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Steele a Hero?

Of all people, it was Michael Steele who actually told the truth about the war in Afghanistan. Not the part where he said it was Obama’s decision to go to war. Obama decided to continue a war that Bush had started. But the part that was true was when Steele implied that it’s unwinnable. (He has since tried to take back his words, but he did say them.)

Of course, whether a war is "winnable" depends on what you mean by winning. But, at the very least, if Steele was talking about winning in the sense of imposing American will on a country that has resisted conquest for centuries, he was right: It seems hard to believe that this U.S. effort will be any more successful than those of other countries who have sent troops into Afghanistan.

News media are focusing narrowly on what Steele’s comments mean for Steele’s chances of remaining chairman of the national Republican Party and what this means for U.S. politics, but that’s not important. It doesn’t matter whether Steele stays or goes. What news media should do is focus on the far more important question that his comments have brought to light: Should we get out of Afghanistan? His comments have created the perfect opportunity to raise this legitimate question without the journalist’s usual fear of looking unpatriotic for questioning military policy in wartime.

Instead of just doing stories quoting politicians about how admirable Gen. Petraeus is and how important it is to support our war effort, news media should seize on this opportunity to greatly expand their reporting on what is really happening on the ground in Afghanistan, on what this war means in human terms of suffering by Afghans, Americans, and others, and on what the best-case and worst-case scenarios are for ending this war. In past wars such as Vietnam, because of the myth of American invincibility we have rarely considered the possibility of not "winning." Our news media should now be creating a forum for an honest, realistic discussion of whether we should continue this war. If that forum emerged from the current flap over his remarks, Steele would be a hero.

Author, lecturer and former CNN correspondent Tony Collings discusses current news coverage at his blog, Capturing The News. Follow Tony on Twitter.

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Tony Collings

Tony Collings

Tony Collings is the author of Capturing the News, a journalist's memoir and critique of journalism. He was a CNN correspondent for sixteen years, joining the network within its first year. He was based in Rome for five years, covering the Middle East, Europe, Russia and Africa. Then he was based in Washington for eleven years, covering a variety of assignments, from the White House to the Pentagon and the Justice Department.

Earlier in his career he was a Wall Street Journal reporter in New York, and an AP reporter in Moscow, London and Bonn, and the Newsweek bureau chief in Bonn and London.

Today he is a lecturer in communication studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His previous book was Words of Fire, about courageous journalists around the world.