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'Rethink Afghanistan' Destroys Failed Logic of War

NY Times Whines That 'Rethink Afghanistan' Film is Not "Balanced"

by Jeremy Scahill

Perhaps more than any other major corporate news outlet, The New York Times played a central role in promoting the Bush administration's fraudulent case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The "reporting" of Judith Miller and Michael Gordon basically served as a front-page fiction laundering factory for Dick Cheney's fantasy of a "mushroom cloud" threat from Saddam Hussein looming on the immediate horizon, topped off with a celebratory slice of yellowcake. More recently, the paper's propagandists, William Broad and David Sanger, have aimed their sights on reporting dubious claims about Iran's nuclear program.

Readers of the Times, therefore, should take with a huge grain of weaponized salt the paper's "review" of Robert Greenwald's new documentary, Rethink Afghanistan. With no sense of the painful irony of writing such jibberish in the Times, reviewer Andy Webster declares that the film could "use balance, something in short supply here:"

At an almost breathless pace that leaves little room for reflection, Mr. Greenwald presents a flurry of sights, voices and figures, many of them compelling but all reflecting his point of view. A historical summary is fleeting. What appears, again and again, are terrifying images of children: dead, hideously maimed or, in one instance, almost put up for sale by a frantic civilian in a refugee camp. Military engagements, it seems, are messy and claim innocent lives.

If it takes Greenwald's "point of view" to see the human costs of the U.S. war in Afghanistan in the form of deformed, maimed and dead civilians, then his film should be required viewing for anyone purporting to support the war.

Anyone who has actually seen the film knows that a string of former top intelligence officials, perhaps most significant among them the former head of the CIA's Counter-terrorism Center, Robert Grenier, are heard meticulously deconstructing the dominant justifications for the continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. What does Grenier know? Oh, he was just the CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, where he was one of the Agency's top officials planning the U.S. invasion. Grenier, along with former CIA operative Robert Baer and other former intelligence officials, rebut in detail the claim that the war in Afghanistan is about fighting al Qaeda or making America safer, which Baer says bluntly in the film is "just complete bullshit." The film also features Graham Fuller, the former CIA station chief in Kabul. (Click here to watch this part of the film)

I guess the Times would have been satisfied if the film did not also include extensive analysis from Anand Gopal, the Afghanistan correspondent of that famed leftist, anti-war rag, The Wall Street Journal. "Al Qaeda and the Taliban are groups with completely distinct ideologies and goals," Gopal says in the film. The Taliban, he says, has as its central goal "to kick out the Americans." Greenwald's film would presumably have been more "objective" in the Times's eyes if it had included the analysis of, say, Steve Coll, whose definitive book on al Qaeda, Ghost Wars, won the Pulitzer. Oh, right, Coll is a major voice in Greenwald's film.

Webster complains that the film "has no time to approach an opposing view with sympathy or understanding for its concerns." First of all, that is just plain false. What Greenwald does is divide the one-hour film into cogent sections that address the most common arguments made in support of the war in Afghanistan, namely national security, counter-terrorism and women's rights. These are all familiar to anyone paying even a tiny amount of attention. But more to the point, why should a documentary calling on people to "rethink Afghanistan" be required to rehash or offer "sympathy" to ideas or policies that are promoted endlessly on major news programs, in corporate newspapers and by an endless string of U.S. government and military officials?

Rethink Afghanistan does not present the perfect argument against the war in Afghanistan (I certainly have had my own disagreements with Greenwald and with some of the film's politics), but that is not what Greenwald and his team intended to do. The title says it all: they want Americans to stop and rethink support for a war that worsens by the day, costs billions of dollars, causes the deaths of U.S. soldiers and countless Afghan civilians and which, ultimately, will make the U.S. less safe.

The Times snarkily declares that Rethink Afghanistan is "unlikely to win over new supporters" to the anti-war or anti-escalation crowd. Quite the contrary: there are 600 screenings of the film scheduled and MoveOn.org, which has been very sluggish in coming around to criticizing the Afghan war, has just teamed up with Greenwald to promote the film. That in and of itself was no small accomplishment. The timing of Rethink Afghanistan is very important and will serve a utilitarian purpose for those people serious about the facts and not manipulating them, as has been the case on the pages of a certain newspaper we all know.

To watch the film, go to Brave New Film's Rethink Afghanistan website.

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