President Obama is justified in brushing aside the classified war documents posted on Wikileaks as less than a revelation for the nation’s political discussion, while also deploring their boon to the enemy and the increased danger to our soldiers and allies. Most experts who have reviewed the documents agree with the President.
The trove of classified war documents, however, is impossible-to-ignore authoritative evidence. But of what? The implications are open to interpretation, and eager opponents of the Afghanistan mission are already spinning the data to press their case for hasty American and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. For much the same reason that Afghanistan’s opponents tout the leak as game-changing, Wikileaks has given President Obama the opportunity to hold a long-overdue frank discussion with the American people about Afghanistan and the War on Terror.
The President, like his predecessor, has opted to deflect the most disturbing parts of the Afghanistan mission from the American people. Doing so perhaps has protected the mission from reaching a tipping point of popular opposition, but it has also undermined popular understanding of the war and its stakes. As a result, as some war veterans have commented sarcastically, the military has been at war since 9/11, while the country has been at the mall.
In the long run for a long war, an inadequate understanding of the war by the American people cannot sustain the level of national commitment we need to succeed. The media is already reporting growing discontent with Obama’s Afghanistan “Surge”, despite that the execution stage of the President’s strategy has barely begun. It’s time for President Obama to put away the platitudes he inherited from President Bush. Instead, Obama should hold a Melian dialogue with the American people to explain the war’s harsh realities and complexity according to his context as our nation’s leader, so we can deliberately weigh the alternatives as he must. Now that the secrets are in the open, the President can fully make the case that the War on Terror deserves our dogged determination for the foreseeable future because of, not despite, the grim struggle.
A favorite quote of mine from Esquire writer Tom Junod explains the challenge of sustaining America’s will to win at war and the essence of the Wikileaks affair:
The moral certainty that makes war possible is certain only to unleash moral havoc, and moral havoc becomes something the nation has to rise above. We can neither win a war nor save the national soul if all we seek is to remain unsullied–pristine. Anyway, we are well beyond that now. The question is not, and has never been, whether we can fight a war without perpetrating outrages of our own. The question is whether the rightness of the American cause is sufficient not only to justify war but to withstand war’s inevitable outrages. The question is whether–if the cause is right–we are strong enough to make it remain right in the foggy moral battleground of war.
President Bush allowed his narrative of the War on Terror to be drowned out. The Wikileaks leak has given President Obama the opportunity to convince the American people our cause in Afghanistan is still right and we are strong enough to make it remain right in the foggy moral battleground of war.
Posted on 28 Jul 2010