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January 27, 2003

You Knew Darn Well I

You Knew Darn Well I Was A Snake Before You Took Me In.

The next time someone says we're ignoring Afghanistan, ask them how they know. I don't know what they'll say, exactly, but a large part of their argument will be. "I haven't seen anything about it on the news."

Afghanistan is being ignored in favor of Iraq, but only by the major media. Otherwise you might have seen a few more stories like these.

2003 Will Bring Shift from Combat to Reconstruction in Afghanistan

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration are the two entities leading economic reconstruction in Afghanistan, according to Collins, and one of their main projects for 2003 will be a series of maternal health clinics. In the past year, he said, they have been responsible for the existence of 600 schools, 10 million textbooks, 7,000 metric tons of seeds and supplying around $200 million for Afghan refugees.

U.S. Army civil affairs specialists, meanwhile, have built another 127 schools, dug 400 wells, built 26 medical clinics, and refurbished the National Veterinary Center and the National Teachers' College in Kabul, according to Collins.

Rebuilding Afghanistan - Progress Update - January 9, 2003

Fall distribution of seed and fertilizer is complete. USAID distributed seed and fertilizer to 91,500 families and fertilizer to an additional 28,500 families. The 6,000 metric tons of wheat seed and fertilizer will yield 42,000 metric tons of wheat at next summer's harvest, an estimated additional income of $69 per household, and is a key step in rebuilding Afghanistan's ability to feed itself and reduce dependence upon food aid.

Afghani Currency Conversion Completed (Scroll down)

The currency conversion replaced the old Afghani. The new one from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), Afghanistan’s Central Bank, is worth 1,000 old Afghanis. The new currency sets the stage for further economic reforms and the revival of the Afghan economy, a central USAID goal in Afghanistan.

Sustaining Afghanistan

Though it hasn't gotten much attention, there has been a major increase in U.S. and allied troop deployments over the last year. There are now some 9,500 U.S. troops in the country, along with 5,000 from allied nations; the number of Americans has more than doubled since a year ago. In addition, the Pentagon -- which stubbornly resisted Mr. Karzai's pleas for a nationwide international peacekeeping force -- has begun to move toward creating a functional equivalent. Eight or more regional clusters of civilian and military forces are planned for deployment near important provincial centers in the coming months; they will combine technical help for reconstruction with a force that will be small but credible, given the backup of U.S. air power.

Afghans’ future pivots on US

Living conditions are still harsh for many people, and episodic violence continues. But at the same time substantial progress has been made in Afghanistan, thanks to patient, persistent efforts both inside and outside the country.

Now put yourself in a CBS Evening News producers shoes. Nice, aren't they? Yes, yes that is Italian leather. Very comfortable, very expensive. You know who paid for those shoes? The makers of Metamucil paid for those shoes, and the distributors of Sunny D, and the fine people at Metamucil and Sunny D only pay for those shoes when you can assure them that a lot of eyeballs are attracted and held captive by you, a producing master of the universe, and you didn't get to be a producing master of the universe by running 30 minutes of touchy feely upbeat goody goody news. People turn off that shit and turn on the news that scares them, or pisses them off, or causes them to perch on the edge of the chair.

When it comes to the news, people don't want Mr. Rodgers, they want Alfred Hitchcock. That means that things Fred Rodgers thinks of don't get on the news, and things that Alfred thinks of do. That's why bodies and bad news fill the airwaves, even if they make up only a small percentage of total information available in the day.

I'll be the first to admit it. I bought into the "we're ignoring Afghanistan" meme early on, and I continued to think so, more or less, until I saw a story in the Raleigh News and Observer on the Civil Affairs troops based in North Carolina.

In Afghanistan, Civil Affairs teams were initially dispatched to provinces all over the country, first to ensure basic human needs were being take care of, then to assess the needs for infrastructure, such as schools and roads.

Sometimes, the Robin Hood approach to winning hearts and minds was the only choice, said Sgt. 1st Class Victor Andersen, a Civil Affairs medic who spent seven months in Afghanistan, much of it working in remote Paktika province on the border with Pakistan.

There, his team members helped repair the damage done by more than 20 years of war and neglect.

They took 150 tons of food and 11,000 blankets from a local warlord and distributed them to civilians. They also built five schools and ran a medical clinic that treated hundreds of patients a day. Their work was appreciated.

Grateful residents tipped off U.S. troops to the presence of rockets, with activated fuses, aimed at their compound. At that point, Andersen said, his team knew they weren't just trying to win hearts and minds, they were succeeding.

Locals also helped the Americans find several caches of arms and warned them whenever suspicious outsiders appeared in the community.

I read that and started wondering "Why did I never hear this before?"

It's my own fault, really. Despite knowing that the media serves only a small portion of the information available, and despite knowing even that small amount of information is skewed towards items that can best be described as noisy and shiny, I took a position based on a lack of information, even though I could have refuted the idea with nothing more than a Google search. The links above are just a small sample of what has actually been out there on the net in the past year or so. I intentionally chose links close to today's date for this post, but there are hundreds more stretching back into 2002 and 2001.

So, no cause for celebration as far as my bullshit detector goes on that story, but I shan't be gnashing my teeth and rending my clothing in sorrow, either. I just have to remember a new rule. "Don't trust stories based on negative evidence."

Now, the natural comeback to stories like the ones above is a simple "Yes, but...", where "we're not doing enough" follows close on the heels of the "but". A common example is when people who opposed the Afghani war in the first place, either out a suppsed commitment to peace, or an opposition to casualties, start pointing out this or that warlord as being one step from Taliban-like oppression, and declaring his presence means that we're failing. They're essentially arguing that we should have killed them, too. Actually going in and killing said warlord would also be held up as an example of America's failure in Afghanistan. "Yes, but.." arguments are essentially impossible to argue against, since that argument can always take a contrary position, until it reaches an extreme, something along the lines of "Yes, but what if the sun explodes?"

Not that I think we shouldn't try and do more in Afghanistan, or go faster. But the situation is not nearly as dire as one would think, and every day that goes by without Afghanistan falling back into the pit is a day where the chance that it is going fall back lessens. USAID/Afghanistan is talking about a stable country by 2005, and that seems plenty fast to me.

Posted by Bigwig at January 27, 2003 10:48 PM | TrackBack
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