FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Selling the Never-Ending War on Terror

by

Mark Landler’s “US Troops to Leave Afghanistan by End of 2016” was the lead story in the New York Times on Wednesday, May 28. Landler reports President Obama’s decision to reduce troop levels from the present 32,000 to 9,800 by the end of 2014 to half that by the end of 2015 to “a vestigial force” by the end of 2016. There are several reasons why one ought to be skeptical of these numbers (not least of which are that that Obama for years referred to Afghanistan as “a war of necessity,” he ordered two troop surges during his first term, the number of US paid contractors to remain is not clear, and predictable events may upset the timetable). Landler expresses no such skepticism.

But that’s not among the main problems with the story. The article’s flaws include Landler’s belief that he has achieved ‘balance’ by noting Obama’s “Republican critics in Congress,” and by quoting retired Army General Jack Keane, Republican Congressman Buck McKeon, and retired career diplomat and defense official David Sedney. The only critical voices Landler rounds up are those unhappy with Obama’s plans to draw down American forces on what they consider an overly brisk two-year schedule. Code Pink and the American Friends Service Committee—unhappy with the fact that the withdrawal is not immediate and complete—are not to be found in the piece.

The story fails on another basic level. Landler acts as amanuensis rather than journalist. He fails to ask a single follow up question of his sources. Landler and his editor let Keane get away with: “Just arbitrarily pulling those forces out absolutely risks successful completion of the mission.” Even a cub reporter and novice editor might have queried Keane as what mission he had in mind, what successful completion of it looked like, and when it might be accomplished.

Landler and his editor allow McKeon to opine: “Holding this mission to an arbitrary egg-timer doesn’t make a lick of sense.” A competent journalist might have asked McKeon when the egg-timer might ding, if not fifteen years after the onset of Operation Enduring Freedom. Further insulting his readers, Landler lets Keane add this jab: “Does the president seek to replicate his mistakes in Iraq, where he abandoned the region to chaos and failed to forge a real security partnership?” A conscientious reporter might have queried McKeon as to his dogged, unflagging support for the illegal and unjustifiable war over the years, as to the unsurprising Iraqi preference for an end to the nine year American occupation, and as to the fairness of blaming Obama for George Bush’s failed adventure.

Landler remarks that “even defenders of Mr. Obama,” including Michèle A. Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy during his first term, express concern about “whether security gains made” are endangered by the pace of the draw down: “Time will tell whether we can meet that standard at this pace.” Landler does not recall that there was no war in Afghanistan, thus no need for the sort of security gains he has in mind, at time of the US invasion in October 2001.

Lazily—without apparent intervention of an editor—Landler employs an automatic, stock phrase to describe a primary activity of the shrinking US force over the next couple years; they are to “carry out operations against the remnants of Al Qaeda.” He does not inquire as to whether there’s a single al-Qaeda ‘member’ still on the loose in Afghanistan, and apparently forgot that David Petraeus admitted that al-Qaeda was no longer in the country as long ago as 2009.

Obama’s announced motivation for the draw down also goes unquestioned by Landler.

“The president is clearly driven by a determination to shift the focus of his counterterrorism policy from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan to a more diffuse set of militant threats, some linked to Al Qaeda, that have sprung up from Syria to Nigeria.”

The “militant threat” in Libya and its analogues in Mali and Chad—direct consequences of the President’s policy—go unmentioned. And the War on Terror continues indefinitely, into perpetuity.

Nowhere in the article does Landler wonder whether peace might break out following the drawn out draw down. We get this statement of Obama’s: “Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them. Yet this is how wars end in the 21st century.” It does not occur to Landler to ask an administration official why it’s so hard to end wars, or why peace does not ensue once wars end.

“Mr. Obama,” Landler tells us, “said the withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan would free up resources to confront an emerging terrorist threat stretching from the Middle East to Africa.” Obama is unable to simply ‘end a war;’ the end of one war must segue smoothly into the escalation of others. And that appears perfectly reasonable to Mark Landler, and the New York Times.

Steve Breyman teaches “How to Read the New York Times” at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu

 

 

 

Steve Breyman was a William C. Foster Visiting Scholar Fellow in the Clinton State Department, and serves as an advisor to Jill Stein, candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination. Reach him at breyms@rpi.edu

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 24, 2017
Paul Street
Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics
Daniel Read
Powder Keg: Manchester Terror Attack Could Lead to Yet Another Resurgence in Nationalist Hate
Robert Fisk
When Peace is a Commodity: Trump in the Middle East
Kenneth Surin
The UK’s Epochal Election
Jeff Berg
Lessons From a Modern Greek Tragedy
Steve Cooper
A Concrete Agenda for Progressives
Michael McKinley
Australia-as-Concierge: the Need for a Change of Occupation
William Hawes
Where Are Your Minds? An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU
Steve Early
“Corporate Free” Candidates Move Up
Fariborz Saremi
Presidential Elections in Iran and the Outcomes
Dan Bacher
The Dark Heart of California’s Water Politics
Alessandra Bajec
Never Ending Injustice for Pinar Selek
Rob Seimetz
Death By Demigod
Jesse Jackson
Venezuela Needs Helping Hand, Not a Hammer Blow 
Binoy Kampmark
Return to Realpolitik: Trump in Saudi Arabia
Vern Loomis
The NRA: the Dragon in Our Midst
May 23, 2017
John Wight
Manchester Attacks: What Price Hypocrisy?
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail