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Afghanistan as an Election Issue

posted by dru Topics: elections

September 12, 2008

Afghanistan as an Election Issue

Derrick O'keefe had a good little editorial about making the war an election issue a few days ago.

The worth-always-reading Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui follows suit today with an excellent outline of the current state of the war.

As word of a civilian carnage spread, the U.S. dismissed it as "outrageous Taliban propaganda." Later it said, variously, that five insurgents had been killed, maybe seven, or perhaps seven civilians and 25 insurgents or 30 or 35.

The police chief in Herat put the toll at 90. The United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan confirmed the news: "We found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children."

Phone video footage emerged showing gruesome images of 40 bodies lined up in a mosque, "a majority of them babies and toddlers, some burned so badly they are barely recognizable," said the BBC.

The Canadian media remained mostly mute. Afghan TV naturally kept up with the story, and also that of the mounting public anger.

The opposition response to Harper's promise to pull out of Afghanistan completely by 2011 has so far drawn a response along the lines of "it won't actually happen, Harper will break the promise."

And that's probably accurate. Some military families seem to think so, anyway.

But Harper's recognition that public support for the war isn't there--despite some pretty serious propaganda--is an opening for a serious look at what's actually going on in Afghanistan. Siddiqui's right about that.

Unfortunately, the way it works is that the press (outside of a few marginal commentators like Siddiqui, who are mostly ignored) doesn't look into any issue unless a major politician brings it up and "blasts" or "slams" or "lays into" or "sounds the alarm" about this or that policy. Even then, the "investigation" consists mostly of quoting the opposition. And if the criticism falls outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse, there are armies of pundits to make sure they regret it enough to avoid it the next time.

Even within these limitations, election season can be a time when there's more of an opportunity to bring up these kinds of issues. Hundreds of journalists, looking to provide yet more information about the election they're assigned to, will sometimes bite and present perspectives they might not otherwise allow. Especially if these fit into a their narrative of an unfolding political and personal tragicomedy with a cast of high-profile candidates.

Jack? Elizabeth? Social movements?

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