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State of Denial: After the Big Leak, Spinning for War

9:33 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

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.

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Norman Solomon is the author of many books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

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 MoveOn.org 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.