Three weeks after their gushing praise of President Obama's meeting with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the media have taken a cue from the lack of action that followed.
It was a good run while it lasted.
Word from the conflict became more dire almost by the day as Obama's cabinet squabbled. The American media, having sensed Afghanistan could be lost without action, chose to cover for their favorite president and begin the process of mentally preparing the public for defeat.
The Washington Post published a perfect example of the new meme in Howard Kurtz's column on October 23. Kurtz attacked Republicans as "armchair quarterbacks" for their criticism of Obama's stalling and said it was "rich" of Dick Cheney to demand a new plan. As for what that plan might be, Kurtz's Vietnam defeat song sounded all too familiar:
The Obama administration has a clear conundrum on Afghanistan. There are no good options. Sending more troops might not work. Not sending more troops might not work...As for domestic politics, the president is likely to get more support for an aggressive military strategy from Republicans than from his own party.
Reuters reported on October 22 that Vice President Joe Biden was among the loudest voices against a surge and was involved in meetings about what to do next.
Reuters was eager to spin it as Biden playing "devil's advocate" and assured readers it was not due to anyone "bowing to public opinion" on the war. Just in case readers began to worry that internal debating was the cause of delay, Reuters made sure to portray the White House as unified:
Obama is debating a wide range of views and is not simply going to rubber-stamp the military's troop request...The White House has dismissed criticism of the president, arguing that such a momentous decision requires careful consideration. It has also praised Biden's role.
"There are very few people in this town who have the type of experience and expertise that the vice president brings to this. The president greatly values that experience," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
What a difference a few weeks made. Back on October 2, when the public was interested in McChrystal's reports, Reuters lauded his meeting with Obama as "helpful" and described McChrystal as the "focus" of Obama's future plans.
A mere 20 days later, the military was not to expect a "rubber stamp" of support.
The same day that Reuters published its change of heart, the Christian Science Monitor went into overdrive:
Recent polls show that a majority of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. This is said to weigh heavily on President Obama as he considers Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request to focus on counterinsurgency and add 40,000 troops to the field...Obama's consideration of public opinion shows that the administration recognizes that the public might not support even a successful long-term effort, and this lack of support might doom an otherwise effective mission.
Of course it never occurred to the Monitor that public declarations of the war being unwinnable and a sitting Vice President openly opposed to military requests could have played a role in shifting public opinion.
The Monitor continued:
It is also possible that the public is able to comprehend and measure the goals, but disagrees with the president that they are achievable or worthy enough. Or it may simply be that Americans are worn out - tired of sending soldiers to fight and tired of spending billions in faraway lands to liberate people who do not want us there entirely.
The Monitor could have saved time and money by simply reprinting a news report from circa 1970 and leaving out the word Vietnam. No one would have been the wiser.
Not to be outdone, CBS News published its own lament on October 19, calling the war another phase of "American jihad" that has lasted since 1979. The piece warned that America found herself in an "eternal fight" unless Obama took a lesson from history and found a way to end it.
The worst article of all, however, appeared in the Baltimore Sun on October 23. A vicious opinion column penned by Joseph Galloway mocked Obama as a "no we can't" president while seething with rage over how "Blue Dog Democrats negotiated with Just Plain Dog Republicans" on a variety of issues.
On the subject of Afghanistan, a bitter tone of sarcasm dripped off the page:
When he got into office, the new president promptly threw in another 20,000 American troops the commanders said were urgently needed in Afghanistan. Now they're back lobbying for another down payment of 45,000, or is it 60,000? Do I hear 80,000? Will they be back next spring pleading for another 50,000 or 100,000?
Obama and his national security advisers are rethinking the whole Afghan thing, they say. Given their track record to date, can there be any doubt they'll solomonically decide to cut the baby in half and call it a compromise?
We'll end up neither in nor out, with no hope of victory, even if some of the wise men could define what victory in Afghanistan might look like. Someone in the White House will go on the Sunday talk shows and define it as a compromise.
Readers who were able to get past the disturbing "joke" about cutting a baby in half were left with an obvious conclusion: defeat in Afghanistan was inevitable.
On every point where President Obama has failed, from government mandated healthcare to getting the Olympics, the mainstream media have been there to mitigate the damage.
Should America end up losing Afghanistan, the groundwork has already been laid to prepare voters to expect it and offer justification why loss was not so bad.
Once again, for America's so-called journalists when it comes to war the song remains the same.