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Is there anyone who still believes in the independence of the American media? After the spectacle of embedded journalism, the evisceration of Dan Rather, the sordid saga of Judith Miller and the New York Times, and the emasculation of Newsweek Magazine, if you require further proof, look to the recent visit of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
By all appearances, President Karzai is an honest and sincere leader even though his presidency was made possible by the blessings and support of the White House warlords. At the initiation of the war in Iraq, Karzai wisely appealed to the United States Congress not to forget his nation, a nation already conquered and occupied by American led forces. Moved by his compassion, our congressional leaders posed for the cameras to give praise and a solemn promise: We will not forget.
Three years later, the forgotten occupation still seethes with civil unrest. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest. Afghani citizens still fall to American bombs, missiles and renewed military offensives. Tribal warlords still rule most of the country and protect the opium fields upon which Afghanistan still depends for survival.
Against this backdrop, it should not have been surprising that President Karzai had some harsh criticism for his American sponsors. It was time, he argued, for the Afghan government to gain control of military operations. It was not, he observed, the article in Newsweek concerning the desecration of the Koran that led to mass demonstrations across Afghanistan in which dozens of protesters were shot down for exercising their democratic rights; it was the conditions of occupation, a desperate economy, and a lack of progress under virtual military rule.
What was the administration response? The Department of Defense issued stern rebuke of President Karzai and his government for failing to control the opium trade.
What was the story in American media? The failure of the Afghan government to control the opium trade.
It is somehow assumed that the president of Afghanistan is misinformed or not familiar enough with his own people to rewrite a story that has already gone forth as an example of media malfeasance. After all, Newsweek has already accepted the blame. Newsweek has already taken the blood of the innocent on the hands of its reporters. Who is the president of Afghanistan to reassign culpability?
Now that Newsweek (a publication that might have been considered liberal a decade ago) has joined CBS in being humbled before the eyes of the meta-media world, President Karzai must also be bent to his knees by accepting blame for the Afghan opium trade.
Has it occurred to anyone in America’s free press that without control of the military there is absolutely nothing Karzai can do about the opium trade? Has it occurred to any mainstream journalist that without the opium trade there is no Afghan economy?
Where is Christianne Amanpour when we need her? Would CNN even allow her to file a report?
Where are those congressional leaders who vowed never to forget? Does it occur to none that the welfare of Afghanistan is now America’s burden? Under the circumstances, it was imperative for Karzai to submit the solemn truth: They do not need covert operations on the Pakistani border. They do not need military prisons filled with uncharged suspects. They need basic security and the rule of law. They need a well-supplied Afghan army and the disarmament of the warlords. Most critically, in the absence of the opium trade, they need massive economic assistance.
What Karzai foresaw three years ago, he must now accept in despair: That assistance, along with the dream of a free and peaceful Afghanistan, is not forthcoming.
Before he was muzzled and escorted from Washington, Karzai spoke the truth: The bare minimum a sovereign democratic government can expect is control over military operations within its own borders. If it is denied that minimal authority, it is nothing more than a figurehead for the occupying forces.
It is a rude awakening for a proud man who sincerely cares about the future of his people. The lesson he has learned is familiar to many throughout the world: America may be a partner but it is not a friend.
JACK RANDOM is the author of the Jazzman Chronicles, the War Chronicles (Crow Dog Press) and Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press). He can be reached through his website: www.jackrandom.com.