Buzz off

By shouting down dissent, Washington is ignoring the sad truth in Afghanistan
By EDITORIAL  |  July 7, 2010

Michael Steele, the imbecile chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), has gotten himself in trouble — again — with the party faithful. This time, he was caught on film blaming President Barack Obama for starting the Afghanistan conflict. Steele called it "a war of Obama's choosing . . . not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." Only a fool, Steele suggested, would get the country into a land war in Afghanistan.

It was George W. Bush who got us into that war, of course, more than seven years before Obama took office. But that obvious inanity was not the reason for the negative reaction of Steele's fellow Republicans.

No, Steele came under attack because the right can abide no suggestion that the war in Afghanistan might be a bad idea.

Hawkish commentators like Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer — who once similarly decried any disapproval of the disastrous Iraq War — quickly called for Steele's scalp. Senator John McCain and other Republican officeholders also condemned the comments.

Steele quickly fell in line, insisting that he is fully in agreement with aggressive prosecution of the war.

This was the second time in recent weeks that a high-profile individual got shouted down for publicly questioning aspects of the Afghanistan war. Previously, Obama shoved his top officer in the region, General Stanley McChrystal, out the door for expressing his criticisms to a Rolling Stone reporter.

McChrystal's replacement, David Petraeus, made clear at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he is committed to an unquestioning devotion to the war plans.

So, while Obama did not choose to start a foolish war in Afghanistan, it is certainly his choice to continue it, to suppress dissent, and to believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that "victory" is attainable. This is the same tale as Vietnam's passage from Kennedy to Johnson to Nixon; the scale of needless death and cost to our treasury are the only differences.

But rather than address any of the substantive issues raised by the Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal, or in other reports, the Pentagon instead moved to crack down on rogue commentary on the war.

As reported in the New York Times, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has issued a directive that all interview requests come through his department for clearance. In the memo, Gates wrote that he is "concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media."

The Times correctly noted that officers will likely take this as "an official warning to restrict access to reporters."

Unauthorized disclosures to journalists have been essential for Americans to learn about the conduct of war, from the Pentagon Papers to Abu Ghraib; it is often telling when leadership seems more concerned about the leaks than about the hard truths they reveal.

That seems to be the case as well in the news this week that military charges have been brought against 22-year-old Private First Class Bradley Manning, accused of leaking the notorious "Collateral Murder" video and documents to whistleblower Web site

The swift, decisive action against Manning stands in stark contrast to the Army's tolerance for the inexcusable shooting of civilians shown in the WikiLeaks film. That concerned an incident in Iraq, but the heavy-handed pursuit of Manning — who could be facing 50 years in prison — will surely serve to stifle truth-tellers in Afghanistan.

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