Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A rather major problem with nearly all of NPR's reporting is the "history scrub." You can guarantee that if the essential background history to a story reflects poorly on the actions of the US government - that history will be deleted, scrubbed, sanitized - sent down the memory hole. Afghanistan proves no exception on Tuesday's ATC.

Michelle Norris blandly explains that thousands more US troops are headed off to Afghanistan and doesn't even chuckle in noting that the United States Institute of Peace [tee-hee] released some new policy recommendations for Afghanistan. To discuss the report, Norris interviews Seth Jones, co-author with Christine Fair of the report (both authors are connected with the RAND Corp).

In fairness, a lot of what Jones says comes off as fairly informed and reasonable. His basic thesis is that Afghanistan has been most stable in the past when there were stable functioning rural/regional leaderships that had a lot of autonomy but were connected and cooperative with a central/urban leadership. He even offered corrective to Michelle Norris' knee-jerk assumption that the answer to all problems in Afghanistan is more US troops and military might:
Norris: "...since so much of the problems in Afghanistan are so widespread, this strategy policy would seem to require many more troops, many more advisers to work at the tribal level to gain that trust and build some sort of security."

Jones: "I would actually say it's the reverse....local forces can a) protect themselves and b) provide services."
What I found so stunning is that neither Norris nor Jones ever mentioned that the baseline of stable functioning "legitimate" local leaders was essentially destroyed and replaced by the most ruthless, fanatic and illegitimate leaders that the US could recruit and train in its 1980s campaign to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Even US News & World Report acknowledges this basic history. On NPR, though, it's as if this nasty little chapter of US involvement in the sorrows of Afghanistan never even happened - or that it had no continuity with the current configuration of the US-Afghanistan project.

I find it fascinating to occasionally hop into the way-back machine and re-read cartoonist Ted Rall's piece on Afghanistan written at the time when most were crowing about the stunning US victory over the Taliban. His piece in the Village Voice from December 2001 is provocatively called "How We Lost Afghanistan," and it is disturbingly prescient. Consider just this nugget:
"Now a Third Afghan War is wrapping up its final act around Kandahar, and a laughable band of charlatans has lobbied in Bonn, Germany, for the right to rule the unruly. Somehow, if the Bushalopes and the Annanites are to be believed, a New Democratic Afghanistan will be cobbled together from the Hekmatyars and Dostums and Rabbanis, all united under the banner of an 87-year-old king who owes more to Fellini than to Shah Mohammed."
I have a suggestion for NPR. How about airing the views and opinions of people who got it right for a change - instead of only consulting the same old stale bunch of State Department, CIA, and Pentagon lovin' pundits and scholars that you rely on again and again and again.


Kevan Smith said...

Pundits who get things wrong but do so in a "bold" style are given air over those with carefully thought-out opinions.

FAIR did a little blog entry on it:

Anonymous said...

Ha! Analysis from the ground isn't as bankable as that from a credentialed leather exec chair at NoPR McNews.

And just for the 'moles' tunin' in (hello? hello???), I still ain't missin' 'em.

Anonymous said...

It's funny in a sad sort of way.

Russian veterans of the war against Afghanistan and some of them warned Obama that if he thinks he can "win" there, he is just fooling himself -- just like Johnson fooled himself in Vietnam.

The lesson of Afghanistan is that NO outsider can control the country.

Obviously, Obama never learned that lesson at Haaaavid.

If Obama pursues this strategy, it will almost certainly be his undoing as President, just as Iraq was Bush's.

The only difference is that Iraq is MUCH easier to control than Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

Hell, there was even a fairly recent (though rather flawed) film that dealt with it. Down the memory hole!

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Anonymous. And Obama's latest interview does not fill me with confidence:

Obama called Afghanistan "still winnable, in the sense of our ability to ensure that it is not a launching pad for attacks against North America. I think it's still possible for us to stamp out al Qaeda to make sure that extremism is not expanding but rather is contracting."

So we ensure its ability to stop launching attacks against us by launching attacks against THEM. Now if I was an Afghan peasant who had just lost his entire family due to one such attack (oops, collateral damage and all that), I doubt if Obama's braying would cause me to reconsider. Indeed, it would make me even more willing to engage "the enemy."

Haaaaavid...breeding ground for the "Best and the Brightest" boy howdy!

Juan "Toss" Ensalada said...

History is a battle, and we are losing.

RepubLiecan said...

In order to keep those always wrong pundits, experts and politicians from having a readily available platform on NPR, they would need people bright enough to recognize the aforementioned are indeed wrong so often and the courage to say it on NPR. Obviously the second is forbidden on NPR.

Porter Melmoth said...

Ruling elites are always in denial of their failure potential. The US has had a particularly terrible record in colonial/empire meddling and blundering. Even the lowliest of Wikipedia searchers can put it together that Afghanistan isn't too promising in the 'win' dept. Of course, ruling elites always think they're the exception to everything that has come before them.

And NPR always wants to be on the 'winning' bandwagon. That's entirely their record during the Bush Dark Age. Why should it change now?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, mytwords, and I agree with all of the commentors. The most depressing element of Obama's campaign was his vow to escalate in Afghanistan. "I'm not against all wars, just dumb wars." Umm, I'm against all wars, and consider them not only dumb but evil.

Porter Melmoth said...

Indeed, Obama's statements in this regard have been stupid and careless. I imagine though, that they were made to appease the still very present Bushistic elements in the American power structure. However, he should of course tell these elements where they can stuff it. He may be making certain 'casual' statements, but his actions could be wholly different (he is a politician, after all). Hopefully, he will defy the Bushistas in subversive ways, leaving them high and dry. That's my fantasy, anyway.
We the public can also petition, heckle and hassle him mercilessly on this and other matters.

NPR of course will be huddling smugly in the corner.

Anonymous said...

What about an entire series on Iran with no mention of how the Shah came into power?

Porter Melmoth said...

Because the Shah and his story is the biggest inconvenient truth in the whole contemporary Iran situation. 'Our' Shah made Saddam look like a small time crook, though not nearly so publicized. The western-supported tyranny of the Shah made credible the radicalism that came afterward.

There are plenty of experts who could remind NPR of this, but plainly, none are allowed. Instead, we've got Inskreep packaging and boiling down the massive entity that is Iran into insipid but easily-digested hors d'oeuvres to daintily sample. Why, how NICE of NPR to make the world so understandable for us!

Hubertg said...

As far as Afghanistan goes for us it is 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss' and yes, 'we all got fooled again.'...same thing goes for Iraq. The only thing changing in Washington are the rotations in office.

Anonymous said...

Obama called Afghanistan "still winnable, in the sense of our ability to ensure that it is not a launching pad for attacks against North America. I think it's still possible for us to stamp out al Qaeda to make sure that extremism is not expanding but rather is contracting."

This ignores the fact that al Qaeda is neither the only, not the most important group that we have to worry about.

In fact, they are small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

We should be far more concerned about alienating whole populations (eg, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan) -- especially when those populations are parts of countries that possess nuclear weapons, as is the case with Pakistan.
These are the people who are likely to be sympathetic to the promises of extremists -- and the people who are likely to make it impossible to even FIND people like bin Laden.

If Pakistan were ever to fall unde the control of extremists, we would REALLY have something to worry about.

Obama is playing the same "fear mongering" game that Bush played.

These Haavid types are all the same. They think they are better -- and smarter -- than everyone else.

The reality (for most of them) is that they have daddy's who handed them everything they have ever "achieved" -- and on a silver platter.

They believe they can do things other people can not do (ie, that they can do anything they want) because that is what they have been told all their lives.

Hubertg said...

Yep !!..and a large part of Pakistan was just handed over to to be governed by Islamic Law and fundamentalsts.