In the Arena

More Schultz

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Just caught up with what Ed Schultz said about me on last night’s show. I wouldn’t continue this dialogue–I agree with Ed about a lot of things, especially the impact of financial oligarchs on our economy–but it seems to me that he’s reinforcing my original point here: that cable doesn’t do complexity well. And to repeat again, I don’t consider Ed stupid, but his on-air stunt–holding up the piece of paper with “Get Out Now” written on it–certainly was a lame sort of grandstanding.

So, why does Ed think that I’m “out of touch”? I’m on the wrong side, allegedly, of a poll that says 63% of the public believes we should end the war. Two points:

1. I’ve long argued that trying to quantify public opinion on matters as emotionally complicated as wars is a fool’s game. If you worded the question differently–say, “Would you like the Taliban to regain control of Afghanistan?” or “Should we take action to prevent a terrorist coup in Pakistan?”–I’ll bet you could get some pretty hearty pro-war responses that would be just as questionable.

2. I plead guilty. I am “out of touch” with the American people on this issue in one very profound way: I’ve been to Afghanistan 4 times in the past 2 years, have embedded with U.S. troops on the front lines and interviewed all the major policy-makers in the dispute. I’ve worked hard at learning this impossible issue. I see it in shades of gray, not black and white. My conclusion: I think we should be able to get  almost all U.S. combat forces out of Afghanistan by the end of next year, leaving a residual force to train the Afghan National Army and carry out special ops, as needed (similar to the force we now have in Iraq, about which I haven’t many people griping). That’s not “getting out now.” B ut it’s not a recipe for endless war, either.

Another point:

3. Schultz has a right–indeed, a responsibility–to disagree with me if he sees fit. I would have been happy to argue it out with him if he’d asked, “Do you really think we should waste another dime trying to build  an effective Afghan National Army?” or any number of other questions. The argument would have been a slog, perhaps unwatchable in the machine-gun attention deficit zone of cable television. Which is my point: these are the very sort of questions that a really good cable network would find ways to discuss in a manner that held viewers’ interest. What to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan  is an important discussion–I mean, c’mon guys, lives are at stake…but these days cable depends either on the thin-ice of polling, or importing left-right blowhard pairs, rather than doing the actual work (that the BBC does, for example) required to make these issues compelling.

That’s our job as journalists. We’re not doing it.