The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Afghan Surge Ends: Not with a Bang but a Whimper

The U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, which began in 2009, ended this week. As the Times aptly notes, the conclusion of one of Obama’s biggest military endeavors has come and gone with little fanfare. The president is doubtless happy about this, as the mission has been far from an unqualified success:

The milestone, which still leaves 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan, went nearly unremarked here, with no statement from President Hamid Karzai or the United States military commander, Gen. John R. Allen, or even from the American ambassador. It was announced on the other side of the planet, by the American secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta, during a visit to New Zealand. . .

We should all be very glad that we have a Democratic president right now; otherwise the news would be terrible. We would be seeing a rash of horrible and depressing stories in the newspapers about strategic failure, with unremitting second guessing and belittling of a  president who agonized for months before the surge and then saw his plan fail. We’d be hearing non-stop reports in the media about the incompetent and klutzy leader who torpedoed his own policy by announcing a withdrawal date; the man who tried to please everybody and do everything—and failed at all he tried.

The press would be jumping on this narrative. There would be continuous coverage of the disarray in Afghanistan: the soldier’s we’re training are shooting us, the corruption is intensifying, and the opium trade spreading. There would be story after story about how Afghanistan seems little changed after the surge, and how peace is still not at hand. These stories wouldn’t be on the back pages; they’d be perceived as major news with profound implications for America’s global position and the Sunday shows and nightly TV news round ups would be full of talking heads endlessly analyzing each wrinkle of the failure.

There would be bitter, wounding comparisons between the president and LBJ in Vietnam. If we had a conservative Republican president right now, we’d be hearing him compared to the noble Duke of York, who marched 10,000 men to the top of the hill only to march them down again.

And we’d be hearing all kinds of damning stories about the failure of the U.S. government to deal with the chaos in Pakistan.

We’d also be reading stories linking the apparent U.S. failure in Afghanistan to the empowerment of anti-American movements throughout the Middle East. The recent riots would be used as a stick to beat the president with—his weakness, indecision and strategic inconsequentialism in Afghanistan would be endangering our interests all over the region. Instead of concentrating on the real terror threat, the press would tell us, this hypothetical clueless Republican president wasted time, treasure and attention on a failed strategy in Afghanistan. The press would try to hang the corpse of the U.S. ambassador in Libya around the neck of a Republican president, if we had one right now.

But thankfully we have a Democratic president, and in an election year the normally feisty American media—the same media that worked night and day to expose every flaw and contradiction in the Bush policies in the region (and they had plenty to expose)—is too busy reporting the flaws in the Romney campaign (again, there’s much to report) to pay attention to anything as insignificant as a comprehensively failed presidential strategy in a foreign war.

So the news is upbeat, and there are no connections being made.

Via Meadia salutes the brave U.S. military personnel who served ably and professionally in the surge. We remember the fallen and the wounded. The 68,000 still serving and their families are in our thoughts and prayers. And we are deeply grateful that with a Democratic president running for re-election, the press has decided to pay as little attention as possible to bad news overseas. Otherwise, our morning news read would be depressing, and nobody likes a downer.

Published on September 21, 2012 2:30 pm