The call announcement included this: "The narrative so far is that the left is against sending more troops and the right is for it," said Jim Arkedis, Director of the National Security Project at the Progressive Policy Institute. "But that's not the reality of the situation. There are reasons for progressives to take heart from much of the President's new strategy, as well as reasons to tread carefully. We want to make sure all those voices are heard."
This made me quite interested so I dialed in. The call began with everyone in the audience on mute as the following people made opening statements.
* Rachel Kleinfeld, CEO, Truman National Security Project
* Jim Arkedis, Director of the National Security Project, Progressive Policy
* Gen. Paul Eaton (Ret.), Senior Adviser, National Security Network
* Andy Johnson, Director, Third Way National Security Program
* Lorelei Kelly, Director, New Strategic Security Initiative
* Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress
* Frankie Sturm, Communications Director, Truman National Security Project (Moderator)
Frankly I had never heard of any of these people before and I've been working in the "progressive movement" for the past 30 years. A couple of the organizations they work for I had heard a bit about - they are DC-based "think tanks" that usually are heavily funded by corporations to project their message.
Here is a bit of what some of them said in the opening:
Rachel Kleinfeld: "Thrilled by last night's speech....it's a realistic goal we have been given...dismayed that progressives don't see that this will reduce the violence of this war."
Jim Arkedis: Described himself as a former counter-terrorism analyst at the Pentagon....."Think of the US like an NFL defense....by adopting this counter-insurgency strategy it essentially takes the other sides offense off the field.....this is about peace and stability." He slammed Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who was on the news this morning criticizing the plan as being from the "far left."
Lorelei Kelly: "Progressives need to abandon the old talking points from Iraq and Vietnam....progressives need to get inside this debate, President Obama is trying to create a new way....these policies need support....The American military is probably the most progressive agency we have today."
One of them brought up CodePink's recent visit to Afghanistan and subsequent statements made by Media Benjamin to say that some peace groups understand that we need to stay there and stabilize the country. Another called Obama's plan the "full spectrum approach" that progressives must support - we "need the military" to get to a positive conclusion.
Finally they unmuted the listeners and then opened it up for "questions". I didn't ask a question but instead read a quote from the Robert Scheer article which came from former Marine captain Matthew Hoh where he said, "In the course of my five months of service in Afghanistan...I have lost understanding and confidence in the strategic purpose of the United States' presence in Afghanistan... I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul."
A woman listener from West Virginia (CodePink) said she had family killed in these wars and they need to stop. A woman from Georgia said we need to end the wars. A man from upstate New York said they were organizing protests and that Obama had betrayed us.
Next they put us on mute again and told us that we could only ask questions and that we'd better be good. When they unmuted I accused them of trying to silence the voices of the people as it was clear that they only wanted us on the call to listen to the talking points put out by the White House.
I know this is true because last spring I did a couple blogs about the Obama administration daily sending out talking points to groups like these that today hosted this "conference call". You can see one such story about this by Jermey Scahill here
One of the groups mentioned by Scahill in his article is the Center for American Progress which was represented on the call today as one of the "expert" speakers.
While on the call I quickly did an Internet search on the Truman National Security Project just to see what I could learn about them. Their advisory board stands out like a sore thumb:
Madeleine K. Albright
Principal, The Albright Group LLC