Election 2010: Media Marching Orders on Afghanistan

How to protect the media's election narrative on, or in spite of, the war in Afghanistan.

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.

Congratulations media, you’ve had a very successful couple of weeks. Your control over the public discourse is strong. Rand Paul’s cretaceous values are balanced and justified by saying there’s not a lot of black folks in Kentucky. A former Navy admiral and current US congressman is a Washington outsider. And to complete the hat trick, you scored the complete partisan insurgency narrative. That means you get to trash both parties as going through some kind of ideological purge. Too progressive! Not conservative enough! What does that mean, and what does it have to do with actual issues and real policy? Who cares, right? Bor-ing! You completely blocked the issue of the war in Afghanistan.

Now this is a big accomplishment, for sure. But you’ve made a lot of good people fighting for real change look like jerks for carrying water for your narrative, so you’re going to want to protect it very carefully. Accordingly, here are a couple things you should avoid in your narrative. Moving forward with the idea that the war supporting candidates you choose to cover are somehow against the status quo is going to be very tricky, so make sure to follow these instructions explicitly. We can’t blow the whole operation and have everybody actually engaged in civics, Western Civilization would collapse. With that, here are your marching orders:

DON’T mention the cost of war is $1 trillion, trillions more in indirect costs, and is a major factor in our economic and debt crises.

You don’t want people knowing about all the things that money could pay for. Things are much easier when you tell Republicans that a trillion dollars in debt is small government, fiscal conservatism. Democrats need to think President Obama is fixing the economy by disemboweling it with a massive, off-budget spending spree for war. If you absolutely must discuss the cost of war, please only do it in the stupidest, inaccurate way possible, like complaining that troops get paid too much.

DON’T talk about any of these candidates who oppose the war.

Initial members of the Coalition Against War Spending (being added to at http://warisacrime.org/caws ) are:

Candidates for U.S. House of Representatives:
Nick Coons, AZ-05, Tempe/Scottsdale, Libertarian
Rebecca Schneider, AZ-06, Phoenix, Democrat
Carol Wolman, CA-01, northwest corner, Green
Clint Curtis, CA-04, northeast corner, Democrat
Ben Emery, CA-04, Nevada City, Green
Mark Williams, CA-12, San Carlos, Libertarian
Mary V. Larkin, CA-17, Monterey, Libertarian
Les Marsden, CA-19, Yosemite/Mariposa, Democrat
Randall Weissbuch, CA-26, Arcadia, Libertarian
Marcy Winograd, CA-36, Los Angeles, Democrat
William Hedrick, CA-44, Riverside/San Clemente, Democrat
Ken Arnold, CA-46, Orange and L.A., Democrat
Mike Paster, CA-49, Fallbrook, Libertarian
Tracy Emblem, CA-50, San Diego, Democrat
Michael Benoit, CA-52, San Diego, Libertarian
Gary Swing, CO-01, Denver, Green
G. Scott Deshefy, CT-02, New London, Green
Doug Tudor, FL-12, Riverview et al, Democrat
Marleine Bastien, FL-17, North Miami, Democrat
Regina Thomas, GA-12, Savannah, Democrat
Matt Reichel, IL-05, Chicago, Green
Bill Scheurer, IL-08, Lindenhurst, Green / Independent
Rodger Jennings, IL-12, Alton, Green
Doug Marks, IL-14, Carpentersville, Libertarian
Sheldon Schafer, IL-18, Peoria, Green
John Wayne Cunningham, IN-08, Terre Haute, Libertarian
James E. “Jim” Holbert, KY-05, London, Democrat
Peter White, MA-10, Cape Cod, Independent
Michael Cavlan, MN-05, Minneapolis, Independent Progressive
Kevin Craig, MO-07, Springfield, Libertarian
Thomas Hill, NC-08, Fayetteville, Libertarian
Lon Cecil, NC-12, High Point, Libertarian
Jonathan Tasini, NY-15, New York City, Democrat
Emin Eddie Egriu, NY-28, Buffalo, Democrat
Ebert G. Beeman, PA-03, Lake Erie, Libertarian
Vernon Etzel, PA-05, Oil City, Libertarian
Ed Bortz, PA-14, Pittsburgh, Green
David Segal, RI-01, Democrat
Eric Schechter, TN-05, Nashville, Democrat
Martin Nitschke, TX-23, El Paso to San Antonio, Libertarian
John Jay Myers, TX-32, Dallas, Libertarian
Claudia Wright, UT-02, Salt Lake City, Democrat
Ron Fisher, VA-08, Arlington, Independent Green/Progressive
Larry Kalb, WA-02, northwest corner, Democrat
Diana McGinness, WA-02, Bellingham, Democrat
Roy Olson, WA-09, Olympia, Green

Candidates for U.S. Senate:
Duane Roberts, CA, Green
John Finger, CO, Libertarian
Bob Kinsey, CO, Green
Cecile Lawrence, NY, Green
Mel Packer, PA, Green
Ben Masel, WI, Democrat (2012)

You need to think small. Three candidates last week were a full blown grassroots insurgency to you. These 53 (and counting) candidates would make your narrative look ridiculous. If three people who support the war are anti-establishment, what do you call 53 candidates who oppose the trillion dollar price tag? If Joe Sestak is the fringe, where do you think any of these candidates will be in your story? Just think about all the real grassroots movements, the constant, concerted effort it takes to field 53 candidates, across the political spectrum, all focusing their attention on the war. Those thoughts can be ruinous to your control over the debate, so banish them. You don’t know what democracy looks like, so keep it that way. Only stick to safe, pro-war candidates (the 3 or so of them you have).

DON’T talk about the havoc we’re wreaking on the military. Don’t mention the death toll is at 1,000 (and is skyrocketing), that we’re destroying their health, or that they have a terrible strategy and no alternative. Just keep patting them on the head, telling them, “you’re doing a super job, buddy,” and then sending them off to do a task you know they can’t do but will thanklessly die trying to do. Don’t mention that non-military development works, or that even the slightest association with the military in Afghanistan is enough to destroy entire families. And no matter what, definitely don’t talk about the suicides – the many, many, seemingly endless suicides. Support the troops, just don’t pay any attention to them. It’s a real bummer, and you’ve got a long campaign to cover. Keep happy thoughts – they’re heroes!

, and maybe in this case that isn’t strong enough, never allow Afghan voices on your media. They can be exotic aliens, Muslim fanatics, backwards tribalists, and genetically pre-disposed, xenophobic foreigner-killing machines. But they cannot be allowed to express themselves or have their own voice. They require foreign interference. They can’t be trusted to tell their own story. The same thing goes for Pakistan. Only allow debate to focus on whether we should be more aggressive with Pakistan, more assassinations and kidnappings, maybe some invading troops. Just ignore any notions about democracy. They have nukes and they’re Muslim, end of story. These are massively important foreign policy issues, some of them blatantly illegal, so no way can you let the people most affected by them anywhere near your media. You’ll need that airtime to fact-check Colbert or something (horse race!). And anyway, we need to be able to parachute in un-sophisticated westerners to “embed” for like a day and a half and score sweet Twitpics of them posing in flak jackets in front of tanks, and soldiers behind a wall firing and/or reloading their machine gun for the nine zillionth time. That’s what war has to look like, otherwise we’ll see the icky parts and not want to spend all our blood and treasure on them. And that’s bad.

DON’T let people know how much power they have. If they feel isolated and powerless, they’ll eagerly swallow whatever pill you’re selling. They’re an insurgent because they voted for Rand Paul. Good for them. The best way for them to show they’re angry at broken government is supporting a trillion dollar, murderous occupation in Afghanistan. You don’t want them to know there is an entire congressional caucus devoted to ending the war. Those are incumbents! Gross! Don’t mention that these slick Washington fat cats are working hard on bills to end the war and return the money to the American people. Don’t talk about the Feingold bill in the senate, the McGovern bill calling for an exit timetable, the impending $33 billion supplemental vote that many members of congress are prepared to vote against entirely. Don’t mention that pressure works. You can’t let people know they have the power to reach out and grab a hold of their elected officials. Grab them and force them to accomplish real change. If they knew they could just pick up a phone and dial (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to their representative, your entire enterprise of access and privilege would crumble overnight. Why play your “who’s voting for who?” game when they can pressure their representatives whether they voted for them or their opponent? Maintain that this is impossible.

Finally, you’ll want to stay completely away from Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page. If you were shocked and dumbfounded by health care town halls and the Tea Party movement, the tens of thousands of people working to end the war there on Facebook would just blow your mind. Acknowledging the vibrancy and diversity of the peace movement more broadly would destroy even your strongest efforts at “fair and balancing” the left/right paradigm. There are libertarians and conservatives, progressives and liberals, independents, moderates, and hardliners. All of them working together and working hard across party and ideological lines. Not even the most craven plutocrat lobbyist skulking in the bars and brothels of DC could water down that movement to some kind of partisan fringe.

And there are your instructions. Follow these exactly, and with any luck, you the media will remain stupid and this war will go on, destroying our country and theirs, for years and years to come.