Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ignorance and Cowardice?

Very few people, at least among conservatives, put any confidence in candidate Obama's claim that Afghanistan was the war we had to fight, that this was the "good war," a "war of necessity." Many observers thought then that he was just using this rhetoric to prepare the country for a withdrawal from Iraq and allay fears among voters that he might be capitulating in the war against Islamic terrorism. Few conservatives believed then that his heart was really in fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan so few are now surprised that he seems to want to dither over General McChrystal's report that he needs 45,000 more troops to prevent defeat in that woe-begotten territory.

Columnist Ruben Navarette, who is certainly no knee-jerk Obama opponent, writes that:

According to McClatchy Newspapers, military officials in Kabul and Washington say that the White House and Pentagon over the last six weeks had issued directives telling McChrystal not to submit a specific request for an increase in U.S. forces; the general is said to want as many as 45,000 additional troops. The administration isn't ready to consider that option. Instead, McChrystal sent his 66-page report last month to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. As everyone knows by now, the general concluded that the U.S. effort in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure" without a new strategy and an urgent infusion of troops. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, both backed that assessment.

Obama's own arguments about what to do in Afghanistan have not been very persuasive. Not even to himself. In March, he declared that the United States would prevent the return of the Taliban and "enhance the military, governance and economic capacity" of Afghanistan in order to help prevent al-Qaeda from returning and once again using the country as a launching pad for further attacks against the United States. But now the president seems to be backing off from his own hard line. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Obama said that "the only reason I send a single young man or woman in uniform anywhere in the world is because I think it's necessary to keep us safe. ... We're not gonna put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops (to Afghanistan) we're automatically going to make Americans safe."

So no matter what Obama said in the spring, it is no surprise that many White House advisers, including Vice President Joe Biden, are looking for a way to leave Afghanistan. That would be a grave mistake, and an abdication of Obama's duty to keep Americans safe by preventing more acts of terrorism. More than a clumsy flip-flop on policy, it would also be an outright betrayal of the military leaders that he put in charge of the operation in Afghanistan.

According to McClatchy, some members of McChrystal's staff said they don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" but still hasn't given them the resources they need to do what is necessary.

McChrystal is in a tough spot. When he isn't fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, he has to combat ignorance and cowardice on the Potomac. The general might have to end his career over this. But he shouldn't back down -- not when strong leaders are in such short supply.

Ignorance and cowardice are strong words, especially when used to describe the President of the United States, and I don't want to judge whether they apply in this case. Nor do I want to parse Navarette's reference to the dearth of strong leadership and speculate on exactly who he had in mind, but I do think that Mr. Obama has been disingenuous with the American people on the matter of his committment to Afghanistan. The President, after all, is a man of the left, the left abhors our military involvements abroad, and everyone who understands this should have known prior to the election that Mr. Obama would vacillate on Afghanistan regardless of how resolute he sounded during the campaign.

Now the President is confronted with a choice, and he can't vote "present." He must either accede to General McChrystal's request or he must pull up stakes in Afghanistan and come home. If he does the former he will surely anger his progressive base. If he does the latter he risks being judged by history as feckless and irresponsible and will be roundly punished by historians for handing Afghanistan back to al Qaeda to be used as a base for further terror operations against the U.S. and this after the loss of hundreds of American lives on that barren soil.

Moreover, if he chooses to give up in Afghanistan it will be a demoralizing blow to the American military and our intelligence agencies and will greatly strengthen the resolve of our enemies who already believe that we lack the endurance to prevail in the generational war they're waging against us. The weakness Mr. Obama will project if he withdraws will haunt this country for decades in a myriad of ways, just as did our ignominious flight from Vietnam in the 1970s.

Mr. Obama is going to have to spurn his base once again or be seen by the world as weak, wobbly, and risible. The first step in doing the right thing would be to finally, eight months into his presidency, give a nationally televised speech on Afghanistan and Iraq and dispel the growing suspicion that he simply doesn't care very much about what happens there.


New Media Vs. Old

Reformed leftist Ron Radosh indicts modern journalism for dereliction of duty and blames it for the rise of the hyper-partisan talk shows that afflict talk radio and both MSNBC and Fox News:

Let us examine a few recent developments. First, the resignation of Van Jones. Jones's background and previous life as a far-left revolutionary was exposed by a blogger who writes under the name Gateway Pundit. Material about Jones was made available at David Horowitz's website DiscoverTheNetworks.com. The material was relevant to the public's right to know whether such a man should have ever been appointed to a White House position. The blogs were completely ignored, until Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck took up the case and nightly aired segments about him. But it was not until he resigned that readers of the "paper of record," the New York Times, ever heard one word about him. Clearly, liberal editors and reporters, knowing that conservatives were responsible for digging up the easily found data about Jones, thought it could be ignored. That decision further inflamed Fox's viewers, whose protests and ruckus forced the administration to ditch him.

Had they done their job, the placing of Fox News alone as the only media outlet concerned about Jones might not have taken place....[R]egular reporters were not interested; nor were their editors. Indeed, they probably decided to not look into it when they found out where the sources about Jones came from. It was a decision that seriously hurt their own credibility. At that point, the Jones case became a battle between Fox News and MSNBC; i.e., Beck and Hannity versus Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

A similar thing took place with ACORN. As we now know, the recent actions to defund them by Congress and for the IRS and Census Bureau to break their contracts with the group came after the independent videos made by the now famous duo of Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe were put up at Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website. After the Fox News regulars aired them repeatedly, they became major news - and eventually, one knew it was over for ACORN once Jon Stewart and Jay Leno both ran biting sequences ridiculing the community organizing activist group.

The traditional media, the big three networks, major newspapers, Time, Newsweek, etc. have two, perhaps fatal, handicaps. First, their key staff people are often committed to an ideological progressivism that induces them to suppress stories unfavorable to their committments and to run stories, like CBS did with the George Bush National Guard story, which would advance their goals were they true but which turn out to be fabrications. This sort of thing has seriously eroded their credibility.

Second, they operate under constraints of time and space which simply don't fetter the new media. If there's a story out there newspapers can report it at best once a day and they can only devote a limited number of column inches to it. Newsmagazines can't even report it that often. If there are updates to the story they have to wait in abeyance until the next edition is published a day, or even a week, later.

Blogs are free to give as much space to a story as they wish, and they can update throughout the day. A story spreads much faster across the internet than through any other medium. The most popular blogs can also rely on an army of competent readers with expertise in a diverse array of fields to comment on technical aspects of a story and to correct mistakes. In short, many blogs present more stories on particular subjects, more thoroughly, more often, in a more entertaining way, and contrary to what traditional media people like to think, just as accurately, as any other news vehicle. It's hard to compete with that.

The traditional news venues in this country are in trouble. Part of their woes are due to the fact that they simply are not structured to compete with the newer forms of media, and part is that too many of them are simply not trusted to objectively report the news. At least in the new media you know you're getting a conservative or liberal slant and you can easily check their competitors (except in talk radio which, for some reason, has not been favorable to liberal success)to see what they have to say about a matter. This is very hard to do if one relies purely on broadcast news, newspapers and magazines.

Anyway, check out Radosh's piece. It's pretty good.