In the final days of a midterm campaign, marked by hyper-bipartisanship; Tea Party warnings about how Obama was dragging America down the dark corridor of liberal fascism; an astounding display of issues based on the American public’s fears of Muslims, Arabs, Latinos, gay couples, soldiers, medical marijuana, mosques, “Obama-care,” vague charges of higher taxes; and Obama’s alleged plan to turn this country into a socialist state, the president decided to make a high-profile pitch six days before the election.
Appearing on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, the president joined a small pantheon of acting and former heads of state like Pervez Musharraf, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Evo Morales and Bill Clinton to sit down for some casual conversation peppered with quips and yuks.
After almost a full minute of wildly enthusiastic applause from an audience that probably still has their “HOPE” bumper stickers, the president took a seat across from Stewart for a mostly jovial back-and-forth in which Obama spoke about health care reform, financial regulatory reform, insurance premiums, the misuse of the filibuster, negative campaign ads, stabilizing the stock market, staggering job losses and a fragile economy that marked what he called “the two toughest years of any time since the Great Depression.”
And, yet, there was one subject that was never discussed, not even in passing, during the 25-minute interview. That’s right – you guessed it – the $1.1 trillion invisible campaign issue, America’s pernicious nine-year-old War on Terror (oh yeah, the war … ).
Stewart asked the president if he was surprised that “even [his] base can be disappointed” and yet he never once uttered the words “Afghanistan,” “Iraq” or “Pakistan.” The complete lack of even an oblique reference to what both Obama and Bush have made the centerpiece of their foreign policy, if not their entire presidency, is pretty remarkable, but sadly indicative of how, after a decade of war with close to 6,000 American troops killed, almost 50,000 American soldiers still in Iraq, nearly 100,000 in Afghanistan and an undeclared, virtually unscrutinized predator drone war in Pakistan that has more than tripled in number of strikes since Obama took office, it doesn’t even merit a mention in an interview with the commander in chief less than a week before midterm elections.
One can only assume that the White House offered Stewart a one-on-one with Obama on the condition that there was to be absolutely no mention of the wars, the troops, terror threats, predator drones, Guantanamo, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Iran, North Korea, or anything with even the slightest whiff of war.
It’s hard to imagine a sitting American president going on any television talk show less than a week before midterm elections without setting some sort of topic guidelines. And if that’s the case, would you blame Stewart for accepting some restrictions in order to get the biggest of Big Cheeses onto his stage?
But if that was not the case, then why would Stewart completely ignore the war in Afghanistan, which earlier this year he called “a losing battle“?
The problem here goes far beyond an overly padded joust-lite between the president and the comedian. The problem is really with all of us – the people who vote, pay taxes and ultimately fund these wars. The real question isn’t why didn’t Stewart press Obama on the wars, but why aren’t we?
In case you haven’t noticed how few Americans are making any noise about the wars, The New York Times reported on it last week.
This kind of selective blindness to the $1.1 trillion armed gorilla in the room isn’t restricted to voters. Pick a few of your favorite Congressional candidates (difficult, I know …) and go to their campaign web site and look under “Issues.” Where are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or even Iran listed, and what do they say? Here are a few examples of what is and isn’t being said about the wars.
Harry Reid (D-Nevada): Nothing on the wars, just a section labeled “Veterans.”
Sharron Angel (R- Nevada): Under “National Security and Public Protection” – “Sharron Angle is a staunch supporter of the U.S. military and will work tirelessly to secure the peace and security of our country. She supports strong sanctions against rogue nations that export, support or harbor terrorism and believes that we must do whatever necessary to protect America from terrorism.”
Barbara Boxer (D-California): Sections for agriculture, Armenian community, LGBT, seniors, and 16 other issues, but nothing on the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
Carly Fiorina (R- California): Under “Protecting America” – “Carly also views defeating the terrorist threat in Afghanistan as an imperative that requires military commitment, economic development and diplomatic energy. To achieve victory, it is critically important to continue listening to our commanders on the ground and to stay until our job is done.” There is no mention of Iraq or Pakistan.
And in my home state of Hawaii, this from the web site of incumbent Republican Congressman Charles Djou under “National Security” – “… I understand that we must combat terrorism where it is found, whether in Iran, the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions or in industrialized cities around the world …”
His Democratic opponent, Hawaii State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa writes (under “Afghanistan“) – “We need to understand that our nation’s public policy focus in Afghanistan is very different from that of Iraq … I support President Obama’s decision to send over 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to assist existing forces in stabilizing the region. While I have always had grave concerns about our military involvement, especially when lacking a clear purpose or clear exit plan, I recognize that for us to be able to accomplish our goals in the Middle East we need to provide our men and women of the Armed Forces with the resources and numbers they need. The sobering reality is that 9/11 did occur and it could very well happen again. We need take all reasonable actions necessary to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Wow. With a position like that, who needs the GOP? But at least she and Djou mention the wars. That’s more that can be said for most of us, including President Obama and Stewart.
One person who hasn’t overlooked the wars is Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Speaking on CNN the day before the Obama-Stewart bit, she referred to the underreporting of WikiLeaks’ largest classified military leak in history saying, “war is an election issue … I think it’s why Obama is president today.” Goodman said that Obama’s Afghanistan surge may play a role in possible Democratic losses in the elections.
Unlike most politicians, pundits and media, Amy Goodman does make the connection between the wars and our anemic economy. “You relate [the wars] directly to jobs at home,” she said, “You’re talking about billions of dollars, actually $3-5 trillion according to Nobel economist Joe Stiglitz, is being spent on these wars … We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs that could [be had] by people in this country with some of the highest unemployment rates we’ve ever seen, if we weren’t spending this money in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
On the very day Obama and Stewart were not discussing the wars, the Department of Justice announced yet another arrest of a US citizen, this time suspected of plotting an attack planting bombs in the Washington, DC, Metrorail system. But where are the voices pointing out the very obvious cause-and-effect relationship between our war making and those seeking vengeance against us? (Sound of wind blowing …) We continue on our reckless journey with scarcely a whisper of dissent.
Never mind the latest WikiLeaks documents indicate an additional 15,000 Iraqi civilians (five times the number killed on 9/11) died violently during the war launched by the 2003 US invasion.
Never mind that Aaron Glantz recently reported between 2005 – 2008, three times as many veterans died or committed suicide shortly after returning from war than in the war itself.
Never mind that US military “kill teams” are being charged with random murders and collecting their Afghan victims’ body parts as trophies.
And never mind the hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers whose killings and disfigurement go unreported or are reduced to a momentary blip on the screen in the wake of the wars we are fighting, or the unpredictable number of people we are inspiring to attack our country from without and within.
War is what we do and once it’s underway, it appears American politicians, the public and media see increasingly little need or desire to discuss or debate it, lest we distract ourselves from planning the next war looming on the horizon.
Turning back to review the transcript of the Obama-Stewart interview using the edit and find functions, I discovered that “war” does in fact appear 52 times in the interview – as part of the words “forward,” “reward” and, of course, “Stewart.”
Since 2001, Democrats and Republicans alike have encouraged, enabled and ignored our wanton war making, squandering hundreds of thousands of lives, destroying families, homes, communities and even countries while eviscerating our own economy and social infrastructure. It is unconscionable that we, the citizens who vote and pay taxes to this government should remain mute, distracted or apathetic, saying and doing nothing, as if the whole thing has been forgotten or, worse yet, simply accepted as just the way America does business in the 21st century.