Posts Tagged ‘spin’

General David Petraeus is set to testify before Congress today, and he’s expected to again try to put a positive spin on a war effort that’s utterly failing to meet the goals set by its backers. While intelligence assessments show that tactical moves on the ground in Afghanistan have failed to fundamentally weaken the growing insurgency, Petraeus expected to offer “a mostly upbeat assessment today of military progress.” Petraeus’s Potemkin village tours of Afghanistan for visiting dignitaries may have “impressed” people like John McCain, but Defense Intelligence Agency head General Ronald Burgess rains all over the progress talk with the sobering news that the casualties inflicted on the Taliban have caused “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight.”

As if to underline Burgess’ point, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a recruiting station for the Afghan Army, killing at least 35 people in northern Afghanistan on Monday.

Despite the assurances from the administration, the military and their think-tank allies, the massive troop escalations of 2009 and 2010 have failed to reverse the momentum of the insurgency or protect the Afghan population from insurgent intimidation and violence. From today’s L.A. Times:

A report March 2 by the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee concluded that despite the “optimistic progress appraisals we heard from some military and official sources … the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating.” Counterinsurgency efforts in the south and east have “allowed the Taliban to expand its presence and control in other previously relatively stable areas in Afghanistan.”

“The Taliban have the momentum, especially in the east and north,” analyst Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the committee. “There is no change in the overall balance of power, and the Taliban are still making problems.”

While the Taliban maintained momentum in 2010 and early 2011, the escalation strategy backed by Petraeus failed to protect Afghans from violence as promised, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the war so far for civilians.

One of the most hawkish of the Petraeus backers in the Senate, Senator McCain, is working hard to set the bounds for acceptable debate in Congress, but he, like the counterinsurgency campaign, is failing:

“I expect certainly some skepticism on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said. “I don’t see any kind of pressure to withdraw immediately.”

McCain only sees what he wants to see, apparently. A Rasmussen poll conducted March 4-5, 2011, found that 52 percent of likely voters want all U.S. troops brought home this year, with more than half of those wanting them brought home immediately (31 percent of likely voters). In January, a USA TODAY/Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans want Congress to act this year to speed up troop withdrawals from Afghanistan (including 86 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 61 percent of Republicans), with 41 percent strongly favoring such actions. And despite McCain’s efforts to blot it out, there is, in fact, a resolution being offered before Congress “calling for Obama to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan either in 30 days or no later than Dec. 31, 2011.”

Petraeus and McCain can try to spin this all they want, but the fact is that the counterinsurgency gamble failed, and the American people want our troops out, pronto. Nobody buys the counterinsurgency propaganda anymore, and the more these guys trot it out, the more damage it does to their credibility.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join your neighbors for a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup in your hometown.

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The Pentagon wants you to ignore some inconvenient facts about the failure of the escalation strategy in Afghanistan.

The latest Petraeus/Gates media tour is under way in preparation for the general’s testimony to Congress next week, and they’re trotting out the same, tired spin they’ve been using since McChrystal was replaced in disgrace last year. Despite the most violent year of the war so far, despite the highest civilian and military toll of the war so far, and despite the continued growth of the insurgency, they want you to believe that we’re “making progress.” While they spend this week fudging and shading and spinning, we’ll waste another $2 billion on this brutal, futile war, and we won’t be any closer to “victory” than we are today.

Let me make a couple of predictions about Petraeus’ testimony based on experience. He will attempt to narrow the conversation to a few showcase districts in Afghanistan, use a lot of aspirational language (“What we’re attempting to do,” instead of, “What we’ve done“) and assure the hand-wringers among the congressional hawks that he’ll be happy to suggest to the president that they stay longer in Afghanistan if that’s what he thinks is best. Most importantly, he will try to keep the conversation as far away from a high-level strategic assessment based on his own counterinsurgency doctrine as possible, because if Congress bothers to check his assertions of “progress” against what he wrote in the counterinsurgency manual, he’s in for a world of hurt.

Here’s what Petraeus’ own U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says about the main goal of a COIN campaign:

“I-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.”

Not by any stretch of the imagination is the counterinsurgency campaign under Petraeus’ direction serving what his own field manual says is the primary goal of his campaign. If we were looking for a legitimate government in Afghanistan, it’s crystal clear that we backed the wrong horse. Hamid Karzai and his family are neck-deep in any number of corruption scandals, the most glaring of which involves the largest private bank in Afghanistan and a sweeping control fraud scheme that has already resulted in unrest across the country. (That scandal, by the way, is likely to result in a U.S.-taxpayer-funded bank bailout for Kabulbank, according to white-collar crime expert Bill Black.) The Karzai administration is an embarrassment of illegitimacy and cronyism, and the local tentacles of the Kabul cartel are as likely to inspire people to join the insurgency as they are to win over popular support.

Even if the Karzai regime where a glimmering example of the rule of law, the military campaign under Petraeus would be utterly failing to achieve what counterinsurgency doctrine holds up as the primary way in which a legitimate government wins over support from the people: securing the population. From the COIN manual:

“5-68. Progress in building support for the HN [“host nation”] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do not believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts.”

The United Nations reports that 2010 was the deadliest year of the war for civilians of the decade-long war, and targeted killings of Kabul government officials are at an all-time high. Petraeus often seeks to deflect this point by citing insurgent responsibility for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but that is largely beside the point. As his own field manual makes clear, reducing the number of civilians killed by your forces is insufficient according to COIN doctrine. If you can’t protect the population (or the officials within the host nation government!) from insurgent violence and intimidation, you can’t win a counterinsurgency.

Petraeus and Gates like to talk around this blatant break in his own strategic doctrine by narrowing the conversation to what they call “security bubbles.” In his recent remarks following his trip to Afghanistan, Gates spoke of “linking zones of security in Helmand to Kandahar.” But those two provinces have seen huge spikes in violence over the course of the past year, with attacks initiated by insurgents up 124 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Today’s New York Times explains one of the main reasons for these jumps in violence as U.S. troops arrive in new areas:

“[G]enerals have designated scores of rural areas ‘key terrain districts.’ The soldiers are creating, at cost of money and blood, pockets of security.

“But when Americans arrive in a new area, attacks and improvised bombs typically follow — making roads and trails more dangerous for the civilians whom, under current Pentagon counterinsurgency doctrine, the soldiers have arrived to protect.”

The military escalations in Afghanistan have failed their key purpose under counterinsurgency doctrine, which is to secure Afghans from insurgent violence and intimidation.

While the U.S. government is failing to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan, it’s also failing to make good on the other components of counterinsurgency strategy, especially the civilian/political component. Here’s what The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says on p. xxix, emphasis mine:

“Nonmilitary Capacity Is the Exit Strategy

“The [counterinsurgency] manual highlights military dependence not simply upon civilian political direction at all levels of operation, but also upon civilian capabilities in the field. ...[T]he primacy of the political requires significant and ongoing civilian involvement at virtually every level of operations.”

To meet this prerequisite for a successful counterinsurgency strategy, the administration promised a “civilian surge” to accompany the military escalation. But the March 8, 2011 edition of The Washington Post shows that the civilian surge has so far been a flop that’s alienating the local population:

“Efforts to improve local government in critical Afghan districts have fallen far behind schedule…according to U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the program.

“It is now expected to take four more years to assess the needs of more than 80 ‘key terrain’ districts where the bulk of the population lives, based on figures from Afghan officials who said that escalating violence has made it difficult to recruit civil servants to work in the field.

“…Of the 1,100 U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan, two-thirds are stationed in Kabul, according to the State Department.

“‘At best, our Kabul-based experts simply reinforce the sense of big government coming from Kabul that ultimately alienates populations and leaders in the provinces,’ a former U.S. official said.”

As with the military side of the equation, the civilian side of the strategy is so badly broken that it’s actually pushing us further away from the administration’s stated goals in Afghanistan.

The costs of this pile of failure are huge. It costs us $1 million per troop, per year to maintain our occupation of Afghanistan. That’s $2 billion every week. Politicians at the federal level are contemplating ugly cuts to social safety nets, while politicians at the state level are already shredding programs that protect people suffering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In this context, the admonitions from the White House and the Pentagon to be patient while this misbegotten strategy limps along the progress-road-to-nowhere seem perverse. The American people have been patient for roughly a decade now, but that patience has run out.

Petraeus and Gates want to you to ignore the ugly truths of the Afghanistan War: it’s not making us safer, and it’s not worth the costs. The escalation strategy isn’t working. It’s not going to work. Enough is enough. End it now.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the costs, join a local Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetup and follow Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

Sign our act.ly petition to tell the next journalists on Petraeus’ media tour to ask tough questions and expose his effort to extend the Afghanistan War.

General Petraeus is on a media tour to sell the idea that the U.S. military is “making progress” in Afghanistan, a well-worn message aimed at convincing elites to extend this brutal, futile war. So far, it looks like the mainstream media is buying it, hook, line, and sinker.

Petraeus kicked off his spin campaign this morning with an hour-long special on Meet the Press with David Gregory. The piece opened with a montage of Petraeus doing sit-ups, and later showed him jogging, with Gregory opining about him wearing out troops half his age. Gregory went out of his way to set up a "Petraeus saves the day" narrative, asking the general if the situation in Afghanistan reminds him of the "dark days" in Iraq just before Petraeus "succeeded" with the surge. Petraeus hammered home his one-word message relentlessly: progress. Gregory feigned tough skepticism, but betrayed his hero-worship with setups like, "Watch how savvy Petraeus is when he answers my tough question." Throughout, Gregory’s sheepish grin conveyed the sense that he wanted to hug Petraeus instead of critically probe his assertions.

As Petraeus battered viewers again and again with his "making progress" theme, Gregory failed to ask probing, skeptical questions. When Petraeus mentioned "oil spots," as if the stain spreading across Afghanistan were one of security, Gregory failed to press him on the huge increase in civilian deaths, the 87-percent spike in violence and the incredible explosion of IED attacks over the last several months. When he brought up the outrageous TIME Magazine cover showing a woman’s mutilated face, Gregory failed to mention the attack happened last year and that TIME Magazine’s cover grossly distorts the choices before the United States. When Petraeus denounced the Taliban’s recent killing of a pregnant woman, Gregory failed to press Petraeus on ISAF’s own killing of pregnant women earlier this year in which bullets were reportedly dug out of a screaming woman by special forces troops before she bled to death. Gregory didn’t do journalism today. He provided a platform for military spin.

Petraeus and Gregory jovially closed the interview by quoting Generals Grant and Sherman, with Petraeus saying he’s no politician. Don’t believe that for a second. The military wants to extend this war, and it sees American public opinion as an obstacle in getting what it wants. Petraeus admitted as much when he told Gregory that the point of his upcoming media appearances were scheduled in the hopes of showing "people in Washington" and the public that we’re making progress (Finish your drink!) and to shore up support for the failing war effort. This media blitz is about Petraeus shaping public opinion to affect the political environment for a future push to extend the war far beyond the bounds implied by Obama’s December 2009 West Point speech. In short, the military is turning its several-billion-dollar public relations apparatus on the American people, and the mainstream media is so far complicit. To quote one of my favorite bands, "There is a war going on for your mind."

If the media fail to ask hard questions, there’s a chance Petraeus could get what he wants: the freedom to extend an extremely unpopular war that’s not making us safer. We’ve got to push back, and we’ve got to do it now.

CBS’ Katie Couric is next in line to talk to Petraeus during his high-profile spin campaign, so we’re starting with her. Sign our act.ly petition to Couric and push her to ask tough questions about Petraeus’ claims of “progress” and his attempt to extend the Afghanistan War. If you’re not a Twitter user, don’t worry–there are instructions on how you can participate without it.

General Petraeus’ media blitz is just getting started. We’ve got to push our media–hard–to ask real questions and prevent easily disproved spin from polluting the debate. Petraeus wants to change public opinion, and he’s spending your money to sell you a brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer. If you’re tired of this kind of manipulation, join the tens of thousands of other people working to end this war with Rethink Afghanistan.

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President Obama managed to show just how nimble and how disingenuous an administration can be in his response to the WikiLeaks fiasco:

Obama, speaking from the Rose Garden after a meeting with congressional leaders to discuss funding for the war and other issues, deplored the leak, saying he was concerned the information from the battleground “could potentially jeopardise individuals or operations”.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said he was appalled by the leaks, telling reporters “there is a real potential threat there to put American lives at risk.”

Now, it may or may not be true that this leak put people in Afghanistan at risk, but I find that to be a very interesting point for this president to be making, considering that the policy and execution of his policy absolutely jeopardizes individuals in Afghanistan and around the world. After all, if you put Julian Assange and President Obama together in a room, only one person in that room is ordering heavily armed people into a hostile war zone filled with civilians. And only one of them is executing a policy that increases the likelihood of a suicide bombing campaign directed at the United States and its citizens and that kills thousands of civilians each year.

This is a tried-and-true warmonger move: according to this canard, it’s those that oppose the war policy or that take action to show the conflict between societal values and actual policies that endanger everyone, not the brutal, costly policy. I would say I was a bit shocked, but this is the same president that stood up during his Nobel Peace Prize lecture and opined about the necessity of war when he feels it’s justified. The President of the United States has tripled the number of troops in Afghanistan, thus putting them in harm’s way for a policy that doesn’t make us safer and that causes enormous hardship for those caught in the crossfire. Those who support this policy but are attacking WikiLeaks for releasing this data need to take a good, hard look in the mirror before they jump on Julian Assange for “endangering” anyone.

But he went on to say the material highlighted the challenges that led him to announce a change in strategy late last year that involved sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. The policy is due to be reviewed in December.

“We failed for seven years to implement a strategy adequate to the challenge,” Obama said today, of the period starting with the 9/11 attacks. That is why we have increased our commitment there and developed a new strategy,” he said, adding he has also sent one of the finest generals in the US, General David Petraeus.

Insisting that the strategy “can work”, he ended with a plea to the House of Representatives to join the Senate in passing a bill to provide funds for the Afghan war as a matter of urgency.

Help me out here. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that the WikiLeaks information is “proof” that the president was right to initiate a massive escalation. If I were the president, this would be the drop-dead last argument I’d be making, because it begs the question: Okay, well, what’s the situation on the ground like now, 7 months into the escalation policy, compared to the time period captured in the War Logs leak?

Short answer: the president should be pining away for the good ol’ days depicted in the WikiLeaks report.

Here’s a chart from the latest Afghan NGO Safety Office report, showing a massive jump in the seasonal peaks in insurgent-initiated violence since President Obama took office and started his repeated escalations.

Afghan NGO Safety Office Chart on Anti-Afghan-Government-Group-Initiated Attacks

Here’s a quote from a December 2009 military report, “The State of the Insurgency” (.pdf):

  • Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding
  • Strength and ability of shadow governance increasing
  • Much greater frequency of attacks and varied locations

Compare that with this quote from the latest “progress” report to Congress:

  • Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding.

  • The strength and ability of shadow governance to discredit the authority and legitimacy of the Afghan Government is increasing.

  • Insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures for conducting complex attacks are increasing in sophistication and strategic effect.

Lots of change there, apparently. Good work, Mr. President.

Here’s a map from that same report that shows that the Kabul government is falling further behind the insurgents when it comes to winning sympathy or support in key regions of the country (a chart that the Pentagon laughably refers to when it wants to show “progress” to Congress, because they know Congress doesn’t actually read the reports).

Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Falling Further Behind Insurgents in "Sympathy" or "Support" Among Key Areas of Afghanistan

Here’s another quote from the same source that compares the level of violence in 2010 to the level of violence at the time depicted in the WikiLeaks material:

Violence is sharply above the seasonal average for the previous year – an 87% increase from February 2009 to March 2010.

Like everyone else, I’m still combing through the documents and reading various summaries and reactions. But I don’t even have to get through any of the WikiLeaks material to see that the president’s attempt to spin this leak as a justification of his policies is totally bankrupt. The publicly available reports from his own administration prove it–no leak required.

Fed up with this brutal, costly war that’s not making us safer? Sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition to politicians to end this war.