Obama’s ‘Ben Tre Logic

Joel Bleifuss

Has nothing changed since we were preparing to invade Iraq eight years ago?

Yes, we have a new president, one who is smart and speaks in complete sentences. Yet we are about to jump pell-mell into escalating another war.

Yes, we have a new president, one who is smart and speaks in complete sentences. Yet we are about to jump pell-mell into escalating another war. With the surge of 30,000 American soldiers set to begin in January, President Barack Obama’s total Afghan War escalation now stands at 51,000.

And what for? Why pour more troops into Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires? To defeat al Qaeda – in Pakistan? To protect and nurture an Afghan government with little local legitimacy? To protect an Afghan population from foreign fighters through an occupation by foreign soldiers? Apparently, the answer is all of the above. 

But, most absurdly, the New York Times lead editorial on December 2 lauded the president for explaining that the the United States needs to send more troops to Afghanistan so American troops can eventually go home.”

We have heard such reasoning before. It is called Ben Tre logic,” as in the Vietnamese provincial capital Ben Tre. On Feb. 7, 1968, the Associated Press’ Peter Arnett famously reported that an unnamed Air Force Major informed him, It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” 

Does any of it make sense? 

The invasion of Afghanistan began in the aftermath of the 911 attacks, when critical analysis of foreign policy was stifled. Since 2003, it became rhetorically useful for many critics of the Iraq War to cover their right flank by identifying Afghanistan as the good war.” Consequently, the merits of the war in Afghanistan have never been freely and fully debated in the press.

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the media watch group, examined all of the opinion columns discussing what the United States should do in Afghanistan that appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times during the first 10 months of 2009. Of the 67 columns that were published in the Washington Post, 61 supported a continued war and six expressed anti-war views. Of the 43 columns published in the New York Times, 36 supported the war and seven opposed it – and five of those opposing it were by Times columnist Bob Herbert.

The real debate that occurred on the op-ed pages of these two newspapers was over whether to escalate or pursue an alternate war strategy. The Times: 14 escalate, 22 different strategy. The Post: 31 escalate, 30 different strategy. 

FAIR’s Steve Rendall writes, The New York Times and the Washington Post continue to wield an unmatched influence in the nation’s capital and in newsrooms across the country. One can only imagine what public opinion would be, and what policy might result, if these papers truly offered a wide-ranging debate on the Afghanistan War.”

In the January issue of In These Times, Roger Morris and George Kenney, two former Foreign Service Officers who resigned on principle from the State Department during two previous U.S. wars (Cambodia and the Balkans, respectively), write about diplomat Matthew Hoh, the former Marine Captain in Iraq who resigned his State Department post in Afghanistan over how that war is being waged. 

Where on the op-ed pages of the papers of record are voices like those of Kenney, Morris and Hoh?

At the cost of life and limb, the mainstream press has – as it did with the Iraq war – failed us, again.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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