Recent reporting by the New York Times has helped create the idea that Obama's escalation in Afghanistan equals an exit strategy. My observation is based on a review of New York Times articles that ran just before and just after Obama's December 1st address at the West Point military academy.
Beginning in reverse, the December 6th Sunday edition of the New York Times ran a story entitled How Obama Came to Plan for Surge' in Afghanistan. The article chronicles Obama's rigorous decision-making process about the Afghanistan strategy. The story is replete with inner circle debates, discussions about the estimated one-trillion dollar cost, statements by Axlerod, Clinton, Gates, Biden, and McChrystal, and somber reflections over the fallen servicemen and women. Readers are left with an image of Obama as the anti-Bush: a president who seeks inclusive discussion about the toughest decisions while also taking complete responsibility for the final say. There's even reference to a book about the Vietnam War that was required reading within the inner circle. It would be tough for any American not to appreciate this image of Obama. Is this not the president we have been waiting for after eight years of Bush's cowboy diplomacy?
But scratch below the surface and you begin to realize that the Times article is justifying Obama's Afghanistan strategy. By explaining the long, tedious decision process the article implies that Obama has in fact made the best decision possible. Within the context of this article, a complicated and drawn out decision equals a good decision. This does make sense since most good decisions do take time. But the article never addresses some of the underlying assumptions about the war that it is a just war; that Afghanistan is in fact the heart of terrorism; that al Qaeda still poses an impending threat; that president Hamid Karzai actually seeks a legitimate government; that this war is winnable; and that an immediate withdrawal is neither feasible nor sensible. While the article discusses the debates over how to handle the war, it ignores any opposition to the war itself. It provides three scant sentences toward the end, which read: "Mr. Obama met with Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker and a critic of the Afghan war. The president outlined his plans for the buildup without disclosing specific numbers. Ms. Pelosi was unenthusiastic and pointedly told the president that he could not rely on Democrats alone to pass financing for the war. The article never addresses why Nancy Pelosi or anyone else opposes the war.
This particular article is only one piece to a larger puzzle. Other articles earlier in the week set the stage for Obama's escalation equals exit deception.
For instance, on Monday, November 30th, the day before Obama's speech, the Times' lead article was Obama's Speech on Afghanistan to Envision Exit. Because I receive the Times via email, there is always a one sentence-tagline to every article. The tagline to this article read: President Obama plans to lay out a timetable for U.S. involvement in the Afghan war when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, officials said. The word timetable suggests an exit strategy, which suggests that we are getting ready to leave. But that's wrong. We are escalating not leaving.
On Tuesday, December 1st, the day of the speech, the Times' lead article was Obama Issues Order for More Troops in Afghanistan. Overall, I see no problem with the headline, tagline, or article; it was simply an overview of Obama's forthcoming speech.