Finding the silver(ish) lining in Afghanistan's Emerald City

A Reasonable View of Karzai. Or, Joshua Partlow Does Not Understand the Interwebs

William Randolph Hearst, American newspaper mogul

Partlow: Take a lesson from this man. (Hint: his last name's Hearst) Image via Wikipedia

It’s unfortunate, really.

One would think that after two years as the Washington Post Kabul bureau chief that Joshua Partlow would understand how journalism is done in Afghanistan. And that he’d learn how to update his profile.

That he’d know that the process for true reporting on Afghanistan is done thusly, by “one of the 500 most influential Americans on foreign policy,” and not wasted on stories about roads, Afghan National Army hospitals, or alleged drug running by the fledgling Afghan Air Force. That people don’t want to waste their time on “long form journalism” that goes on (ad nauseum) trying to assassinate the good character of people like Gen. Abdul Raziq, but instead would rather be fed a steady, comforting diet of baseless speculation, which is always easier to digest.

But, apparently Mr. Partlow is bent on his crusade of disbursing reasoned logic, wherein he follows in the same dull footsteps as people like Max Fisher in attempting to plumb the depths of the situation in Afghanistan by, oddly enough, talking to people close to the particular situation.

It must be hard, basing one’s articles on in-depth interviews and research, rather than a series of suppositions and hastily collected articles from the internet. And, rather than taking the rather more conventional route of attaching himself for a period of days to a particular high-ranking person in Kabul, he does what journalists who don’t really care about their readers try to do: develop sources that might be otherwise closed off to the public. In this case:

Over the past month, I have talked with several of Karzai’s current and former aides about his views on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

For a whole…month. William Randolph Hearst is spinning in his grave. Well, he would be, except for the sled. I mean, there’s a war on, Partlow! Give us something worthwhile to read! Instead, Mr. Partlow seems to think we’d like to know things like this:

Karzai has never been an enthusiastic commander in chief. He was skeptical of President Obama’s decision in December 2009 to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Karzai aides describe his peace-loving temperament and say he has little interest in day-to-day military operations, sometimes cutting short his weekly national security council briefings on military updates in favor of discussions on geopolitics.

Or even this:

He receives a document each afternoon outlining the number of insurgent, Afghan and coalition casualties, and “he hates that,” one former aide said. “His whole mind-set about this killing is very different than a general or a minister of defense. He doesn’t want to hear someone is killed, even a Talib. He thinks probably the Talib was an Afghan from an Afghan family. He’s by nature not into that.”

Which, obviously is Karzai’s problem: he’s just not bloodthirsty enough for American tastes. And, as that great anthropologist and student of humanity Geraldo Rivera will tell you, until Afghans figure out how to become Americans, well, they’re doomed. Fortunately, this is something that the Afghans have in common with the Vietnamese.

Partlow struggles mightily to paint Karzai as a man who truly struggles with his position, vs. being the chief ingrate in a government full of ungrateful should-be-Americans.

His rhetoric is not simply a stunt for Afghan domestic consumption, or to show that he is no puppet president, as U.S. officials sometimes suggest. It is a product of a deep-seated aversion to violence and an unshakable suspicion about U.S. motives in Afghanistan.

Listen, Mr. Partlow, I read the internet. I know better than this. Implying in any way that Karzai is genuinely concerned about US efforts in Afghanistan indicates that you have a) spent far too much time researching your particular topic and b) are not terribly good at listening to the voice of the common man.

So, until you learn a thing or two from others who have learned what we, the interwebs, want to read: Mr. Partlow, I’m afraid you’re not going to get very far in this world. But, I wish you all the best. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to consume something of actual pop culture value.

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