So what’s going on in Afghanistan?

So much of our Memorial Day coverage is focusing on WWII and Iraq, and a bit on Vietnam. It’s eerie, how little we hear about Afghanistan, our jewel in the crown, proof of the success of our little “war on terror.”

For months Afghanistan was all we heard about, and suddenly, as if by magic, it all morphed into Iraq. We can scarcely remember the pudgy little Mullah Omar and his cronies. We hear snippets: the Taliban are re-emerging, the opium trade is back. But how many of us actually has a clear picture of what’s going on in Afghanistan now?

Bob Novak is one of America’s journalists I admire the least, but like so many other conservative/reactionary pundits who’ve been sucking at Bush’s teat since 2001, he’s come full circle and is consumed with pessimism about our holy war. As I read his update on Afghanistan, I could feel his indignation, his contempt.

The handful of valiant American warriors fighting the ”other” war in Afghanistan is not a happy band of brothers. They are undermanned and feel neglected, lack confidence in their generals and are disgusted by Afghan political leadership. Most important, they are appalled by the immense but fruitless effort to find Osama bin Laden for purposes of U.S. politics.

This bleak picture goes unreported because journalists are rarely seen there. It was painted to me by hard U.S. fighters who are committed to the war against terrorism but have a heavy heart. They talked to me not to undermine policy but to reveal problems that should and can be corrected.

Afghanistan constitutes George W. Bush’s clearest victory since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The Taliban regime has been overthrown, eliminating al-Qaida’s most important base. But the overlooked war continues with no end in sight. Narcotics trafficking is at an all-time high. If U.S. forces were to leave, the Taliban — or something like it — would regain power. The United States is lost in Afghanistan, bound to this wild country and unable to leave.

The situation in Afghanistan, as laid out to me, looks nothing like a country alleged to be progressing toward representative democracy under American tutelage. Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-sponsored Afghan president, is regarded by the U.S. troops as hopelessly corrupt and kept in power by U.S. force of arms.

Lost…hopeless…bleak…failure…disgusted…fruitless. What a description. It closes not with any optimism, but with a wail:

I am told that one discouraged and now discharged Special Forces officer, who always has voted Republican and admires Bush, thought about contacting a former military colleague now advising John Kerry. He decided that would accomplish nothing and would inject him in politics. Being lost in Afghanistan transcends politics and is a long-term American burden.

You have to see this in perspective. Novak has been known for decades as a ruthless right-wing hatchet man. You would think that with an election approaching, Novak would be holding his nose and using every chance he could to sing Bush’s praises. But he’s not, and neither are other members of the right-wing media chorus.

Bush’s chief leg up on Kerry is his at times brilliant use of propaganda. (No praise to Bush intended — it’s all thanks to Karl Rove and Karen Hughes.) I still worry he will use some spectacular PR event to win back the undecided. In fact, he tried to do it last week, with Ashcroft’s outrageous press conference, which was met with all the contempt it deserved. (And read the article — it’s a classic.) Finally, the fish didn’t take the bait.

PR tactics only work when you have transmitters like Novak to spread the word. Yes, there’s still Matt Drudge and Fox News and lots of others in the wings, but this sudden collapse, or at least crippling, of the Bush propangda machine is going to make it much more difficult for Bush’s soundbytes to be heard amid all the criticism. (Matthew Yglesias is doing a masterful job keeping track of former Bush supporters who are now thoroughly disillusioned. This recent addition was among the most devastating.)

Of all the calamities that could befall Bush, I believe this will be the most devastating. Now that the media are finally calling him to account and not sucking up, we all get to see the real Bush and what he has achieved. And there’s nothing there. Nothing. To the contrary.

Remember, our “success” in Afghanistan is the very foundation of the appeal to re-elect Shrub. It is representative of all those qualities Bush doesn’t possess but that he wants you to believe he does: Strength of purpose, indomitable will, a brilliant strategy for winning the “war on terror,” and the courage and skill of a “wartime president.”

When you read a column by Robert Novak about Afghanistan that leaves you wondering whether he might vote for John Kerry, you know Bush is in serious trouble.

UPDATE: A commenter just pointed me to this article, which begins with a priceless reminiscence and a return to reality:

In December, 2002, a year after the Taliban had been driven from power in Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld gave an upbeat assessment of the country’s future to CNN’s Larry King. “They have elected a government. . . . The Taliban are gone. The Al Qaeda are gone. The country is not a perfectly stable place, and it needs a great deal of reconstruction funds,” Rumsfeld said. “There are people who are throwing hand grenades and shooting off rockets and trying to kill people, but there are people who are trying to kill people in New York or San Francisco. So it’s not going to be a perfectly tidy place.” Nonetheless, he said, “I’m hopeful, I’m encouraged.” And he added, “I wish them well.”

A year and a half later, the Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. American troops, more than ten thousand of whom remain, are heavily deployed in the mountainous areas near Pakistan, still hunting for Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed President, exercises little political control outside Kabul and is struggling to undercut the authority of local warlords, who effectively control the provinces. Heroin production is soaring, and, outside of Kabul and a few other cities, people are terrorized by violence and crime. A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week’s international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a “terrorist breeding ground” unless there is a significant increase in development aid.

What was the great achievement of our wartime president? Where is our victory? Where and how have we been made more safe? How are our lives better today than they were four years ago, under America’s last legally elected president? How much stronger are our alliances with our partners? How much more respsect has America garnered throughout the world? How much prouder are we all to be Americans?

There is not a single reason to vote for George Bush. Not one. And don’t reply, “John Kerry.” He may not be perfect, but the man is a hero, an intellect, a leader and a liberal. Yes, a liberal is a good thing, and it’s high time we get one back into the White House.

Sorry for the rant, but Bush has got to go.


Tiananmen Square: Why the world remembers

The media pipeline, not surprisingly, is glutted with stories about Tiananmen Square as the 15th anniversary of the June 4 massacre approaches. One article in CNN looks at how despite the progress and change of recent years, the ghosts of June 4 haunt us even today.

The political repression continued. But for most ordinary Chinese, there was more hope, and greater personal liberty, than at almost any other time in Chinese history….

Mothers who lost their sons are harassed and prevented from mourning in public and their demands for the government to reexamine the tragedy are rebuffed.

For the Chinese Communist Party, “reversing the verdict” on Tiananmen would be like pulling a bandage off a still-unhealed wound.

Because in the end, for all the progress since then, Tiananmen showed that the party still rules by repression and by fear.

That’s why, while for ordinary Chinese Tiananmen is now largely forgotten, for the ruling elite — and for many of those who were there — the ghosts have not gone away.

“The party still rules by repression and fear.”

More than any other event that I “witnessed” from a distance, I felt that I was there as the Tiananmen Square saga unfolded. I was as far away as I could be, in my new apartment in Arizona, but I stayed glued to the news, as much as I did on September 11th, and I thought we were watching one of the great revolutions of history. And we were.

I don’t know why I was so obsessed. I suppose it was the shock of having hopes raised to such a high level, and then being so terribly disappointed. Who could have believed it — all of Beijing, it appeared, joining mass protests for democracy. The government couldn’t just march in and shoot their own people for peaceful demonstrations, could they? I never felt such impotent rage as the army “restored social stability” to Beijing. And I couldn’t get the image of the “tank man” out of my head (and I still can’t, and probably never will).

I guess the one satisfaction to be had as June 4 nears is the knowledge that, as much as the government strives to silence the activists and the TS mothers and anyone who dares even raise the topic, memories of Tiananmen Square are as alive and as vivid as they were 15 years ago, both for those who saw it with their own eyes and those who saw it on videotape thousands of miles away. It hasn’t been forgiven and it hasn’t been forgotten, no matter how much Li Peng and his colleagues (those who are alive or burning in hell) wish otherwise.

More posts about Tiananmen Square:
Tiananmen Square revisited
Tiananmen Square re-revisited
The story behind the Tiananmen Square “tank man” photo


A mom’s letter to the editor: “My son is gay, and I’m proud of it”

You simply have to read this letter. I was shaking.

Letter to the Editor
by Sharon Underwood, Sunday, April 30, 2000
from the Valley News (White River Junction, VT/Hanover, NH)

As the mother of a gay son, I’ve seen firsthand how cruel and misguided people can be.

Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I’ve taken enough from you good people.

I’m tired of your foolish rhetoric about the “homosexual agenda” and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.

My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.

He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called “fag” incessantly, starting when he was 6.

In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn’t bear to continue living any longer, that he didn’t want to be gay and that he couldn’t face a life without dignity.

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don’t know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it’s about time you started doing that.

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won’t get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don’t know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you’d best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I’m puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that’s not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I’ll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for “true Vermonters.”

You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn’t give their lives so that the “homosexual agenda “could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn’t the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can’t bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.

How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.

You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about “those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing” asks: “What ever happened to the idea of striving…to be better human beings than we are?”

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?

All the Randall Terrys and Rick Santorums and other haters out there should be forced to read it. Not that it would do any good; they’re probably too far gone by now. Oh, and George W. Bush should read it too, as he prepares to sully the constitution with a new amendment, the sole purpose of which is to discriminate against a huge group of Americans.

Link via Atrios. Thank you, sir.


The no-carb diet for 2004


It sounds too good to be true. And looking more possible every day.

Graphic stolen from Kevin.


Latest crackdown in China: Tiananmen Square activists

As the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre approaches, none of us is surprised to see China cracking down on political dissidents and outspoken students. In fact, they’ve set up a special task force just to monitor student activities.

“The universities are under strict control and there are several kinds of restrictions and regulations dealing with the anniversary,” a Beijing academic said.

“For the universities, there is a special organ run by the State Security Ministry. They are responsible for a wide range of monitoring in the university district.”

The 1989 massacre in the streets of Beijing has remained a highly sensitive topic, with students on the capital’s campuses strongly discouraged from discussing the issue.

“The students don’t dare to speak about this because they know they will get in trouble. They can discuss these things in an abstract way, but specific discussion will only lead to trouble,” the academic said.

While police are monitoring Beijing campuses, they have also placed a group of known dissidents under house arrest or strict surveillance.

The 70-year-old leader of the Tiananmen Mothers, Ding Zilin , whose son was killed in the 1989 massacre, has been put under surveillance and told not to accept visitors in the lead-up to the anniversary.

Funny, to see the great leaders of the world’s fastest growing nation trembling at the thought of a 70-year-old woman accepting visitors.

It’s so important, as some are quick to give Hu and Wen credit as reformers, to remember that simply discussing the topic of what went on the night of June 4, 1989 is still enough to get you in deep trouble on China’s college campuses. China’s changing and improving and growing. But it’s important to see this in perspective. It’s still a dangerous place for anyone foolish enough to bring up certain unutterable truths.



Last night I watched in slack-jawed wonder as Fox News “political analyst” Ann Coulter debated the Iraq war with Bill O’Reilly. She insists it’s going “magnificently” and that we’ve found lots of weapons of mass destruction. It was bizarre, and I intended to write about it at length when I saw that a superb blogger had done it for me. If you hate Ann Coulter, and if O’Reilly gives you the creeps, it is truly must reading. I’m blogrolling World O’Crap right now.


NYT on CBD (Compulsive Blogging Disorder)

Why do we do it? Why do we get addicted to it? How many others out there are going through the same thing? What would the effects of withdrawal be like if we were to just stop cold turkey? The New York Times looks at the growing phenomenon of compusive blogging disorder.


InstaPundit – James Lileks – Mickey Kaus parody

I swear, I was rolling out of my chair laughing when I read this. (Especially the Lileks spoof, although comments seemed to find Kaus the funniest). Is this guy a genius or what? Obscene, hilarious and brilliant. Of course, if you don’t read InstaPuppy, Lileks or Kaus it won’t mean very much…..

(Link via that anonymous Philly blogger.)

Update: I forgot, he parodies Steven DenBeste and Tacitus, too.


China’s crackdown du jour: human rights violators

It seems that the Chinese government’s always engaged in one crackdown or another, whether it’s corrupt officials, Internet essayists, tax evaders, you name it. Now they say they’re going after officials who violate human rights.

China has decided to launch a year-long clean-up campaign to probe human rights infringement crimes committed by government officials across the country, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) announced here Wednesday.

The sweeping investigation, starting this May, will focus on crimes like inquisition by torture, extorted confession, illegal detention, interference with citizen’s voting rights, and other crimes that lead to human rights infringement.

“China launches the campaign to practice the principle of ‘respect for and protection of human rights’ that has been newly written into the Constitution and to better protect people’s legitimate rights and interests,” said Wang Zhenchuan, deputy procurator-general of the SPP.

From 2001 to 2003, China’s procuratorates at all levels investigated 4,029 cases of human rights infringement crimes and punished a group of government officials whose dereliction of duty had caused great loss of people’s lives and assets.

The SPP has ordered local procuratorates at all levels to publicize their telephone numbers and e-mail addresses to accept supervision from the public.

Why do they need to give out an email address? All they need to do is look at the foreign papers to see examples of human rights violations being perpetrated by Chinese officials every day.


China puts AIDS activist Hu Jia under house arrest

Apparently they don’t want him visiting an “AIDS village” at the same time as an American delegation.

Hu Jia said police began a round-the-clock watch on his Beijing home last weekend. At least six or seven officers are present all the time, he said.

“When I tried to get out of my home on Monday, they physically stopped me,” Hu said. “They grabbed my neck and used their elbows to prevent me from leaving.”

The activist said he had been hoping to meet with a U.S. delegation on Friday in Shangcai, a village in Henan province.

Parts of Henan have some of the world’s highest rates of AIDS infection. Tens of thousands of people there were infected in the 1990s because of an unsanitary blood-buying industry, and in some villages nearly every family has a member with the virus.

Hu, 30, said the police told his mother on Wednesday that they didn’t want him to go to Henan and that they had arranged for him to go on a trip to the neighboring province of Anhui from May 29 to June 10. He said two officers would be accompanying him the whole time.

The US embassy is sending a delegation to Shangcai on those dates.

China is doing a lot to deal with the AIDS crisis, finally, and they could use this to help improve their image. Why then do they screw it up with stunts like this, reminding the world that for all the progress there’s still plenty of paranoia to go around?