Thursday, July 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Obama's credibility gap

Obama's credibility gap

A U.S. Predator drone flying over southern Afghanistan. Predators are frequently used to attack militants in tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan, a practice the Pakistani government has threatened to halt. (AP File Photo)
A U.S. Predator drone flying over southern Afghanistan. Predators are frequently used to attack militants in tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan, a practice the Pakistani government has threatened to halt. (AP File Photo)

A lot of important inventions came out of World War II  -- radar, jet engines, comupters, to name a few. Vietnam, on the other hand, contributed more to the language than technology. Take the phrase "credibility gap." A Democratic senator, J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, coined that phrase in 1966 to describe the penchant of a Democratic president -- Lyndon Johnson -- to mislead the American people about the number of U.S. troops that were fighting in Southeast Asia, and what those troops were really up to.

Of course, Fulbright could have just called it what it really was, "lying." I guess "credibility gap" sounded a little more polite.

Flash forward to 2013, and American fighting men and women have been in Afghanistan for nearly a dozen years. To get a sense of contrast, it was only 11 years from the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin episode (also a lie, by the way) that led to increased American involvement in Vietnam to the fall of Saigon, in 1975.

President Obama didn't create our Vietnam of the 21st Century, he inherited it. But when it comes to military counterterrorism, he's now created a "credibility gap" of his own.

It revolves around the lethal use of drones, of course. Obama has dramatically increased strikes from unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, from Pakistan to Yemen, with new lethal capabilities in Africa. American drone strikes have killed 4,700 people -- some of them al-Qaeda leaders, some of them innocent women and children. There's been no debate about the expanded use of America's flying death robots, no official rationale for their missions, even in the death of an American citizen in Yemen...no transparency whatsoever. The American people are in the dark -- just like Vietnam.

Now we get this from the Air Force Times:

As scrutiny and debate over the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) by the American military increased last month, the Air Force reversed a policy of sharing the number of airstrikes launched from RPAs in Afghanistan and quietly scrubbed those statistics from previous releases kept on their website.

Last October, Air Force Central Command started tallying weapons releases from RPAs, broken down into monthly updates. At the time, AFCENT spokeswoman Capt. Kim Bender said the numbers would be put out every month as part of a service effort to “provide more detailed information on RPA ops in Afghanistan.”

The Air Force maintained that policy for the statistics reports for November, December and January. But the February numbers, released March 7, contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been.

President Obama is running out of time to come clean with the American people on drone warfare -- why it's necessary, and why he thinks it's legal. The positive reaction that Sen. Rand Paul got last week from folks on both the Left and the Right for his day-long filibuster that -- albeit in a weird way -- focused national attention on drones is proof that people want answers. There seems to be public disagreement on whether the strikes are necessary -- but a growing consensus that Obama is not being honest and forthright.

Apparently those who cannot remember the "credibility gap" are condemned to repeat it.

Note: Photo at top is from an actual children's book (can you spell "i-n-d-o-c-t-r-i-n-a-t-i-o-n"?) as reported by Mother Jones. Photo credit: Jack David/Big Universe Learning)

Second note: Thanks to reader Mephsito for correcting my own credibility gap on the Gulf of Tonkin date. Maybe Obama will correct his mistakes, like I did.

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Will Bunch
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