Sunday, May 28, 2006

Little Cronkites

I was posting this, about how the situation in Afghanistan is turning ugly as the Islamists regroup and start to strike back. Here's Michael Yon's assessment:

Our people in Tarin Kot (along with the Dutch and Aussies) are outnumbered. Several of the bases I saw seemed vulnerable to catastrophic attack as the enemy continues to strengthen. This didn’t say much for the unguarded places at which I was staying at night. Kabul might be relatively safe, but Southern Afghanistan is dead man country.

… Despite these reports, the obvious dangers our troops face isn’t making a big footprint in the news back in the US. When I say “our troops”, I mean that Canadian, Australian, British, French, Italian and Dutch and other blood of our allies is our blood. Their blood is as important as ours. And where are our friends the Indians?

Despite that there are firefights – big ones – occurring frequently, the soldiers are calling Afghanistan the Forgotten War. I am calling it The About to Bite us War because like a shark this beast has many rows of teeth.

The money from the massive opium harvest in 2006 will buy weapons and influence that will be used against us in the spring of 2007.

And while I was writing that something was nagging me: The bit about how it hasn't been in the headlines. It's not like this is unknown. I've been reading insider journalist chatter for several months now about how Afghanistan is in danger of getting out of hand.

True, the body count there has just begun to climb, and the immediate level of bloodshed doesn't quite require screaming wood headlines. And also true that most of the gatekeeper media pulled their people out of that country shortly after Iraq began. If there's anyone assigned to Kabul for the NYT besides Carlota Gall, it's probably some Brooklyn stringer who slept with the boss's daughter and got caught.

But just because it hasn't happened yet is not enough excuse. Journalism famously is the art of telling you "here it comes" as well as "here it is" (and "there it goes"). I remember, for instance, when Kosovo was just coming on to the radar screen, but the consensus was that the U.S. or NATO was going to intervene this time, the stories got a lot of ink and ran big even before the war on the ground exploded.

Which leads me to suspect that a central reason Afghanistan is being underplayed right now is that it just doesn't fit into the small frame of current media perceptions. By which I mean the way the average reporter and editor, with his or her collective assumptions, sees the world.

Which includes:

  • Bush's incompetence is the cause of all problems

  • U.S. wars of intervention are opposed by most good people at home and fought without our old allies, who now despise us

  • Overthrowing another country's government is unjust and illegal

  • The expectation that people in such a country actually are ready to work with their occupiers is so stupid now that only a stoned neo-con could believe it

All of which, rightly or wrongly, is built on the American experience in Iraq. And the whole narrative flows along nicely, getting more and more Vietnam-ish every day, unless you realize that there really are two unaccomplished missions still underway, not one.

And the overthrow of the Taliban was and remains widely popular in the U.S., is regarded as justified and legal even by the U.N. (though in many ways it was as dubious as Iraq), involves equal participation by our old allies, and enjoys the active cooperation of a majority of Afghanistan citizens.

So, you have to rewrite the template if we force journalists to start writing about wars not war. The current sent of adjectives has to be thrown out. I think the media sees Afghanistan, and some of it is beginning to register, but they just haven't begun the mental process of lifting themselves out of this very comfy groove they're in and facing up to it.