Ted Rall will be here at 1 p.m. Eastern tomorrow to talk about his new book, in which he describes how he and two other cartoonists slipped into Afghanistan as unembedded journalists, in search of the oil pipeline Michael Moore talked about in Farenheit 911. On the way, he talks to people and gets a much different view about what America is doing in Afghanistan. You can talk to him tomorrow at 1 pm. EST, when he will take your questions.
Here's an excerpt from Peter Lewis' recent review:
What do Afghanistan and Charlie Brown have in common? Somebody is always picking on them. Charlie had Lucy, and Afghanistan had everybody else. Invasion after invasion: 1219, 1370, 1526, 1713, 1738, 1837, 1842, 1879, 1919, 1979, 2001– and the Afghans didn’t start one of them; they had enough on their hands with the local turf wars that flared up every few weeks. Wars are the abiding nature of Afghanistan: they don’t end, they just fade away, then return, like malaria. Genghis Khan came through and laid waste, so too Tamerlane, Babur, Gurgis Khan; Great Britain wanted a buffer state (the First Anglo-Afghan War, the Second Anglo-Afghan War, the Third Anglo-Afghan War – that, friends, is tenacity), the Soviet Union wanted a warm water port via Afghanistan to Karachi, Pakistan, and the United States wanted… what?
Good question, one that journalist/cartoonist Ted Rall seeks to answer in his both mordant and discerning – as good a combination as time and money – After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.
Rall slipped into Afghanistan once before, at the very start of the American invasion in 2001, via Tajikistan. He did the same this time, having cobbled together a pitiful bankroll, with two journalist/cartoonist friends. An independent spirit, he had no intention of being embedded with American troops. He wanted to be on the ground, using his wits and contacts, filing distilled dispatches from the rough, along with his cartoons – crude as a blunt pencil, his very own ontological-hysteric theater – recounting the day’s events (he had a finicky scanner, unfortunately, not a trusty carrier pigeon).
He knew that to be embedded was a crippling metaphorical act, to be in bed with the military, subject to military censorship. “Our job is to win the war,” said a Marine colonel in 2003. “Part of that is information warfare. So we are going to attempt to dominate the information environment.”
Rall is a reporter you can trust. If you know anything about Afghanistan and American foreign policy, what he writes and cartoons chimes with your familiarity and experience. (Which begs the question, if other reporters get so much wrong in places we know about, what are we supposed to believe in reports for places outside our knowledge?) He plays hard; he gets dirty. He finds himself in precarious situations. He never gets bored, because the path hasn’t been swept for him, as it has the drop-in reporters looking like they just got out of bed. Rall may not be an Old Afghan Hand, but he knows how to use a squat toilet. (Toilet paper? What toilet paper?) He will tell the story as he sees it, informed by what he knows of history. “Reporters should strive for the impossible: objectivity.” At least an independent correspondent has a shot at unvarnished impressions, formed in his mind’s eye.
As Rall sees it, there is a new military paradigm – you can almost hear the policy wonks squeal with delight – at work, and has been for a little while, one that operates on the principle of occupation without annexation. It doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked from Korea to the Gulf War. Afghanistan is a textbook case. They set up a puppet government headed by a man with no local support; they fail to restore law and order; hearts and minds were won nowhere but at Blackwater and Halliburton (Dick Cheney, former chairman and CEO); infrastructure is left in ruins; ten year olds play with AK-47s, occasionally killing the odd passerby. Why don’t these kids get balls to play with, or marbles? Because marbles are in short supply, such is their demand for suicide vests.
But just because we aren’t “annexing” these lands doesn’t mean we save lots of money, notes Rall. “We spend 54 percent of the federal budget on “defense.” What we have here, writes Rall, is the “politics of disruption” – as in disrupting potentially emerging regional rivals – "the core of an aggressive form of neocolonialism, the quest not for old-fashioned empire but postmodern open markets ripe for exploitation by international corporations.” As newly discovered deposits, “including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium,” are revealed, suddenly China and Russia – suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s – are showing interest.