Leaked documents fail to upset Obama’s drive for victory in America’s longest war

By Barry Schweid, AP
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Early reaction shows no sign of upending war plan

WASHINGTON — The shock of the disclosure of tens of thousands of secret documents about the war in Afghanistan has inspired a debate on the war, but had few other apparent aftereffects.

President Barack Obama said they did not raise any new concerns, and Congress went on to send him $33 billion to pay for the troop surge there. There was no indication that already strong anti-war sentiment is about to boil over.

It is certainly not a popular war. There have been more than 1,100 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, by Associated Press count, since fighting began in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

But mostly the gloomy picture in the battlefield reports, which cover the period 2004 to 2009, has reinforced a sense of war weariness.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a critical Congressional supporter of the war, advised Americans on Tuesday to not “overhype or get excessively excited” about the disclosures.

At a hearing, Kerry said the documents should be given little weight because in many cases they reflect raw intelligence, not carefully calibrated assessments of trends on the ground.

White House and State Department officials argued there were few revelations in the documents.

Obama, warning that the leak could “potentially jeopardize individuals or operations” in Afghanistan, insisted nonetheless that the war strategy he has devised was prompted by the shortcomings reflected in the classified documents.

At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent Washington think tank, Anthony H. Cordesman said the leak “is unlikely … to radically shift American public opinion polls.”

The military analyst said in an interview it isn’t clear yet whether the new more aggressive strategy undertaken by Obama this summer is working. More critical than past events detailed in the documents, said Cordesman, is whether the White House strategy succeeds in rolling back the Taliban and al-Qaida in the months and years ahead,

The documents reflect concerns from military personnel about the American-led operation. That the war drags on accounts in part for dipping presidential popularity polls. But Afghanistan is only one of several bricks Obama is trying to carry on his back.

Leslie H. Gelb, former New York Times diplomatic correspondent, said there was no question the leaks would ratchet up the criticism of Obama even if the material is already well known.

“We will have a more serious debate of policy,” said Gelb, adding that “I don’t think there will be a change of policy.”

When it comes it war, “Presidents are very loath to change course because they have made decisions that led to loss of life.” he said. “You don’t have a turnaround point.”

Concluded Gelb: “The decision is almost always to keep going, to stay the course.”

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