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The Grand Rapids Press and the Afghanistan Narrative

October 29, 2009

On Wednesday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front-page story from the Associated Press that dealt with the ongoing debate in Washington about whether or not the US should increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

The article is framed with the assumption that what the US and NATO military commanders are doing is to bring more stability to that country. Troop levels should increase, the reporter writes, is because there is a growing Taliban insurgency. However, nowhere in the story does it question whether or not the Taliban’s growing influence is a result of the eight-year US/NATO occupation.

The article does cite to counter-insurgency experts, Andrew Bacevich from Boston University and Ljubomir Stojadinovic, a military analyst from Serbia. The comments from both experts are vague, which is unfortunate, since Bacevich has very clear analysis of why increasing US troops levels would be problematic. Recently, Bacevich was sourced as saying:


Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy:  maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis. The McChrystal plan modestly updates these fundamentals to account for the lessons of 9/11 and Iraq, cultural awareness and sensitivity nudging aside advanced technology as the signature of American military power, for example. Yet at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose – despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq – is to preserve the status quo. . . .

If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths – costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.

As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That “keeping Americans safe” obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.

The Press version of the article also omits roughly two-thirds of the original AP story. In addition, there is a box embedded in the article that directs readers to an additional story with the heading, “US officials say militants trying to scare Afghans from voting.” This article affirms the premise that whatever problems confront Afghanistan civil society is due to the behavior of the Taliban and continues a narrative that supports current US policy, which is the same conclusion we came to with a recent 100-day study.

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