Village Voice articles of note

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Dec 14 07:07:00 MST 2001

Week of December 12 - 18, 2001

Fighting Terror on $1 Billion a Month
How We Lost Afghanistan
by Ted Rall

DASHT-E QALEH, AFGHANISTAN—We've lost this war. So how much will it cost? 

In 1842, the First Afghan War ended with an infamous retreat across the
Hindu Kush that cost between 10,000 and 15,000 Brits and their camp
followers their lives. One guy, a Dr. Brydon, survived the Afghans to tell
the tale upon his return to a remote outpost of the raj's Northwest
Frontier province. Eventually a retaliatory expedition returned to
slaughter the instigators of their humiliation, but this later victory
accomplished nothing. Losing this desolate international leftover inspired
testy sepoys to rise up against their supposed betters, sparking a chain of
events that ultimately led to Indian independence, decimated the empire,
and reduced England to a European backwater offering neither steady
employment nor edible food to its pasty citizenry. 

Ditto for the Russians. After the Great Communist Hope took on the U.S. in
a decade-long proxy war between slightly different shades of fanatics, the
Soviet Union left half its military equipment, economy, and prestige on the
ash heap of history. Blame Gorby and Chernobyl if you want, but the USSR's
disintegration into mafia banditry owes more to Stinger-shootin' moojes
than Berliners dying to shop on the west side. 

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. And get
this: After the Afghan parliament gets together, the burkas will come off,
the Fairway will open up next to the main gate of the Kabul bazaar, and
that Internet-famous Unocal pipeline project, dormant for far too long,
will begin sucking Kazakh crude out from under the Caspian and into the
Pakistani port of Karachi. Next mission: bombing Iraq into capitalism. 

The networks aired maps turning from Taliban red to Northern Alliance blue,
but here on the ground, as people who prefer to remain anywhere-but like to
say, no such thing occurred. Dasht-e Qaleh and Taloqan and Kunduz all
"fell," but 99 percent of the conquerors were Taliban troops who shed their
beards and turbans and picked up Shah Masood's hip hat for a buck. There
were, before September 11, a mere 6000 to 20,000 Northern Alliance soldiers
holding the eastern portion of Takhar province and the extremely
mountainous Badakhshan and Wakhan corridor, an inland peninsula created as
a buffer zone between imperial Russia and British India during the 19th

When your taxpayer-funded $75,000 bombs began pounding frontline Taliban
positions and the not-so-occasional farming village, the age-old Afghan
tradition of ideological flexibility and self-preservation led thousands of
Taliban to cross the lines to "defect." "I am so sorry," a Taliban
commander cried in the welcoming arms of his Northern Alliance counterpart
a day before Kunduz "fell." "We are brothers and should not have fought." 

Finally, a rare truth in a land of lies—both men had fought together in the
Taliban and before that against the Soviets. The vast majority of "Northern
Alliance" fighters now were Taliban a few weeks ago; welcome to the first
fashion war of the new millennium. 

There are two ways to consider the success of War on Terror, Part One. The
first is as an act of retribution against the Taliban for tolerating and
supporting Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network (never mind that Al Qaeda is
bigger in Pakistan than in Afghanistan or that it is merely one of hundreds
of extremist Islamist organizations that trained in Afghanistan). In this
view Afghanistan is a source of instability throughout Central Asia and, by
extension, for Western oil interests and the West itself. September 11 was
merely the latest manifestation of the dangerous extremist phenomenon.
Angry Afghans aren't angry at anything America has done, say Rumsfeld and
Powell; they're perpetually ornery motherfuckers who have to be kept under
lock and key so that the civilized world can get down to the business of
the 21st century, which will be one hell of a business if we can ever
convince people to stop selling off their mutual funds. 


Vietnam and Afghanistan Show why Limiting Press Access to War is Unpatriotic
The Media Muzzled
by Rick Perlstein 

(Perlstein is the author of the NY Observer article on the pro-war "left"
that included Doug Henwood)

Back in October, the president of MSNBC, Erik Sorenson, asked whether he
thought the media would be able to give Americans an accurate accounting of
the war in Afghanistan, replied, "We'll find out in five or 10 years what
the real truth is." Last week, the conflict there all but over, Leonard
Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post, concurred. In a live
online discussion with him, a reader observed: "My impression is that the
media have had less access to the facts about activities in Afghanistan
than to the facts in any prior American military engagement since World War
II." Downie responded: "Time will tell whether important information has
been hidden from the American people by the administration." 

Time will tell. I'd rather be told by The Washington Post. 

Sometimes the government lies to us. Sometimes it is simply incompetent and
hides the fact. And sometimes the institutions of the media cooperate. It's
even worse in wartime. That's as American as jazz. And now that the Afghan
phase of the war on terrorism appears all but over, it's fair to begin to
wonder: Have any lies, any incidences of systematic incompetence or worse,
been hidden from the American people during this war? 

It's impossible to say—and hardly just because of the Afghan engagement's
supposed unorthodox and decentralized nature. The Pentagon, of course, has
been perfecting its techniques for choking off information at least since
the Vietnam War. The exact nature of the restrictions placed on the
American press remain vague, but the patterns are clear. Reporters have had
some access to U.S. warships, none whatsoever to high-level decision
making—unsurprising for this administration, which was already the least
open in memory before September 11. And in the field of battle? Said NPR's
Steve Inskeep to the Washington, D.C., City Paper, "Nobody has really had
any decent access to U.S. forces." 

Even harder to discern is the extent to which media organizations are
censoring themselves. It's happening, of course: the conservative Weekly
Standard ran a December 3 cover article positively boasting of how many
journalists (Dan Rather, Geraldo Rivera, Thomas Friedman) have been willing
to cast aside the ethic of objectivity in service to the cause of patriotism. 


Louis Proyect
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