The Runaway War (and Merchants of Doubt)

by Ariana Pekary, producer

It’s a good article, there’s no doubt about that.  Anything that starts with such a candid quotation from such a high ranking official promises to be a good read.  “’How’d I get screwed into going to this dinner?’ demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It’s a Thursday night in mid-April, and the commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is sitting in a four-star suite at the Hôtel Westminster in Paris.”


But in some important ways, the now infamous Rolling Stone article fails.  Unfortunately, for some reason the name-calling and culture of ridicule that was exposed in the magazine became a distraction from the main event: the losing war in Afghanistan. If you read the article, it’s clear that the personality disagreements were only heightened because of the growing pressure on everyone in charge of this war.  If things were going well, they’d be more forgiving of each other.  But as General McCrystal stated, Marja, the first region targeted as part of the “surge” in Afghanistan, “is a bleeding ulcer.”  The counterinsurgency strategy which he touted last fall (demanded, some might say) is spinning out of control six months into this calendar year. 


The war effort in Afghanistan hit two significant landmarks in the month of June.  First of all, nine years in, it’s now the longest war in U.S. history, outlasting Vietnam, both World Wars, and our own Civil War.  Secondly, last month was the deadliest month of all during the last nine years.  One hundred and two coalition troops have been confirmed casualties during the month of June.  That’s double the number who were killed the previous month (51 died in May), and significantly more than the second deadliest month in Afghanistan, August 2009, when 77 coalition troops died. 


Bob also talks to the authors of a new book, Merchants of Doubt. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway are historians of science and they describe how when science reveals facts that people (corporations and consumers) find inconvenient, they will find a way (even if through dubious counter-science), to disregard that scientific knowledge.  Incidentally, you can find the same “scientists” who denied that there is a link between cigarettes and cancer are the same ones that deny that carbon-based fuels contribute to global warming.  Plus, there is a group of people (consumers) who are inclined go along with those denials.


In the course of that conversation, Bob points out that Americans don’t like bad news.  And that, perhaps, explains the real failure of the Rolling Stone article: because, who really wants to admit that the United States is losing a war?