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Manufacturing consent (Afghan edition)

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I’m disturbed by the consensus-building the media are doing ahead of Obama’s Afghanistan speech. It obviously reflects a new conventional wisdom, and good liberals are engaged in the toil. We all watched the same process during the buildup to the Iraq war. And I imagine the same thing happened during Vietnam. A set of beliefs took hold. They were furthered by sage public counselors, who were more protective of their position than the public interest.

Two statements have upset me. Last week Rick Hertzberg of the New Yorker was on Chris Matthews, and put in the unfortunate position of arguing for Obama’s troop injection opposite Dennis Kucinich, as I recall. Hertzberg said in so many words, Well it’s a very confusing situation and I can’t claim to know as much as the guides whom Obama has sought out. So I defer to them. I found it disturbing because Hertzberg is a real smart cookie, and here he was saying, I will have no independent judgment, even if I find this unsettling, because these guys know more than I do. Actually, this is precisely when smart independent people have to stand up and say (as Matthews has), Wait, no, this doesn’t pass the smell test. I’ve been reading Herzl and Tolstoy lately; both these observers of court life make it clear that the councils of the great are far less intelligent than we think they are. No, they’re ordinary boobs, stumbling around with half-truths.

Then this morning I heard Cokie Roberts on NPR softening the way for the Obama push by comparing him to George Washington at the time of the end of the Revolutionary War. Washington had to hold an army together after an 8 year war that had drained public patience while the peace was negotiated in England. He did so from West Point, Roberts said–as Obama is speaking at West Point. And now patience is required again.

I wonder who supplied this historical hokum to Roberts; and I won’t begin to tear apart the failures of the analogy. Roberts was mythologizing Obama to make his decision that much more palatable to the liberals who listen to NPR.

There’s only one answer to this. Bring back the draft. Force the elites, who construct conventional wisdom as a kind of parlor game, to experience something of the pain that we are forcing on a new soldier class in our society. Then there would be a more vigorous and open conversation.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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