This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
“War is peace” was one of the memorable slogans on the facade of the Ministry of Truth, Minitrue, in “Newspeak,” the language invented by George Orwell in 1948 for his dystopian novel 1984. Some sixty years later, a quarter-century after Orwell’s imagined future bit the dust, the phrase is, in a number of ways, eerily applicable to the United States.
Last week, for instance, a New York Times front-page story by Eric Schmitt and David Sanger was headlined “Obama Is Facing Doubts in Party on Afghanistan, Troop Buildup at Issue.” It offered a modern version of journalistic Newspeak.
“Doubts,” of course, imply dissent, and in fact just the week before there had been a major break in Washington’s ranks, though not among Democrats. The conservative columnist George Will wrote a piece offering blunt advice to the Obama administration, summed up in its headline: “Time to Get Out of Afghanistan.” In our age of political and audience fragmentation and polarization, think of this as the Afghan version of Vietnam’s Cronkite moment.
The Times report on those Democratic doubts, on the other hand, represented a more typical Washington moment. Ignored, for instance, was Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold’s end-of-August call for the president to develop an Afghan withdrawal timetable. The focus of the piece was instead an upcoming speech by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He was, Schmitt and Sanger reported, planning to push back against well-placed leaks (in the Times, among other places) indicating that war commander General Stanley McChrystal was urging the president to commit 15,000 to 45,000 more American troops to the Afghan War.
Here, according to the two reporters, was the gist of Levin’s message about what everyone agrees is a “deteriorating” US position: “He was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces.”