Friday, February 3

Vanishing Act

Leon Panetta set off such an uproar on Wednesday afternoon with his mention of (maybe) a 2013 exit from Afghanistan for U.S. combat troops that -- well, you'll never guess what. By Thursday the topic of the leaked NATO report (leaked Wednesday morning) fingering Pakistan's support for the Afghan Taliban and other groups fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan was nowhere to be found on American TV!

Wait, I take that back -- maybe the BBC (U.S. version on PBS) spoke a sentence about it in passing or maybe I was hallucinating. Anyhow, with regard to the Afghan war, newscasts last night on both cable and broadcast TV stations were fixed on, nay welded to, discussions revolving around Panetta's remarks. These of course generated debates between talking heads about whether it was a good idea to end combat operations in 2013.

The problem was that after materializing a three-ring circus out of thin air, Panetta then had to explain to a bunch of confused defense ministers from NATO countries what he meant by his remarks:
(Reuters) - U.S. forces will cede the lead role in combat operations in Afghanistan next year, but will keep fighting alongside Afghan troops, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday, as the Obama administration struggled to clear up confusion over its Afghan exit strategy. Panetta surprised allies on Wednesday by suggesting the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan would end in 2013, the first time Washington had floated such a deadline.
Did Panetta or Obama or both of them stage a magic show, or were Panetta's remarks simply a panic reaction to the leadking of NATO report? The crystal ball is out for repairs again so I have no idea what really happened. One thing is clear, though: if the motive for leaking the NATO report was to raise public awareness about Pakistan's role in attacks on NATO troops, news of it vanished too quickly from the public sphere to make an impression. The report will be studied by defense analysts and country experts specializing in South Asian affairs, but its news value was overtaken by bigger news of the day.

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