Wednesday, August 26, 2009

News From Afghanistan: Understatement-ad-Absurdum, Snake Oil and Propaganda

After 15 years toiling for daily newspapers and several more years writing books and working as a freelance writer, I confess to harbouring some occasional cynicism about the journalism trade. When it comes to Afghanistan, in my darker moments I've sometimes wondered whether the Karzai regime would get better press in the rich countries of the world with a simple public relations strategy, along, say, these lines:

1. Incorporate references to the Protocols of Zion in the Afghan constitution. 2. Arrange to have the Afghan parliament sponsor the launching of a few hundred missiles into civilian neighbourhoods in Israel. 3. Sign an oil deal with Hugo Chavez.

Not that Karzai deserves good press, particularly in light of the way his government has so badly banjaxed the country's first Afghan-run presidential elections. But in the news business, the big picture we get about faraway places is made up of stories, and stories are made up of sentences, and my cynicism wasn't exactly tempered today when I read this sentence:

The Taliban had urged citizens to boycott the election.

So that's how we're describing it. In its vicious campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at disrupting Afghanistan's presidential elections, the Taliban threatened Afghans with death and dismemberment if they merely intended to show up at polling stations to cast ballots. In the Christian Science Monitor, this savage terror is reduced to: The Taliban had urged citizens to boycott the election.

Meanwhile, in the Ottawa Sun, columnist Eric Margolis tells us, once again that it's all about oil. I couldn't find a single sentence in that whole column that wasn't either stupid, plain wrong or downright outrageous, but this one really stands out: "The current war in Afghanistan is not about democracy, women's rights, education or nation building. Al-Qaida, the other excuse, barely exists. Its handful of members long ago decamped to Pakistan. The war really is about oil pipeline routes and western domination of the energy-rich Caspian Basin." [Update: Elaboration and background here.]

When it comes to Margolis, it really is about oil. Snake oil.

Margolis is a long-time Taliban enthusiast and an apologist for Hamas. It is curious that Margolis is held in such high esteem by self-proclaimed "anti-war" noisemakers of the leftish type, given that he's a founding editor of the noxious Yankee Pat Buchanan's extreme-right American Conservative magazine, but there we are. The really oily bit is that Margolis is the millionaire majority owner of Jamieson's Laboratories, which makes a tidy profit by bilking gullible cold-sufferers with this stuff.

But quackery persists. Mark Collins explains how it's rubbish: "Nonsense. Afghanistan has no role in the production or transportation of Caspian Basin oil. Most of that oil is in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Azerbaijan has no need for Afghanistan as a pipeline route. Neither does Kazakhstan. Its oil is exported by pipeline via Russia and to China." But some people just can't help themselves. They just can't give up.

Over at The Torch, Damian Brooks has had quite enough of journalists who produce anti-journalism of the sort that results in the sentence The Taliban had urged citizens to boycott the election. "Now, they'll argue they can't take sides and that they can't give one point of view more weight than another. Bullshit. That's like having a broken leg and giving equal credence to the opinions of your doctor and your six year old daughter on the matter: one is credible on the subject, and one isn't."

Aye and aye.

ADDENDUM: A dependable journalist, Rosie DiManno, knows bullshit when she sees it:

"So appalling was the destruction from simultaneous bombings in Kandahar city on Tuesday evening that even the Taliban – who, of course, are always to be taken at their disingenuous word, at least by deranged purveyors of moral equivalency in the West – hastened to deny responsibility.

"Who else, then? Aliens? Or perhaps it was a diabolical CIA plot, as the mutton-headed conspiracy theorists will no doubt assert in blogo-land. . ."


Blogger David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/27/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Jonathon Narvey said...

Love the bit about the Taliban "boycotting" the election, as if they're pacifist vegetarians or something.

Well done, Terry.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Louise said...

And three cheers for putting Dr. Dawg in his special place in hell.

9:32 AM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

I wonder if Glavin is dismayed that lately, only card-carrying morons support him?

12:24 PM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

"I wonder if Glavin is dismayed that lately, only card-carrying morons support him?"

Hmmm. That's funny, Ti. I don't recall seeing you around here that often.

Perhaps I'm mistaken.

Now that the trash has been taken out...

Interestingly enough, Russia has very little interest in building a gas pipeline through Afghanistan because they're too busy trying to ram the Nord Stream pipeline down Sweden's throat. It's part of the Putin/Medvedev "pipeline diplomacy" initiative that more or less amounts to "don't piss us off or we're turning your fucking heat off".

12:43 PM  
Blogger Bernard von Schulmann said...

Meanwhile here is what Murray Dobbin has to say:

Seems everything bad happening in the fault of the US.

Murray Dobbin seems to say that the people of Afghanistan want a government that is anti-American and the US is actively stopping this.

Meanwhile, you only boycott an election when you know you are unpopular and can not win. If the Taliban had any hope that they could win a reasonable number of seats, they would have run.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Dobbin: "The lack of a viable exit strategy for the U.S. is tied directly to the real reason for its invasion and its continued occupation: the need for a pro-U.S. regime in Kabul to back its goal of controlling oil and gas supplies in the Middle East."

This is the first time I've seen Dobbin writing about Afghanistan without quoting the paleoconservative fantasist Margolis directly and approvingly. Even so, the Margolis line is there in its entirety, and indeed the whole thing is deep in Building 7 territory, and you would want to laugh at him were it not so sad.

It's all about US imperialism, just like Vietnam. Nevermind the Turkish, Irish, Jordanian, Arab Emirate and Singaporean soldiers, or the solders from 36 other countries ikn Afghanistan, the UN mandate, the popular support of the Afghan people. . .it's just like the Nam, man. And it's all about oil.

This is what "left wing" polemics has come to from that quarter. All these useless, comfortable, privileged and irrelevant remnants of the Sixties, churning out the same old drivel in an effort to convince each other and the rest of us that they have not been wrong, that their lives have not been wasted, that the world has not passed them by, that they still have something to say, and that unlike us, they are blessed with their elite knowledge of the "real" reasons things happen, and the rest of us are dupes, warmongers, or worse.

Leave them to their illusions. They are old and dying. No one will notice when they're gone. They offer nothing except the comforting and self-serving falsehoods that keep the "left" a moribund force in the rich countries of the world.

Without any help from them, the Afghan liberation struggle will go on, against all odds and against all enemies.

The people will win.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

As for pipelines, read also this:

"Dewar makes a great to-do about Afghanistan and energy, no?"

References available upon request.


4:25 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

The last commenter is banned from this place, and he knows it. Besides, just because he's a lunatic doesn't give him the right to libel people here.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

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5:08 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

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5:09 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

The lesson seems lost on him, though, poor sap.

Great piece Terry.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

And in the Toronto Star:

'Pipeline a long-standing plan

Aug 28, 2009 04:30 AM

Re:Enough of the Afghanistan war `racket,'

Letter, Aug. 27

Letter writer Graeme Gardiner refers to "... the TAPI pipeline planned to go directly through Kandahar, and American wishes to have NATO guard pipelines in the future" and implies that pipeline is a major reason for the Canadian presence in Afghanistan. Nonsense.

There is indeed a long-standing plan to transport natural gas produced in Turkmenistan by pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan and maybe India (the TAPI countries). But that is hardly a vital national security or capitalist interest for the U.S. or for other NATO members. Moreover, the participating countries will own the pipeline. And, given current conditions, such a pipeline is not likely to be built for quite a while.

Mark Collins, Ottawa'


9:51 AM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

So, I may ask, who's the "poor sap"?

11:57 AM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Patrick: The guy is unwell.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

Would this guy happen to be a member of the Clown Car Brigade?

9:03 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:11 AM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

Boy, seems like i started something with my "poor sap" remark. The poor sap in question is the person who keeps posting though Terry continually removes the posts. Sure sounds like the insane guy who keeps repeating the same action hoping for a different result. Hence, poor sap.

Sorry to disappoint.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

Wow. Dirk is so emotional.

And awfully ungrateful. See, Dirk, as I recall, I defended you when Robert Peter John Day suggested you should be banished from progressive political circles for defending religion.

Yes, I remember that very well.

Well Dirk, now that we've figured out that you're a little nutty, I'll bid you adieu for now.

Sheesh. Sometimes I feel like a nut, but you've made it a lifestyle.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Dirk Buchholz said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:19 PM  

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