What’s the current condition of Afghanistan?

Don’t Panic ... Your War Questions Answered

If you don’t know what’s happening in Afghanistan these days, don’t feel too badly. You’re not alone.

Even though Afghanistan was the first stop in the War on Terror™ and the United States still has about 19,000 soldiers fighting there, Afghanistan doesn’t get much attention from the broadcast news sources from which most Americans get their information.

The Bush White House likes it that way. The less reporting there is about Afghanistan, the more likely it is that the Bush administration’s campaign to misinform the American public about Afghanistan will succeed.

Dem’s fightin’ words, I know, but if you think I’m exaggerating even the slightest bit, you can conduct a simple experiment that will make it strikingly clear that “campaign to misinform” is probably an understatement.

The experiment: Go to the White House’s website (www.whitehouse.gov) and type “Afghanistan” into the search box.

You are pointed to a page titled “Rebuilding Afghanistan.” The content of “Rebuilding Afghanistan” is well-summarized by the artful banner on the top of the page. Surrounded by vaguely Afghan-themed trim, the banner depicts a mosque, a man in a turban dropping his ballot into a ballot box, and, I kid you not, Laura Bush with her arms around some girls.

Scroll down the page and you’ll find a couple of feel-good quotations from Afghan President Hamid Karzai (e.g., “I’m here today to thank you, Mr. President, once again for your leadership in providing Afghanistan the security, the reconstruction, and the freedoms that the Afghani people have today”) and a couple from President Bush, including the circular gem, “I’ve got great faith in the ability of democracy to provide hope.”

Below that, there is a ton of detailed information about Afghanistan’s political nuts and bolts (there are 102 people in the upper house of Afghanistan’s parliament!), the country’s election rules (you must be 18 to vote in Afghanistan), and how much improved the political situation is for women (“In the lower house, 68 seats have been reserved for women candidates.”)

What good does any of that information do you? Unless you’re playing bar trivia in Kabul sometime soon, not much. It’s just noise. If someone asked you to describe the United States, do you think you’d say, “We have 100 Senators and the 19th Amendment of the Constitution grants women the right to vote”?

I’m not just skimming the surface of the White House’s Web page to make a sarcastic rhetorical point, either. And digging deeper does not improve matters. The “Rebuilding Afghanistan” page also includes a link to something called “Ask the White House.” It’s touted as a way for us, the American people, to get around the filter of the Beltway media and directly ask important questions of our national leaders.

The problem with “Ask the White House” is that the only questions anyone seems to answer (not just about Afghanistan, but on any topic) are softballs.

In December, the National Security Council’s Director for Afghanistan Kurt Amend addressed a dozen question about Afghanistan. But the questions: A) were so vague that they allowed Amend to respond with canned talking points (“Do you believe we are making progress in Afghanistan?”); B-) were so trivial that I wanted to slap the person who wrote them (“How many members will be in the Afghan National Assembly?”); and C) seemed to have been written by Sean Hannity (“Why do we not hear about the great things going on in Afghanistan, e.g., schools and school enrollments, state of their economy and how other countries like India are helping in rebuilding Afghanistan?”).

Before giving up, I found the transcript of Bush’s Jan. 26 speech delivered at Kansas State University. Billed on the page as discussion about the “Global War on Terror,” the president sums up the current state of affairs in Afghanistan thusly:

“Today in Afghanistan there is a fledgling democracy. Al-Qaeda no longer has run of the country; the Taliban is routed; there’s an elected parliament and president dedicated to democratic institutions. (Applause).”

Next week, I’ll write about what the White House isn’t telling you about Afghanistan.