Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009

Move On, Afghanistan

Documentaries for Troubled Times

By David Luhrssen
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The Right has criticized Barack Obama for taking his time deciding what to do about Afghanistan. Of course, intelligent reflection and thought itself is anathema to the dittoheads of talk radio. Especially in light of the unfree and unfair election just held by the Afghan regime, all parties should carefully consider the next step. A wrong move will be costly in money and lives.

One little considered point raised in the documentary Rethink Afghanistan (out on DVD) is that our continued presence in the country may bankrupt America. Danger, fiscal conservatives: the cost of maintaining even modest forces in the landlocked, mountainous country is high because of long supply lines and tricky logistics. In addition, the film asserts, the millions spent on “reconstruction” has largely disappeared into the pockets of corrupt contractors. And investing in the Afghan police and military is a gamble when the government is unpopular and unable to govern large parts of the country.

As director Robert Greenwald found, Afghanistan has never been easy to govern, not by its own leaders and less so by outsiders. The rough terrain makes control difficult. And the natural irritation most people feel in being confronted by foreign troops in their hometown is exacerbated through the code of honor by which many Afghans live. A single civilian casualty at the hands of the U.S. creates an entire family of insurgents, seeking vengeance.

The best reason offered for staying the course is that the collapse of the current regime might embolden the resurgent Taliban to seize control down the road in Pakistan. The prospect of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falling into Taliban hands is alarming. Rethink Afghanistan expresses the worry that U.S. policy is worsening the problem, leading to greater instability inside Pakistan. At least on the surface, the charge is born out by the fact that conditions in Pakistan have only grown more unstable in the eight years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

Maybe MoveOn.org could help? The documentary Move On: The Movie (on DVD) tells the story of what has become the most successful grassroots American political group in recent memory. It began in 1998 when a San Francisco couple launched an online petition drive in the shadow of the Clinton impeachment, asking Congress to censor the President and “move on.” The organization persisted, and although it was on the losing side of every stand until the 2008 election of Obama, MoveOn.org grew year by year in membership, enthusiasm and fund raising skill. Director Alex Jordanov shows such little known activities of MoveOn as finding housing for Katrina refugees and includes interviews with Moby, Michael Stipe, Al Gore, John Kerry and others.

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