned.” In other words: a nifty rationale for perpetual war.
Some Democrats on Capitol Hill were eager to rebrand the war. “Under the new counterinsurgency strategy implemented earlier this year, we now have the pieces in place to turn things around,” said the head of the House Armed Services Committee, Ike Skelton. “These leaked reports pre-date our new strategy in Afghanistan and should not be used as a measure of success or a determining factor in our continued mission there.”
Other prominent war supporters in Washington have tried to show how open they are to tweaking the same doomed approach that they’re clinging to. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, continued his record of hollow leadership by speaking of a need for “calibrations.” A statement from Kerry declared that the leaked documents “raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”
The Washington Post reported that — “while the leaks may add to the volume of the debate” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “said they do not address current circumstances. ‘A lot of it predates the president’s new policy,’ Pelosi said.” The speaker’s discomfort with the war has not stopped her from serving as a reluctant enabler.
What has been most significant about “the president’s new policy” is the steady step-up of bombing in Afghanistan and the raising of U.S. troop levels in that country to a total of 100,000. None of what was basically wrong with the war last year has been solved by the “new policy.” On the contrary.
Consider the wording of a Washington Post report that “the documents provide new insights into a period in which the Taliban was gaining strength, Afghan civilians were growing increasingly disillusioned with their government, and U.S. troops in the field often expressed frustration at having to fight a war without sufficient resources.”
In the current stage of denial, administration spinners are acutely eager to distinguish the “new policy” from events as recent as last year — as though we’re supposed to believe it’s no longer the case that the Taliban is “gaining strength” or that Afghan civilians are “growing increasingly disillusioned with their government.”
And if, these days, “U.S. troops in the field” are not as inclined to express “frustration at having to fight a war without sufficient resources,” the latest boosts of Pentagon outlays for war in Afghanistan merely reflect the unhinged escalation of a war effort that should not exist.
Norman Solomon is the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”