I read in the paper that you don’t care about Afghanistan

According to the New York Times and Congressman Joe Sestak, most people really aren't concerned about the war in Afghanistan. What do you think?

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.

I’m not perfect. I don’t get everything right, not by a long shot. For example, remember my optimistic response to Thomas Ruttig’s pessimistic report on the Kabul Peace Jirga? Turns out I was super wrong about that. I understand this blogosphere of ours is an open debate, and I’m willing to reassess how I may have misjudged whatever the situation is on any given day.

So when I see a headline in the New York Times like “In Midterm Elections, Afghan War Barely Surfaces“, something that directly contradicts my analysis, I’m more than happy to take a look and see what we have to learn.

According to my reading of the facts, the movement to end the war in Afghanistan is exploding. Congress is slowly waking up it, and we’ve seen triple the votes to block the war from what we saw just last year. A few more votes like that and it’s over. Not only that, but I’m hearing directly from candidates that their constituents are very interested in the war in Afghanistan.

Here’s Elaine Marshall, candidate for Senate in North Carolina [emphasis mine]:

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.”

And there’s Tommy Sowers, running for the House of Representatives in Missouri [emphasis mine]:

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.

Second, on a fiscal level, this district has suffered under Republican incumbent rule in terms of infrastructure. There’s great concern about the debt, and people ask, “Why are we spending so much money over there?”

But maybe the folks in Missouri and North Carolina are just weird, anomalous Americans, and don’t really count to the New York Times. Fine, the article in question focuses on Pennsylvania. Let’s see what the voters there have to say [emphasis mine]:

Asked what he considers the major issues in this year’s midterm Congressional elections, Claude Nicolas, 24, paused from munching on a sushi roll and crisply ticked off three: jobs, the economy and immigration.

The war in Afghanistan? “Wow, I didn’t think of that,” he replied, almost sheepishly. “That’s definitely a factor of how not on the public radar it is. It’s gone on so long people are tired of it.” […]

Norman Stellander, a resident of this Philadelphia suburb who usually votes Republican, exemplifies the general lack of interest in the war. Mr. Stellander lost his job with a medical publishing company in June, and the only issue that really matters to him is the economy.

At the bottom of the article, there’s a photo of some buff dude carrying a hot bikini blonde along a beach, inviting us to read about “36 hours in East Hampton.” Well, you might not see it, because there’s also an annoying pop-up asking if you want to read the 600 words they paid some guy to write about the “frenzy” over Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. Clearly the New York Times has their finger firmly on the pulse of Pennsylvania voters, like the unemployed Stellander who, again, lists his number one concern as “the economy.”

Sadly, the reporter does not appear to have followed up and explained to Stellander that the war and the economy are inseparable issues.

And there’s the rub. This doesn’t seem to be an instance of people not caring about the war, it’s that they were allowed to forget about it. The mainstream media, typically exemplified by, oh I don’t know, the New York Times, isn’t doing a good enough job of covering the war in Afghanistan, at least relative to the gravity of the situation. The New York Times explains [emphasis mine]:

An analysis of major news reports between January 2007 and July 2010 by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that Afghanistan ranked sixth in total coverage by print, online, television and radio outlets, well behind the presidential campaign, the economic crisis, the health care debate and Iraq.

Hmm. Now why do you suppose Nr. Nicolas forgot about the war in Afghanistan? Why was it off the public’s radar? Remember what the people of North Carolina said to Elaine Marshall? “I appreciate that you’re looking at more than just the headlines.” Just like the connection between the war and the economy, the New York Times fails to make the connection between people forgetting about the war and their terrible coverage of that war.

But this doesn’t just cover voters’ perceptions. Candidates themselves are also twisted by the piss-poor mainstream media coverage of the war in Afghanistan. Check out who makes an appearance in that New York Times article: None other than the outsider, anti-establishment, insurgent candidate himself, Navy Admiral turned Congressman Joe Sestak. [emphasis mine]

Representative Joe Sestak, a Democrat who is in a tight race for the United States Senate in Pennsylvania, said it was not a top-of-mind issue for voters he meets.

“The way people have been slammed by the economy, the documents might cause the war to move from the fifth or sixth question I get to the fourth,” he said.

But Mr. Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral, said he hoped the leaks would prod the Obama administration to do a better job of explaining its goals in Afghanistan and to establish benchmarks for progress.

The public does have doubts about the strategy,” he said. “Let’s answer their questions.”

Yes, Joe, let’s answer their questions. We can start with “Congressman, why, just this last Wednesday, did you vote yes for $33 billion dollars in order to continue using our soldiers as pawns in an Afghan civil war?” Or maybe “Why did you vote yes to add $33 billion directly to the deficit at a time when congress is seriously discussing cutting critical programs like Medicare and Social Security in order to reduce our debt?”

And remember, Joe, the New York Times isn’t going to help you, so you’ll have to make sure the voters are fully aware of where you stand on the war in Afghanistan. You can just drop it right into your stump speech. Something like “Citizens of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, I am running to be your Senator because I agree with President Obama that our troops should continue to be fighting and dying in a proxy war with Pakistan’s Army and intelligence services. I absolutely believe that we need to blowout the deficit by supporting trillion-dollar wars that make all of you less safe.” You know, you have speech writers, they can figure something out.

You have to tell the voters where you stand, Joe. You have to tell them that you’re voting to continuing the war. Then you might discover that the war is the first question people ask you about, not the sixth or fourth.

But again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s all in my imagination that both the Democratic and Republican parties are shifting dramatically against the war. Maybe people just don’t care about the war in Afghanistan.

What do you think? Is the New York Times and Joe Sestak right, do you really not care about the longest war in American history? Are you really not interested in adding trillions of dollars straight to the deficit for wars that put us in danger and wreak havoc on our economy? The thousands of dead Americans, Afghans, and Pakistanis, the unworkable bureaucratic garbage of our veterans care system, the countless suicides when that system fails our troops – these things won’t be weighing on you when you enter the voting booth this fall?

If I’m not wrong, and you are actually concerned about our war in Afghanistan, sign our petition declaring “I vote and I demand my elected official end this war by December 2011.” Join us on Rethink Afghanistan’s Facebook page, and be sure to check out the Meetups in your area.

Together we’ll help Congressman Sestak and others get the message: End the war in Afghanistan, or there will be consequences in November.

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