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Sunpapers covering Afghanistan conflict
from perspective of elites

With the nation currently at war and enduring an economic recession, with no end in sight, one would think that the Baltimore Sun, with “Light for All” on their masthead, would at least be allowing their Sunday Perspective section to be used for lively debates on the serious subjects which need to be discussed by all of us. However, this isn’t the case. A recent article entitled “Now Comes the Hard Part” (11/18/01) illustrates the questionable quality of the reporting underway.

In it, Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) professor Frederick Starr is again trotted out to essentially confirm the Pentagon’s world view. Starr, the Sun tells us, is deeply concerned that our current intervention in Afghanistan will benefit Russia. What’s urgently needed, Starr is repeatedly quoted as saying, is a “stable” government in Afghanistan. Since Starr makes no mention of human rights (and neither does anyone else in the article), it seems logical to assume that Starr’s definition of “stability” means he wants Afghanistan to be another client state of the US. In his own words:

“We did not stand up to the Northern Alliance, we did not stand up to their sponsor [Russia]. Now we have two governments functioning in Afghanistan and neither one of them is ours. One [the Northern Alliance] is there in defiance of us, the other [the Taliban] is there in opposition to us. It is not a good situation.” (The Sun, 11/18/01).”

The article quotes no one who is in disagreement with Starr’s assessment that what’s urgently needed in Afghanistan is a government that is “ours.” And, this article is not unique at all in the Sun's coverage of the events in Afghanistan. Very seldom is anyone quoted questioning what we’re doing there. This is the opinion page of the only daily newspaper in a medium-sized city, and the commentary seldom strays from the government’s line.

Fortunately for democracy-advocates, many different perspectives that can still be found on the Internet. A website that is a particular favorite of this author is Common Dreams. They collect articles from the U.S. and elsewhere that offer alternatives to the near-total representation of the rich and powerful in our nation’s mainstream media. Recently, for example, The Guardian of London (11/22/01) rejected Frederick Starr’s analysis that the U.S. was being suckered into a “Russian play for power.” From the Guardian:

The U.S. government appears to be increasingly impatient with any kind of restraint on its use of naked force. In the past week or so, it has repeatedly bombed areas known to be free of Taliban or al-Qaida forces - such as the town of Gardez, where at least seven civilians were killed in one raid; rocketed the offices of al-Jazeera, the freest television station in the Middle East; threatened to sink any ship in the Arabian sea that resists being boarded; and ordered the setting up of domestic military tribunals, with powers to try secretly and execute suspected foreign terrorists...

“Only Afghans can create a viable political future for themselves; foreign interference has been at the heart of Afghanistan’s 20-year disintegration...If Bin Laden is captured and killed in the next few days, as the U.S. and British military seem increasingly confident will happen, the Afghan campaign will be celebrated as a decisive breakthrough in the war against terror—and the U.S. will move on, turning its attention to Iraq and elsewhere, after mopping up a few foreign jihad enthusiasts.”

“But in reality it is likely to be nothing of the sort. The war against the Taliban has so dominated the global response to the atrocities of September 11, it is hard to remember that the Kandahar clerics probably had nothing directly to do with them. And even if Bin Laden and his Afghan-based acolytes knew of the attacks in advance, it is highly unlikely that they were involved in the detailed planning, not least because of the intense surveillance he was under and the logistical problems of communication from one of the world’s most technologically backward countries. Despite the best endeavors of U.S. investigators to make the link, there seems to be no reliable evidence that the hijackers even trained in Afghanistan—though several did in the U.S. Western governments exaggerate the importance of state sponsorship to terror campaigns.

“The case against the Afghan war was never that the Taliban would turn out to be a latterday Vietcong - critics predicted they would be defeated - but primarily that it would lead to large-scale civilian casualties, fail to stamp out anti-western terrorism, create a political backlash throughout the Muslim world and actually increase the likelihood of further attacks. In the absence of any serious effort to address the grievances underlying anti-US hatred, that argument has been strengthened.”

These are some of the viewpoints of our war in Afghanistan from a mainstream newspaper in the capital of our closest ally. Unfortunately, these are not viewpoints that can be expressed in a mainstream newspaper of the “Land of the Free.” An excellent way to function as a progressive media activist these days is to think of new ways to bring the perspectives of the foreign media to the U.S.

Let the dialogues begin…

Scott Loughrey

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