Emerging from too much silence for too long

by Joshua Foust on 7/9/2010 · 7 comments

Hey everyone. I’m back for a while, I hope. As regular readers here know well, everyone who contributes to this site, including me and Nathan, have day jobs. And sometimes those day jobs must take priority over blogging. I’ve been put through the ringer by my job, a good ten months or so of incredible frustration and pettiness, and maybe sometime I’ll be in a position to talk about it.

In the meanwhile, I can draw attention to two pieces I’ve written, which will hopefully be a way of warming back up to the daily grind of blogging. The first is the resumption of my contributing at PBS’ new show, Need to Know, which replaced Bill Moyers’ Journal on Friday nights. Back in April, I wrote an overview of the Battle for Kandahar which I think has stood up well. This week, I turned my attention to punditry and how we derive understanding of the wars America fights:

In other words, these commentators and the government are a mutual appreciation society. They are symbiotic, each existing and prospering by feeding on the other.

There’s also a darker side to how these experts serve as validators to U.S. foreign policy: rarely is there a countervailing influence. Skeptics of an expanded war in Afghanistan like Gian Gentile or Andrew Bacevich are routinely derided as ignorant and marginalized in the debate. Most visibly, they don’t get the bimonthly tours of the war zones, the way Michael O’Hanlon or Kim and Fred Kagan do (Gentile is an active duty soldier, so his ability to travel is, admittedly, limited). Think of the last time a prominent general arranged a tour of Afghanistan for an anti-war columnist. If it ever happened, it was lost in the avalanche of pro-war pundits going on government-funded advocacy tours of the fighting.

Nothing earth shattering in there, but I think it’s a worthy discussion we don’t have often enough. In an completely unrelated note, at my other unpaid gig, the burgeoning e-zine Current Intelligence, I gave a quick rundown of my daily reading habits, giving shout-outs to some of our friends in the Central Asian blogosphere.

I welcome comments about both.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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STM July 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm

— Think of the last time a prominent general arranged a tour of Afghanistan for an anti-war columnist. If it ever happened, it was lost in the avalanche of pro-war pundits going on government-funded advocacy tours of the fighting.

You might want to put this differently. Not because the overall point is wrong, but because of a glaring exception which recently dominated the news cycle and led to McChrystal losing his job. Michael Hasting is certainly against the current strategy in Afghanistan, even if he isn’t strictly anti-war.

MP July 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I think you raise a very important point. How can we as citizens genuinely concerned with the war and its progress and outcomes- assess it carefully if those who have access are all for the war? A good debate is essential for sound policy.

anan July 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm

MP and STP, there is the Afghan media, the ANSF’s commanding generals, and many Afghan expatriate blogs [Afghan Canadians/Americans/Europeans/Indians/Australians.] How come the international media gives all of them so little coverage?

Michael Hancock July 10, 2010 at 12:16 am

I’ve been thinking of attempting to interview, in some for or other, my Dari teachers at Indiana. They’ve all had previous contracts with the military, and perhaps would like to share some insight. Their point of view would be interesting. As Afghan citizens now living and raising families in America, they might have some unique reasons for being pro-War whilst simultaneously able to point out areas for optimism in the future of Afghanistan.

STM July 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I agree with Josh when he writes that the U.S. discussion of Afghanistan could be improved if it included more critical perspectives. Part of this would mean facilitating critics’ access to Afghanistan itself, which would have the added benefit of making their criticism better informed.

Anan, I think you raise an important point. In my opinion, the exclusion of Afghan perspectives from the debate is a more serious problem. However, given the complexity of Afghan views, language barriers, and real security issues, it is difficult enough for journalists to communicate to a western audience how Afghans feel even about events deemed newsworthy, such as NATO airstrikes in Kunduz or the like. When it comes to the vast majority of daily life and opinion in Afghanistan, which is difficult to convey accurately (given the diversity) and doesn’t fit into narrow categories of newsworthiness, it is even less likely that it will be included much in American discussion. Doesn’t mean that this isn’t a goal to be worked toward. And sure, it helps that many Afghans and expats are blogging. Among others, I am glad that Naheed Mustafa is posting at Registan.

Schwartz July 11, 2010 at 10:30 am

Yo Josh! I don’t have anything to add to this particular discussion; just wanted to welcome you back. 😀

TJM July 13, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Gian Gentile may not be a darling of the COIN cult, but he certainly has a loud voice and the disagreements with him, so far as I’ve seen, have been respectable. Bacevich is a poor example, in my opinion, because his criticisms lack substance. Gentile is far more credible.

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