Yes, I’m aware of the fact that the op-ed that I’m looking at here was put out a week ago, but since I’ve been dealing with covering Taliban IED appreciation day, interviewing Budgie the Helicopter, and catching up with the latest children’s initiatives, I just haven’t had the time to really cover this piece. So here ’tis, my 1/50 of dollar on his latest on Afghanistan.
If you’re David Ignatius, does your objectivity die slowly, lingering for years? Or does it vanish in a flash, leaving you with the lasting sensation that something’s gone, but you can’t recall what? Do you still think of yourself as a journalist? Do you remember what that word means? I’m not casting aspersions on Igatius’ abilities as a writer or as a journalism professional. But I am aspersing (not a word?) all over his objectivity (or maybe his ability to use the Google) as a “journalist,” which is best illustrated by this excerpt from an interview he did with Wolf Blitzer about the Petraeus scandal:
And one obvious takeaway for me, as I read these really quite sad personal stories of General Petraeus and now the investigation of General Allen, is these commanders and all of the officers and soldiers serving under them had been away from home for so long, on repeated, prolonged deployments.
Right, so Petraeus cheated because he was super busy being a hero. It’s not the first time Ignatius has been less than journalist-y in his assessments of US policy, as his work “covering” the CIA often reads more like a press release than an actual column. Granted, he’s acting in the role of “op-ed columnist,” which means objectivity goes right out the window, and there’s always going to be a certain ignoring of “facts,” which are always messy, but in his latest piece on Afghanistan he’s not just overly positive, he’s wrong. Not quite Superman Returns wrong, but still wrong.
No, that had nothing to do with anything, but it’s funny. And…Superman. And it’s my blog. Rejoice, nerds.
So I think Ignatius is wrong, and here’s five reasons why:
1. He uses self-assessments to make his case.
Rather than being mired in a perpetual feudal twilight, Afghanistan is actually becoming a modern country. The statistical evidence of change, gathered from sources including data from the U.S. Agency for International Development, is overwhelming.
The challenges faced by USAID in its implementation of development in Afghanistan have been chronicled effectively by much smarter people than myself. While I still think his book gives the military a great big fat pass, Chandrasekaran makes it very clear that USAID, on a variety of levels, has not achieved near the success it wants to believe that it has. So collecting data from USAID on…how well USAID is doing…isn’t so much trying to deceive your readers as it is just sloppy research.
2. He misses the actual conclusions of his sources.
The urbanization and economic development that have reshaped Afghanistan do not mean that the country will have a bright political future or that the Taliban won’t regain a measure of power after U.S. troops leave in 2014.
Because I am a masochist, I read the report he links to in that paragraph. From the World Bank, it had this to say about the state of the economy in Afghanistan after aid money disappears:
The impact of declining aid on economic growth will be less than expected. Why? Because most international spending “on” Afghanistan is not spent “in” Afghanistan, and much of what is spent in Afghanistan leaves the economy through imports, expatriated profits, and outward remittances.
Ironically, you know, the fact that vast sums of money have been expatriated may lessen the impact on the overall economy of the true drawdown, because the money, in many cases, never made it into the Afghan economy. You know, I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it may significantly lessen the blow when we get to the end of 2014.
So the aid money pretty much just went away, but that’s OK, because the agency largely responsible for those efforts said everything is going ok.
3. He does not understand the reasons for Kabul’s growth.
The most obvious change is urbanization. Close to half the population now lives in cities and towns. Kabul is a city of 5 million people, and the populations of Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar have all tripled in the past decade.
I visited the capital two weeks ago and found, as I have previously noted, that the streets are thronged with people: hardly the sign of a city under siege.
4. He also does not understand the tribes. Or women.
This urbanization weakens ethnic and tribal affiliations and helps women get access to jobs and education.
5. He thinks Sesame Street is a sign of Afghan-led progress.
It has a free and independent media, producing everything from an Afghan knockoff of “American Idol” to situation comedies to versions of “Sesame Street” dubbed into Dari and Pashto.
I’ve covered this Sesame Street nonsense before, but let’s be clear: that’s not an Afghan product.
Supported by a grant from the US Embassy in Kabul, the Kaboora production house has worked for the past 10 months to make Shahpar and Kachkool — Big Bird and Grover, to most — household names in Afghanistan.
So, Sesame Street, no it’s not Afghan-led. And for some horn tooting: that piece is worth a read. Captures a whole lot of what’s wrong with aid efforts here, if you’re into that sort of thing.
So outside of being poorly sourced, lightly researched, and its near complete disregard for reality, I thought this was a pretty good piece. Kidding aside, I’m aware of the fact that Afghanistan is fading from the public eye faster than Lindsay Lohan’s career, but what will remain is a far-from-perfect solution that hopefully the Afghans can just sort out for themselves. When people with Ignatius’ reach get something like this so wrong, it speaks volumes about how little the American public cares about this place, and that should bother us.
Until next time, you stay on that sunny side, everybody!