Friday, September 24, 2010

And Now for the News...

And Now for the News...
Oliver North
Fri, Sep, 24, 2010

First in a series

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Last week, our "War Stories" team was on the U.S.-Mexico border documenting the tidal wave of violence and illegal activity on America's "southern front." This week, we're back in Afghanistan to detail what's happening in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. The outcomes of both these fights are of vital importance to the American people. But it's hard to get the facts on the fights from the way these stories are being covered by the so-called mainstream media.

The potentates of the press apparently have decided that the "war on drugs" has been lost and that "amnesty" for illegal aliens is a substitute for secure borders. In their exuberance to convince the public of these positions, major U.S. print and broadcast outlets provide breathless reports of wholesale bloodshed in Mexico, but they overlook slow but steady improvements in border security and successes in dismantling drug cartels. In short, "surrender" is being presented as the only option. This same sentiment is evident in the coverage of the campaign here in Afghanistan.

On Sept. 18, the Afghan people went to the polls to elect a new national parliament. It was similar to the kind of legislative election we will hold in less than six weeks -- with the same portent for political change. Yet most U.S. media coverage of Afghanistan's experiment in representative government focused on insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting the vote. Newspaper and television reports claimed "low voter interest" and highlighted "Taliban attacks aimed at reducing turnout." But, as we learned once we arrived here, those stories were simply wrong.

There were insurgent attacks -- but one-third fewer than during last year's presidential elections. According to international observers, fewer than 1 percent of polling stations had any violence at all. And those same monitors reported voter turnout -- an estimated 3.6 million, or about 40 percent of those eligible -- was actually higher than it was in the 2009 election.

Set aside for a moment that most Afghan voters had to ignore the risk of violence, walk to their local polling stations and wait in long lines -- and that turnout was higher than it is in most of our "off-year" elections. Ask instead how those who reported this story managed to get it so wrong. The answer, of course, is that there is an agenda in many of our media. Those who "shape the news" have a predisposition for the negative and make a conscious choice to ignore "good news" that contradicts their bias.

Therefore, "news" from here tends to spotlight corruption in the Karzai government, the tribulations caused by pervasive opium production and American military losses. Reports datelined "Kabul" and stories filed from Kandahar and Herat frequently cite the ineffectiveness of the Afghan National Security Forces. Yet when Gen. David Petraeus commended the ANSF after the recent elections for "safeguarding a weapon with greater potential than any other: the people's right to vote," he was all but ignored.

The consistent theme in the U.S. media is that we are engaged in a war that cannot be won. "Reporters" here and editors at home have decided their theme: Afghanistan is a lost cause. It's all George W. Bush's fault for ignoring "the necessary war" and picking a fight with Saddam Hussein.

Negative news infatuation disorder is the only rational explanation for the exuberant coverage of the palace intrigues perpetrated by Washington insiders depicted in Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars." Instead of covering the troops fighting this war and concentrating on the far more relevant issue of how it is being fought, it's far easier -- and apparently more fun -- to focus on internecine battles within the present administration.

Some of the salacious gossip Woodward chronicles does, of course, matter to the outcome of the campaign in this difficult and dangerous place. In one passage widely circulated in advance of the book's release, the president is quoted as saying: "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever ... we absorbed it and we are stronger." If this comment is cited accurately, it is a stunning, unprecedented and particularly heartless perspective for a democratically elected head of state.

Totalitarians often speak of the punishment their followers will tolerate. But no other Western president or prime minister -- even in the midst of World War II -- is quoted as saying his civilian population should be expected to "absorb" nearly 3,000 killed and nearly as many injured by an adversary in order to fulfill a political goal.

Thank goodness few of the warriors we are covering here in Afghanistan are even aware of the intrigues swirling in Washington or the negative news so fascinating to our media elites. The troops here are too busy fighting America's real enemies.

Vietnam Sneaks Up On Obama
Mona Charen
Fri, Sep, 24, 2010

At the CNBC town hall meeting, President Obama responded appropriately to a supporter who mentioned, in passing, that his son had just been commissioned as a U.S. army officer. Before turning to the questioner's principal query, the president made it a point to thank the man's son for "his service to our country."

So he should. So should we all. But if the account in Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars," is correct, the president is asking all of our soldiers to fight for a war he is frantic to "exit."

Throughout the protracted 2009 "strategy review," the Woodward book reports, Obama "repeatedly press(ed) his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him."

At last, the president crafted his own withdrawal plan. "This needs to be a plan about how we're going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan ... Everything we're doing has to be focused on how we're going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It's in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room."

No wonder the president returned the bust of Winston Churchill to the British when he assumed office. No "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" for this leader. No talk of fighting "on the beaches ... on the landing grounds ... in the fields and in the streets." No, we're all about exit strategies.

There is no shame in declining to fight a war you believe to be misguided or futile. Obama preens about having opposed the war in Iraq ab initio. He may have been right or wrong about that. But it was a perfectly honorable position to take. What is not honorable is sending men and women into battle when you neither seek nor expect victory.

Throughout the 2008 campaign, the president insisted that, while the Iraq War was a tragedy and a disgrace, the war in Afghanistan was necessary, right, and neglected. At a candidate's forum during the primaries, he said, "One of the things that I think is critical, as the next president, is to make absolutely certain that we not only phase out the Iraq War but we also focus on the critical battle that we have in Afghanistan and root out al-Qaida." The war in Iraq, Obama continued, "is an enormous distraction from the battle that does have to be waged in Afghanistan."

In a foreign policy address, then-Sen. Obama noted that terrorists moved freely between the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. "There are tribes there that see borders as nothing more than lines on a map, and governments as forces that come and go. There are blood ties deeper than alliances of convenience, and pockets of extremism that follow religion to violence. It is a tough place. But that is no excuse ... We cannot fail to act just because action is hard."

During a visit to Afghanistan in 2008, Obama described the situation as "precarious and urgent," and emphasized that "I believe this has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism."

Two months after taking office, the president reiterated his commitment to the war: "So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you."

The message that emerges from Woodward's book is otherwise. The specter of Vietnam haunted meetings of Obama's top advisers, Woodward writes. Vice President Biden, who pleaded for a reduced commitment to Afghanistan, warned the president that a larger deployment of troops would mean "we're locked into Vietnam."

Obama steered a middle path between what his military advisers suggested and what the doves in the White House preferred. He agreed to deploy 30,000 extra soldiers, but with strict limits on what they could do in the country and with the (self-sabotaging) announcement that they would begin to withdraw in July 2011. He drew up a document, Woodward reports, that "took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy's objectives, what the military was not supposed to do."

In 1967 and 1968, another Democratic president sat in the Oval Office and put pins on a map -- choosing bombing targets in Vietnam. He didn't really believe the war was winnable, but couldn't see any way out.

Obama has lately been compared with Jimmy Carter. But by declining to act decisively on Afghanistan -- one way or the other -- he is blundering into Johnson territory.

To read another article by Oliver North, click here.

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