Sunday, December 12, 2010

Got History?

This past week NPR had Quil Lawrence providing us with "history" lessons on Afghanistan - always a dodgy prospect on NPR. This series features a major hole in the narrative; the active, long-term role that the United States played in bringing Islamic extremism and terror to Afghanistan is both ignored and covered up.

On Monday's ATC Quil gives us the long history of imperial adventures in Afghanistan. He says this:"In 1978, a communist coup installed a pro-Soviet president. The tribes rose up, and the Soviets invaded. Andrey Avetisyan is Russian ambassador in Kabul....By the mid-'80s, the United States was aiding the Mujahedeen to the tune of half a billion dollars...." [This "mid-80s" claim is furthered with a time-line on the web version of the story.]

Then on Tuesday's ATC - in a report that does at least note that many of the depraved warlords of the post-Soviet civil war are now in the government that the US is backing - we hear only that
"The mujahedeen, a patchwork army of Islamist guerrillas, bolstered with copious funding from Washington, defeated the Soviet army in 1989. What they couldn't do was unite to govern Afghanistan."
There are several problems with the NPR narrative:
  • It places the beginning of active US involvement in stoking conflict in Afghanistan in the mid-80s, when in fact the US was actively assisting Islamic extremists there starting in the early 1970s. As Robert Dreyfuss has documented, this policy was just one part of the US government decision to encourage and promote Islamic fundamentalist movements as a counterweight to nationalist movements in the Middle East and Central Asia.
  • The NPR version also ignores the role the US played in luring the Soviets into the Afghanistan trap (as recalled by Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski), leaving listeners to conclude that the US was simply reacting to events that were out of its control.
  • Finally, NPR presents the US as simply funding what mujahedeen forces existed, instead of accurately exposing how the US recruited, organized and supplied the most ruthless, criminal and fanatic elements for fighting in Afghanistan. The idea was to foster these Islamic terrorists as a way of attacking the Soviet Union. The fate of the Afghan people never figured into (and still doesn't) the geopolitical maneuverings of US foreign policy players. As this pre 9/11 article from The Atlantic notes:
    "...the CIA began providing weapons and funds -- eventually totaling more than $3 billion -- to a fratricidal alliance of seven Afghan resistance groups, none of whose leaders are by nature democratic, and all of which are fundamentalist in religion to some extent, autocratic in politics, and venomously anti-American."
Some might argue that NPR's oversight is not all that important to the current complications that the US/NATO finds itself entangled in. But understanding the cold-blooded, ruthless arc of US foreign policy is essential to a critical assessment of the current US occupation of Afghanistan. By ignoring this, NPR can present the current US mission in Afghanistan as having only noble aims, allowing Quil Lawrence to make this closing statement in his Friday ATC report on "the mixed report card" from Afghanistan:
"And many of even the harshest Afghan critics of the Obama policy think it would be a disaster for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan in the state it is today..."

[click picture to view the original WWI version]


Anonymous said...

Just happened to read a recent article on this same history that America wants to forget:

Anonymous said...

Grateful thanks for the much needed corrective. National Prop Repeater's "history" lesson reminds me of the whitewashed textbooks excoriated in James Loewen's book "Lies My Teacher Told Me."

Porter Melmoth said...

This is one of the most frustrating and dangerous things about NPR: that they pretend to be such a Definitive Explainer on any given issue.

I mean, who the hell is this Quil Lawrence person, to bloody well explain Afghanistan to us? (Well, at least he hasn't WRITTEN A BOOK (yet) on the subject, so he can pose as an Expert...)

At any rate, I've noticed that whenever NPR (and the MSM) 'does' Afghan history, they conveniently confine all the pre-2001 stuff within comfy sound bytes, in the anticipation that the audience will feel more at home with American sensibilities associated with the region. And by the time the current US involvement is considered, they deliberately complicate the explanation, so as to make it appear really complex and important. That alone does most of the work in their version of why we need to be there.


I get the feeling that the MSM wants us to think that the Soviets failed in Afghanistan because the Soviet Union was in the process of collapsing, not because Afghanistan was hopeless. That's also a convenient way to sidestep the fact of the reckless US support of the mujahideen, which led to you-know-who. Afghanistan back then was as much of a disaster for the US as it was the USSR.

Anonymous said...

Another recommended corrective:

Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story (2009) by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould.

Their more recent book, on the spread of the war into Pakistan, is getting good reviews too.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that Richard Holbrooke's last words were

"You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan"

He did NOT say

"You've got to WIN this war in Afghanistan"

Or even

"You've got to drive the Taliban from Afghanistan"

but "You've got to STOP this war in Afghanistan"

It looks like we don't have to wait to find out how NPR will spin Holbrooke:
"Holbrooke's 'Af-Pak' Structure Likely To Survive Without Him" makes it clear that NPR (ie, the official White House stenographers) are already downplaying his significance.

"it's not clear that a large personality like Holbrooke is what's needed for the U.S. to achieve success in Afghanistan.

Despite his prominence, Holbrooke's star appeared to wax and wane at times within the Obama administration and he was not viewed as the key architect of U.S. policy in the region."

"despite the importance of Holbrooke's portfolio and the man's own stature, Menon doesn't believe that his death "fundamentally changes the dynamics of what the war is all about."

Anonymous said...

By the way, what IS the war in Afghanistan all about?

I'd like to hear Obama actually forced to at least try to answer that question under oath.

I seriously doubt he could -- because I doubt he even knows himself.

Obama appears to think it is because of al Qaida -- ie, the reason for our being there now is the same as the reason for our invasion of the country after 9/11. He has indicated as much on occasion.

But that is clearly wrong, since his own generals have told him that there are less than 100 al Qaida operatives left in Afghanistan.

Wars like Afghanistan that have no official declaration specifying the rationale for going to war go on and on precisely because everyone is free to provide his own rationale, whether or not that rationale has anything to do with reality.

Obama can say it's to rid Afghanistan of al Qaida.

our generals can say it's to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban.

Oil and gas companies can say (but never would, at least not out loud!) that it's to provide safe passage for a pipeline.

Everyone can have their own "most excellent" reason.

Isn't it just great?

gDog said...

NPR ≠ Daily Show - but there is some intersection there. DS writers are definitely part of "the establishment" (as we hippies once referred to it) despite their protestations of outrage against hypocritical politicians. Remember Stewart's ugly put down of Harry Belafonte when HB had the guts to call George Bush a terrorist?

In his rant last night on the Daily Show, Stewart indirectly answered the question of why we're in Afghanistan. He said that it was a shame the Republicans blocked the bill to fund medical care for "911 first responders" and that it was hypocritical of the pols to say supporting our troops is non-debatable while supporting "911 first responders" is debatable because, after all, the troops in AfPak are just 911 second responders...or something like that.

So, if you're still wondering why we're in AfPak, it's because that's where the plot to attack the WTC and the Pentagon was hatched. "Yeahhh! That's the ticket!"

Anonymous said...

"one of the most frustrating and dangerous things about NPR: that they pretend to be such a Definitive Explainer on any given issue."

I mean, who the hell is this Quil Lawrence person, to bloody well explain Afghanistan to us?"

That's interesting.

Journalist John Pilger notes the same thing:

WikiLeaks, Web to Revolutionize Reporting: Pilger

"That mindset that only authority can really determine the 'truth' on the news, that's a form of embedding that really now has to change," said Pilger, who has covered conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia, written books and made several acclaimed documentaries.

//end pilger quote

Assange has called wikileaks releases "scientific journalism" precisely because it does not depend on "authority. You can click on a link to the original documents themselves.

In short, this new brand of journalism is like science itself, in which the data means everything and it matters not who gives them to you.

It's not surprising that traditional journalists would push back against this because it minimizes their value. In a sense, anyone can become a journalist when they have direct access to the original source documents.

traditionally, journalists have controlled the sources (kept them secret, in fact) so ordinary people were completely dependent on them. How many of us can take a trip to Iraq (or a trip to the Pentagon!) to see for ourselves what is really going on?

The internet and organizations like wikileaks allow any one of us to do just that.

The snobs at places like NPR just hate that -- despise it, in fact .

hence, some of the loudest claims that Assange is not a real journalist are actually coming from traditional journalists.