Wikileaks report of war logs about Afghanistan again puts Obama on the PR defensive about the war. He needs to show more leadership in shaping public opinion.
American presidents in wartime must always lead public opinion, not simply do damage control after bad news.
In World War II, FDR led a message offensive, often using his fireside chats. Truman was more reactive than proactive in Korea. LBJ failed miserably in Vietnam, as did Nixon after the 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers. In US wars since, presidents have had mixed success in domestic-war leadership.
For President Obama, the leak on Sunday about “war logs” of the Afghanistan war has again thrown him on the defensive on the home front of public opinion. The war logs come only weeks after other bad news – about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s disrespectful comments – also helped create fresh doubts about the way the war is being waged and the policy divisions within the administration.
The war logs aren’t greatly surprising except for the revelation that the Taliban has used heat-seeking missiles on US aircraft. Americans already know about Pakistan’s past ties to the Taliban and that US soldiers have difficulty in not harming civilian Afghans while fighting an insurgency. Corruption among Afghan officials is definitely rife. And the training of Afghan forces has not gone well.
But these leaks of secret documents nonetheless give new, more vivid details about the war. They may further disturb Americans about the messy task of winning a seemingly intractable conflict.
The timing of the leaks – three months before elections for Congress – says something about the motive of the unknown leaker(s) within the government. So does the fact that the information was given to an activist website, WikiLeaks, whose Australian owner declares he wants to make sure the war is conducted humanely. Strangely, the logs only go up to December 2009, the month that Mr. Obama announced a new strategy calling for a surge of 30,000 additional troops in the conflict.