White House: Please, Let's Stop Talking About Afghanistan

You wouldn’t know it from the news coverage, but the flood of leaked documents illuminating internal calculations and conversations in war strategy hasn’t actually been such a big deal. Yes, 76,000 documents are tough to comb through over the course of a few days, but Pentagon investigators have reportedly found no evidence that the breach could seriously endanger either American troops or U.S. allies in Afghanistan.

It’s unlikely there’s a smoking gun buried deep in the pile that—at this point—no one has seen. Mostly, the documents are a frank and at times embarrassing portrayal of U.S. relations with Pakistan and a general lack of confidence in winning the war on terror.

But in a “nothing to see here, folks” story Tuesday, The Washington Post pointed out perhaps the most lasting effect of the leaked reams. The release of the documents, the paper wrote, “could compel President Obama to explain more forcefully the war’s importance”—it's been an uphill battle to sell the war ever since Obama announced a new surge in troop levels in December.

The White House has indeed labored to argue that the leaks weren’t all that meaningful. In yesterday’s press briefing, Robert Gibbs downplayed the effect. “[I]n terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents,” Gibbs said, which he quickly contradicted with the claim that the documents constitute a potential national-security concern.

The White House fumble alludes to the bigger problem, which may well be the ongoing political fallout. Last month, after the profile that brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the administration found itself it the same predicament. Nothing about the war or the U.S.’s strategy was seriously compromised by McChrystal’s off-the-cuff gripes. But it did elevate the failings of the Afghan war to cable-news wallpaper—and indeed, the cover of NEWSWEEK.

For Obama, the issue is likely to get hairier before it fades away. Now, for the second day in a row, Gibbs will take the podium this afternoon to answer questions about the leaked documents, perhaps including the prospect of WikiLeaks publishing “three times” the number of docs included in the initial breach. NEWSWEEK has learned that the next round of documents is likely to include new revelations of the conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq. Even if it doesn’t threaten the war’s ground game, it’ll no doubt be, as Obama loves to loathe, an unnecessary distraction—one certain to keep the news tickers ticking.

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