Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Remember Afghanistan?

"Hey! Are you even listening to me?" Afghanistan snapped her fingers at American Media to get her attention. "What's wrong? It's like you don't even remember me. We used to be so close and now, you're...so distant," she muttered to her old friend as she looked away in confusion. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, I've just been busy. You know, Helen Thomas' chair, LeBron James, Lady Gaga, the new iPhone, and oil on some animals," replied American Media, still looking away from Afghanistan and focusing on something in the horizon.

"But, you forgot...you forgot about the anniversary."

"Anniversary?" American Media had a puzzled look on her face.

"Yeah...the anniversary. Just this past month, your conflict here surpassed Vietnam as America's longest war."

"But...but...no, that can't be right. How is that possible?" American Media started pacing around the room, nervously. She finally looked at Afghanistan in the eyes. "How did this happen? How did I forget?"

Yeah, I know, a little ridiculous. But writing is my main (only?) talent, so you know, thought I'd spice it up a little. Anyway, yeah, did you know the war in Afghanistan is now America's LONGEST WAR EVER???? We just passed Vietnam...kind of. If you count the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as America's official entry into Vietname (most do), than yes, we just passed it, though obviously, the U.S. was involved before that time. Either way, Afghanistan is either officially the longest U.S. war in history, or unofficially the second longest war in history. Neither is a good thing.

Why don't we even know about this? Because, the press has put covering Afghanistan on the back burner, as they frequently do. The U.S. media coverage of Afghanistan is like the stock market...it goes up, it goes down, it goes way up, it crashes, and nobody has any idea what the hell is happening!! (For my money, Lewis Black has a better economic model)

Last fall, Afghanistan was a big topic for the press. Karzai stole an election and the war hit the 8 year anniversary. President Same-Ol' Same-Ol'...er...Obama kept talking tough about drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and better governance in Afghanistan. But...since then, troop levels have increased, violence has reached new heights...and coverage has declined. Less than 3% of news stories are about Afghanistan in 2010.

I get that fatigue sets in on stories...reporters lose interest, the public loses interest...it happens. But, this is the longest damn war the U.S. has ever been in. Ever. Like in forever. Forever ever. Forever ever? Forever ever. That's no small thing. At the very least, that should get more than 3% of media coverage for half a year in which America escalates troop commitments, and violence spikes.

One reason why CBS dropped its coverage? Lara Logan's pregnancy. Seriously. Talk about the political economy of the mass media just biting us in the ass. Now I realize CBS is a small, independent media station and can't afford more than one person to cover Afghanistan, but...hold on a second. What's that? It's what now? One of the three major network stations? What??? Son of a...

I could go on and on about the political economy of the mass media, and how the terrible trends of the past 30 years have destroyed our press (massive consolidation, downsizing/outright destruction of foreign bureaus, increasing involvement of PR firms, advertising dollars, etc.), but I'll just suggest a great book to read about it. But, yeah, that's part of the issue at hand here.

Point is, Afghanistan is a big freaking deal. In terms of national security, this is kind of an important country. Karzai and his cronies have mismanaged it into a nightmare. America took its eyes off the ball and made it Iraq's step-brother for much of the last decade, in aid, security, accountability, troops, etc. The instability has triggered a neo-Taliban resurgence, and is part of the reason Pakistan is becoming more unstable - it's not just Pakistan destabilizing Afghanistan (that is also happening, but the causal arrow goes both ways). It is America's longest war. Yet, besides occasional blips (Karzai's rigging the election, the possible cover up of U.S. troops murdering pregnant women, or of the recent discovery of vast mineral riches), the conflict in Afghanistan stays low on the radar. Even these blips don't last too long. This isn't Grenada, folks. American involvement in this war has gone on longer that the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, or the Korean War. It has surpassed Vietnam. We all know how that one turned out. If the press continues to not cover this conflict, who's to say it won't turn out as bad as that one, or even worse?