Monday, July 25, 2011

Why Are We In Afghanistan -- #2


Back at it.  I am in what might very well turn out to be the last week of drafting a new novel, and so am a bit preoccupied with that.  Still, a number of you have responded to my remarks about our involvement in Afghanistan and the reportage by the esteemed Dexter Filkins, so let's do another round.  This is an important subject.

My St. Petersburg friend, the legendary educator Merle Allshouse, observes about my having remarked that Filkins avoided answering my questions about who profited from the oil liftings in Iraq throughout the war and who will inherit the fifteen or sixteen massive airports we are about to leave behind with the comment  "Yes, and sometimes it takes a lot of courage and maturity to say 'I don't know....'" The point is, I wasn't questioning Filkins' courage.  I was questioning his enterprise.  After stumbling into a war which Vice President Cheney assured us we would be able to underwrite out of the proceeds from selling the oil in the region, it would seem to me that an alert reporter might wonder how that was panning out.  Even if his editors in New York weren't asking.

As another of my correspondents, Bob Dardenne, points out, even "The NYT has shown itself to be quite capable of towing the party line -- the lead-up to the Iraq war, for example, biting, as did most mainstream media, on the WMD issue and later apologizing for it."  Too true, and to be respected, except for the fact that all through the leadup to the invasion international inspectors were combing out Iraq and not finding the weaponry we preferred to imagine existed.there.  My own CIA contacts certainly thought the WMD claims were bogus at the time.  Where were the American media?

Another reader, Steve Mumford, opens cheerfully by asserting that "I think your reasoning is simplicistic, and I assume that you have never worked as an embedded journalist yourself."  He feels that reporters cannot get it right "all the time."  While I have never been "embedded," I did spend several years in the military running a mobile radio station in the tripwire system along the Czech border and translating NATO documents during the fiercest years of the Cold War.  I worked with journalists and German functionaries regularly, and ultimately had a long career myself as a magazine journalist.  To maintain that journalists are justified in avoiding asking embarrassing -- to Washington -- questions because the work is dangerous or because they can't be everywhere at once begs significant issues.  Neither Ernie Pyle nor I.F. Stone were ubiquitous, yet both homed in on problems in such a way as to compel public solutions.  Mr. Mumford concludes that he "tires of lefties casually dismissing the courageous and difficult work of reporters" as "morally compromised because they were embedded."  Who said anything like that? To dismiss someone with whom one disagrees as a "leftie" is as telltale as dismissing a conservative critic as a "fascist."  The term reveals all you need to know about the writer.

Another good friend, Richard Cummings, attributes our current embroilment to the fact that "After the Russians were forced to withdraw, America did nothing to help rebuild the country, which led to civil war." There is no doubt some truth to this.  The larger question -- which the polls suggest Americans are now prepared to answer -- is whether any appropriate amount of military or "nation-building" effort in many, many parts of the third world is going to accomplish much more than bankrupt us and leave us with hundreds of thousands of terribly damaged youngsters to nurse at public expense through the rest of their lives.  Can we afford this?

Best to y'all.  Keep writing.


1 comment:

  1. "Who said anything like that?" You did, and I stand by my critique of your reasoning. What you wrote couldn't be clearer:

    "To be embedded is to be closed off, obligated, expected to tow the propaganda line. Moreover, it implies that the focus of one's reporting will remain on subjects and approaches satisfactory to the military-industrial propaganda mill."

    While this argument may apply to mediocre reporters, as a generalization it's ridiculous, and smacks of armchair cliches.

    And as for the term "leftie", you seem surprisingly thin-skinned; I didn't call you a commie after all.
    Nevertheless this lazy argument comes up repeatedly from the left, the perfect bookend to the right's equally flaccid claim that reporters are undermining our war effort.


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