After an interminable presidential campaign, in which many of the basic questions facing the U.S. were ignored or glossed over, there’s nothing like a smarmy sex scandal to get Americans to finally zero in on fundamental issues: like should one of America’s most vaunted military leaders, General David Petraeus have resigned because of an adulterous liaison with Paula Broadwell, his sometime jogging partner and biographer? Or, how exactly was Petraeus able to arrange for Ms. Broadwell to be in Afghanistan at the same time that he was? Or, who was the FBI agent who sent bare-chested pictures of himself to Jill Kelley a Florida housewife, also, somehow, involved in the affair? Or why exactly did General John Allen, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, become such an active email buddy of the attractive Mrs. Kelley?
It goes without saying that talk shows hosts and news editors are much more interested in tempting their public with the red meat of what could be mistaken for a new hit cable TV series, than focusing instead on the fact that General Petraeus’ strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan were not, in the long term, a stunning success. Those directing our media might also consider the remarkable fact that General Allen is the fifth—that’s right the fifth—American general to be running that war, now in its 11th year, yet was one of those subjects—along with climate change–never seriously debated–in the presidential campaign.
Instead of clucking over the thousands of emailed pages that General Allen sent to Mrs. Kelley, they might highlight the fact that 68,000 American soldiers are among the 100,000 Nato troops still fighting in Afghanistan and that, despite the U.S. having spent 400 billion dollars on the Afghan war effort, the Taliban are still firmly entrenched.
And further, even as the President Obama warns it may be necessary to bite the bullet and cut back on vital domestic programs, the U.S.is still pouring two billion dollars a week into an Afghan conflict that no one feels is winnable.
As remarkable as a catfight between two women over an American general, is the fact that U.S. military planners are still talking about leaving a “follow-on force” of some 15-20,000 American troops in Afghanistan —even after 2014! This in a land where corruption is rampant, billions in U.S. funds have simply disappeared, and the security forces that the U.S. has already worked so hard to build are as a much a threat to their American trainers as is the Taliban.
As for the huge sums in aid that the U.S. has spent so far to get Afghanistan back on its feet, a recent Congressional Research Service report concluded, “Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on billions in U.S. foreign aid “indefinitely.”
Instead of salivating over other recent tales of adulterous military commanders, the media might instead look at the underlying premises of American Exceptionalism driving its foreign policy. That ideology, in the end, is what continues to fuel the endless War against Terror, justifies the more than 1,000 military bases the U.S. has abroad, and creates the need for American soldiers to be absent from their mates for so long and so often.
Instead of seeing who can be the first to get THE interview with Petraeus or Broadwell, network TV star reporters might assign some of their staff to prepare a report on the outrageous phenomenon that while , over the past ten years, the U.S. has spent literally trillions of dollars supposedly to safeguard America’s strategic interests and trade routes in the Middle East and Central Asia, the Chinese, without trying to overthrow any regimes, dispatch any boots on the ground, or Predators in the air, continue to make huge commercial inroads throughout those same regions.
Now we have a new Whack-a-Mole situation: As U.S. forces finally withdraw from Afghanistan, many of them transferred to the Pacific to meet a supposed Chinese threat—the Chinese are already poised to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan, not with their military, but with huge new contracts in that mineral rich country.
As the U.S. leaves, “the Chinese”, according to one recent report, “will become the dominant power in Afghanistan.”
In fact, if they weren’t so besotted with sexy new terms like “The Bathsheba Syndrome” , [go ahead, check the link] our talk show hosts might consider whether President Obama’s new buildup in the Pacific, rather than convincing the Chinese to back off their own military spending and claims to mineral resources in the South China Sea, might actually trigger a totally opposite response: a potentially disastrous arms race between the globes two major powers.
America’s opinion makers might take a breather from the Petraeus sex caper to focus on such issues…but don’t hold your breath.
Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. His latest book is “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” Lando is currently completing a novel, “The Watchman’s File”, concerning Israel’s most closely guarded secret (it’s not the bomb.) He can be reached through his blog.