Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Disappearing the Middle East

December 3, 2016

An Afghan policeman patrols next to a burning vehicle in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Related story: Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks Above, an Afghan policeman patrols next to a burning vehicle in the city of Kunduz, Afghanistan October 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Strangely enough, I don’t want to start this column by talking about the Middle East. I start  instead in Afghanistan in Southeast Asia, because its case is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the Middle East, and a valuable lesson in the way most media covers what’s happening there or — to put it bluntly — doesn’t cover it.

Are you aware that little more than a week ago, the top commander of the US and allied forces in Afghanistan said the Afghan government only controls about 60 per cent of the country? The rest is controlled by insurgent Taliban forces, which are getting stronger and are likely to take over even more territory. This despite the fact that the United States alone has spent billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan (as of January 1, 2015, the total was $685.6 billion, making it one of the two most expensive wars in American history – the more expensive one is Iraq). This includes training Afghan troops to fight the Taliban, supplying hardware and troops and drones attacks to wipe out Taliban commanders, yet it appears the Taliban is poised to recapture Afghanistan once again.

Do you remember reading about any of this? Or seeing it on America’s nightly news? Or hearing it being discussed on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC? The chances are highly unlikely. While the story was certainly covered by wire services like Associated Press, almost none of the major media outlets in America carried it for longer than about 10 minutes. It probably didn’t appear on cable news at all, a medium that is more fascinated by Donald Trump’s tweets than by America’s longest and second-most costly war.

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Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Migrants, hoping to cross into Hungary, walk along a railway track outside the village of Horgos in Serbia, towards the border it shares with Hungary, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Now let’s look at the Middle East. Are you aware that over 600 car-bombs have been used against Iraqi security forces in their attempt to retake Mosul from the Islamic State (IS)? Are you aware that the battle of Mosul is still happening? Do you know that Lebanon has a new president who is closely aligned with the terrorist group Hezbollah and Iran? Do you know that Libyan forces have almost wiped out IS forces in Libya, isolating the remainder in the Libyan town of Sirte? (The Pentagon claims IS forces now control only about two blocks and 50 buildings in Sirte itself.) Or that the biggest problem may come after the IS forces have been wiped out, because the various groups who came together to fight them don’t get along and could fall to fighting amongst themselves for control of the country? What about accusations that Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has committed war crimes against its battles against Shia Muslim Houti forces in Yemen? Did you even know Saudi forces were fighting in Yemen? Or that many experts have said the US and the UK may be complicit in some of these war crimes because of their support of Saudi Arabia? How about the recent success of Islamist, nationalist and liberal (strange bedfellows indeed) opposition forces in Kuwaiti parliamentary elections that may throw the country into complete chaos?

The answer to all these questions is … probably not. Because, to all intents and purposes, the Middle East has disappeared from American media. Americans have moved on: the recent presidential elections hardly focused on questions of foreign policy outside President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to block illegal Hispanic, and most Muslim, immigrants, and his claim that China is trying to destroy jobs in the US and so invented the climate-change “hoax” as a way to accomplish that goal.

Since covering Trump generated much, much more money for the news media —  in particular the cable news networks — these very important developments in the Middle East, which have serious implications for the United States and the world, were barely mentioned. Some were not mentioned at all.

The disappearance of the Middle East from American newspapers, radios and TV screens probably has several causes: President Obama’s attempted pivot away from the Middle East to focus on relations with Pacific nations; the non-stop Trump-fest coverage of the presidential election; media fatigue after almost 14 years of covering conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan; dwindling resources that force many outlets to focus on coverage of the Syria conflict (and even that is increasingly dropping off the media radar); and the fact that Americans are just bored and want the whole thing to go away.

But there’s the rub — it won’t just go away. The issue of millions of people displaced by war in the region isn’t going away; it played a role in both Brexit and the US election, and will likely also do so in Italian, Austrian, Dutch, and France elections in the coming months. While the Islamic State has been weakened, it isn’t going away. Iran’s presence in a divided Syria isn’t going away. The Palestinian issue is likely only to get worse under a Trump administration.

The Middle East is still the other elephant in America’s living room (the bigger one is racism). Despite the best efforts of the American media and the US public in general, the Middle East will continue to be a cause for concern. No matter how hard they try to ignore it.

Copyright Tom Regan 2016

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com


You might also wish to read:

Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks, by Alastair Macdonald

 Islamic State will attack Europe again, security chiefs warned Dec. 2, and may add car bombs, cyber and chemical warfare to its local arsenal as European militants drift home after reverses in Syria and Iraq.

Related in F&O’s Archives:

Turkey’s Shock Waves Slam Middle EastJONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs, July 30, 2016

The Middle East: Meltdowns, Crises and DaeshBy Simon Mabon, January, 2015  

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Afghanistan http://www.unocha.org/afghanistan

Further information:

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Conflict Induced Displacements graphic as of Nov. 27, 2016: http://reliefweb.int/report/afghanistan/afghanistan-conflict-induced-displacements-27-november-2016




Tom Regan Tom Regan has worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92. He is based near Washington, D.C.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 



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Omar Khadr’s next life

Omar Khadr as a child, and an adult prisoner at  Guantánamo Bay.

Omar Khadr as a child, and an adult prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. Photo: Amnesty International

“Abused child.” “Child soldier.” “Brainwashed boy.” “Terrorist.” “Killer.” “Guantánamo prisoner.” “Victim of torture.” “War criminal.” “The only child soldier put on trial in modern history.”

On Thursday Omar Khadr, 28, launched the next of his many lives: “Free man  — with conditions.”

Born in Canada, Khadr was taken as a child to Afghanistan by his father, to fight with al-Qaeda. In 2002, aged 15, he was captured by American soldiers in a firefight in which he was injured. He was accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer.

Khadr was shipped to Guantánamo Bay, and convicted in 2010 of war crimes for Speer’s death. Under a plea agreement, he was to serve eight more years. He was later transferred to a jail in Canada. He repudiated his legal plea, on the grounds he agreed only to get out of Guantánamo Bay. His case is now winding its way through Canadian courts.

Meantime, the Alberta Court of Appeal released Khadr on bail, with strict conditions.

In the video below he speaks with media outside his lawyer’s house in Alberta, where he must live as one condition of his bail. 


Omar Khadr, free on bail, vows to prove he is ‘a good person’, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Omar Khadr, Former Guantánamo Detainee, Is Released on Bail in Canada, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/08/world/americas/omar-khadr-canada-guantanamo-detainee-released-on-bail.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150507&nlid=18460284&tntemail0=y&_r=0

Amnesty International file on Omar Khadr: http://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/issues/security-and-human-rights/omar-khadr

Child Soldier for Al Qaeda Is Sentenced for War Crimes, New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/us/02detain.html?action=click&contentCollection=Americas&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article


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The Poison in Afghanistan Politics

KABUL, Afghanistan -- American Secretary of State John Kerry Shakes Hands With Afghan Presidential Candidates Abdullah and Ghani on August 8, 2014. U.S. State Department photo, Public Domain

KABUL, Afghanistan — American Secretary of State John Kerry with Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, then Afghan Presidential Candidates, August 8, 2014. Their back room deal over-rode Afghans democratic exercise, in which millions defied threats to have their votes cast, writes Manthorpe. U.S. State Department photo, Public Domain

Afghanistan’s unity deal contains poisonous seeds which will pollute the country’s politics, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. Afghans turned out in their millions, defying Taliban and other threats, to have their votes cast. Ghani, Abdullah, with Kerry and other outsiders as handmaidens, over-rode that democratic exercise, argues Manthorpe. “Their backroom deal keeps at the hub of power all the corrupt and often brutal regional warlords and dispensers of patronage who have blighted Afghan politics.” An excerpt of his new F&O column, Afghan unity deal ensures future conflict (subscription):

As rival candidates for power in Afghanistan signed a power-sharing deal on Sunday, an understandable sigh of relief swept through the corridors of power in those countries that have expended troops and treasure in the last dozen years trying to get the central Asian nation on its feet.

In the six months since the first round of the presidential elections it looked as though the whole Afghan project might collapse into new chaos as the two main candidates, former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, exchanged increasingly bitter allegations of vote-rigging.

It has taken vigorous and persistent arm-twisting by United States Secretary of State John Kerry and many others to bludgeon Ghani and Abdullah to agree to a government of national unity. Under the pact, Ghani will be President and Abdullah has been given the authority to appoint a Chief Executive – essentially a Prime Minister – a job he is likely to grab himself.

However, the details of the deal contain poisonous seeds, which will pollute the new Afghan political process in coming years, and probably within months. An early indication of the troubles ahead came with Abdullah’s insistence that the results of the United Nations-supervised audit by the Independent Election Commission of the results of June’s run-off vote for the presidency not be published …. read Afghan unity deal ensures future conflict (Log in first; subscription or day pass* required)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass

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F&O Weekend

F&O has a veritable treasure trove of new work for your weekend reading:


The Cuban Five

The Cuban Five

In 1998 Fidel Castro had his good friend Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel prize-winning Colombian novelist, carry a top secret message to American President Bill Clinton. It revealed a terrorist plot against Cuba, devised on American soil. What happened next led to the arrests of the Cuban agents, the myth-making of heroes, and a tale of stunning intrigue and complexity. In THINK/Magazine, F&O is pleased to publish an excerpt of Stephen Kimber’s book about The Cuban Five. (Public access)

Drought, and the price of water

Never let it be said that F&O Natural Security columnist Chris Wood is anyone’s tame journalist, or “sides” with the easy left or the easy right. In his previous column Wood tackled favoured causes of the ‘left’ including  nuclear energy and GMO foods; now, he argues in THINK/Commentary that the growing crisis of drought will only be solved by pricing water. (Subscription)

Iran’s Backlash and Afghanistan’s Reckoning

International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe has two new pieces this week. In an examination of the backlash in Iran against closer ties with the international community, Manthorpe notes an upsurge in executions amid hardliner’s fears for the Islamic regime. And in a piece on Afghanistan’s Reckoning he notes that soon that country, and the world, will determine whether the bloodshed, treasure and agony since the invasion has been worthwhile. (Subscription)

American Civil War, 150 years on

CSS HunleyJim McNiven, author of Thoughtlines, toured America’s south early this year with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War on his mind. His new column,  Sesquicentennial Rumbles Blues, reflects on political posturing, how entrenched partisans have swapped positions over time, and on the powerful ideas that endure. (Subscription)

We also have two new public access pieces from ProPublica this week:

Journalism’s new Golden Age? Not so fast

A thoughtful new column in THINK/Commentary is a speech  to young journalists by one of America’s most senior veterans, ProPublica chief Paul Steiger, on the Golden Ages of American journalism.

PTSD afflicts civilians

And in DISPATCHES, ProPublica journalist Lois Beckett reports on how the incidence of  PTSD amongst victims of violence has reached the levels suffered by injured soldiers in some violent-prone neighbourhoods.

Enjoy — and have a good weekend.

— Deborah Jones

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Afghanistan’s unsavoury presidential choices

 Who will be Afghanistan’s next elected leader? International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe considers the options – and finds all of the candidates wanting. Excerpt:

Manthorpe B&WThe world will soon discover whether 13 years of war in Afghanistan at a cost of the lives of tens of thousands of local people, the deaths of 3,392 members of the international forces fighting the Taliban insurgents, and upwards of $4 trillion, has all been worth it. Afghanistan this week embarked on its third election since United States-led forces invaded the country late in 2001 to root out al-Qaida terrorists and oust from power in Kabul their Taliban sponsors. This, however, is by far the most important and unpredictable of the three elections. The parliamentary and presidential elections come with almost all members of the International Security Assistance Force due to leave the country … …

Subscribers please log in to read the column, Afghans survey an unsavoury buffet of presidential candidates,  here.*

*F&O premium works, including commentary, are available for a $1 site day pass, or by subscription.

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