The Petraeus Propaganda Tour: Who supports the troops?

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

The military is working very hard to push the war on the public. US casualties were at an all time high in June, it was worse in July, and August isn’t looking any better. Still, what is General Petraeus up to? Politico reports [emphasis mine]:

After seven silent weeks, Gen. David Petraeus begins aggressive messaging on Afghanistan: David Gregory announced yesterday that he will broadcast “Meet the Press” from Kabul next Sunday, with Petraeus’ first U.S. interview since he took command in Afghanistan. That will launch a spate of appearances that are being spread out over three weeks so Americans will be more likely to hear his message, even during the August doldrums. This week, Petraeus will begin communicating with the Afghan people. Then after “Meet,” the general will do the BBC later that week. The following week, Petraeus has sit-downs with “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric, then Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin, who’s returning from breast-cancer treatment. At month’s end, George Stephanopoulos will take “Good Morning America” on the road to see the general. Major U.S. and European print and radio outlets will be sprinkled in. Then in the weeks that follow, the general plans to keep up a strong battle rhythm of engaging with the media and making his case.

But Petraeus isn’t the only one doing propaganda duty for the White House. Last week, Admiral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was on Meet the Press pushing the war policy. Check out this heart-breaking exchange [emphasis mine]:

MR. GREGORY: But true or untrue, the big fear is that Pakistan’s working against us and not with us?

ADM. MULLEN: In many ways, Pakistan is working with us. I mean, their, their military, their intelligence agency. I mean, we’ve got a very strong relationship in the positive sense with, with their intelligence agency. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some challenges with some aspects of it.

MR. GREGORY: They are actively supporting elements killing U.S. soldiers.

ADM. MULLEN: But they have, they have shared intelligence with us, they’ve killed as many or more terrorists as anybody, they’ve captured them. And certainly, the, the focus on changing the strategic shift, if you will, in that agency so that that doesn’t happen at all, is a priority for us.

Pakistan is killing Americans, and Admiral Mullen won’t even deny it. Surreal, isn’t it? So much for “support the troops.”
It’s no wonder then that so much of the opposition to the war is being led by soldiers and their families. The candidates we’ve so far spoken with have all made some very strong personal choices about their positions on the war, but they can’t hide who’s pushing them in that direction.

I’m from Iowa, with a very large contingent of national guard forces deployed for 3rd or 4th tours. This has placed tremendous strain on the military for years, and our readiness to respond to other crises is somewhat limited because of our engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s time to start drawing down both efforts.[…]

In my district, folks are very concerned about the safety and security of troops, and they believe in strong national security. The folks serving include neighbors and family members. Iowa has strong history of support for service to our country through the armed forces. I respect the sacrifice such individuals make.

She then talked about the deep cost on veteran families due to the war, saying, “The emotional and physical trauma that we’ve seen from this war is really just the tip of the iceberg. I’m very concerned as to the emotional and physical state of these folks coming home.” She also said that when she talks to people in her state about her stance, she gets a lot of respect: “People say, ‘I appreciate your stance, I appreciate you talking about it, I appreciate that you’re looking at more than just the headlines.”

First, across the country, districts like this carry the burden of the war in a visceral way. When I’m in a room, I ask folks if they are veterans or if they’re related to people currently serving – it’s almost the entire room. So, on a very personal level, these people are asking, “What are we accomplishing over there?” A lot of families ask their own family members that are over there this question.

The military is trying to tell us something. Ignore the propaganda from their leaders, our soldiers and their families have some very real questions about the war. Why are we spending so much money over there when we can’t even create jobs at home? Why are our soldiers dying from ISI and Pakistan Army sponsored suicide attacks while we give Pakistan over $1 billion in aid? Why are we rebuilding Afghanistan instead of America?

And it’s not just about the sacrifices they’re making in the war, our troops are also in danger when they come home.

Washington – The suicide rate in the US army now exceeds the rate across the US as a whole, with an increasing number of active duty soldiers taking their lives due to stress, according to a in-depth army study into the effect of nine years of war on its troops.

If deaths associated with high-risk behaviours – including drink-driving and drug overdoses – are taken into account, more soldiers are dying by their own hand than in combat, the report found.

How many soldiers will we lose in Afghanistan while General Petraeus is on his propaganda tour? How many more will take their own lives while Petraeus steps up his “battle rhythm” against the press? How many interviews with Katie Couric and George Stephanopoulos will it take for Petraeus to make the war palatable to that family in Iowa or Missouri or North Carolina, the family who lost or is about to lose their son or daughter to an ISI suicide bomber or PTSD?

Enough with the CIA-inspired TIME magazine covers and these glitzy wall-to-wall propaganda tours. It’s time we started listening to the folks who’ve shouldered the biggest burden in this war, the military itself.  Pay attention to what they’re saying:

They’re very clear. The war isn’t worth it. If we knew what they know, we wouldn’t be in Afghanistan right now. It’s time to support the troops.
We can do our part to support the troops by forcing their civilian leaders to end the war. Sign our Petition declaring “I vote and I demand my elected officials end this war.” Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page, and be sure to check out the Meetups in your area.
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