As we close in on a decade of war in Afghanistan, President Obama took to the airwaves to tell the nation his plan to bring about an end to that conflict. From West Point in 2009, President Obama announced a surge of troops to be deployed to Afghanistan and from the White House last night, he announced that the surge would end in the summer of 2012 – mere months before the next Presidential election. 33,000 troops will be redeployed to the United States by the end of next summer and the rest of the troops would be out by 2014, unless, of course, a new Commander-in-chief is in place before that can happen. Perhaps this is why the speech focused on more than just the war strategy and the President only dedicated a few short lines to the problems facing returning veterans and their lack of proper care.
In fact, Nora Bensahel writing for Foreign Policy Magazine said that the speech she heard was not the speech that had been discussed in a briefing she and other members of the press had been privy to. While I can’t confirm her claims about the briefing, I can confirm that as artful as the speech was, present between the lines were all the markings of a stump speech from the heart of the Presidential campaign, or as Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone calls it: The Dumb Season.
And the Dumb Season is seemingly in full-swing just as early as it ever was. With President Bush ending his second term and Vice President Cheney not seeking the Presidency, we had the rare occasion of Primaries in both Parties with no clear favorites. Or actually, there were but once the elections got into gear, the politicos and pundits were exposed as the know-nothing horserace handicappers that they are. The 2008 Dumb Season brought about massive political analysis machines and entire shows on the 24-hour cable networks – including asinine holograms, 3D computer models, and John King’s giant touch-screen. It appears as if no Democrat is going to challenge Obama for the Nomination, so these jackals are left with only the field of GOP candidates to mine for their stories, and these hacks run to these candidates for a response when the President does anything.
The speech about Afghanistan was no different. USA Today, TIME, and other news outlets focused just as much on the opposition’s reactions to the plan than the substantive points raised in the speech. The Washington Post was especially confused posting two conflicting reports (“Mullen, Petraeus back Obama’s Afghanistan drawdown plan, acknowledge risks“, “Military leaders know Obama’s decision is a disaster“). Although one was clearly marked as opinion, “opinion,” doesn’t mean “just say whatever you want regardless of the facts.” Kagan is a partisan writer and I would love to say that he is another hack writer – although his piece does neglect that the President has faced heavy pressure from the Republican Congress to bring the war to a fast close – his piece rings more true than Wilson’s. It is not an accident that the timing is what it is and all for political theater.
What the President should have talked about is the realities on the ground in Afghanistan. How are the Afghan security forces performing their duties? How has the Karzai government addressed the rampant corruption within its ranks? Also, the President should have spent far more time talking about the problems facing the veteran community. He never mentioned PTSD by name, only referring to those who “battle demons that have followed him home.” He made no mention of the out-of-proportion rates of suicide, homelessness, or unemployment amongst veterans when compared with the rest of the country. Instead he offered up unoriginal platitude that sounds nice at the time, but usually fails in the execution. I don’t blame the President or his opponents directly for this lack of open and honest communication. No, what’s to blame is the climate of politicization of even the most important of issues perpetuated by a media hungry for ratings and in need of controversy to fill airtime.
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