Friday, December 18, 2009

Pundit Pablum 2

Yet another quick post in the new series of pundit take-downs I've been calling Pundit Pablum. Maybe the name will stick, but I'm not overly fond of it. Just can't find anything better to play off of "Pundit."

This time the victim is Dov Zakheim, who usually writes good stuff for Foreign Policy. His recent piece talks about the contrast (as he sees it) between life in Afghanistan and life on the homefront. To Zakheim, there is a serious disconnect between what Americans do at home and what is going on here. He argues that American cannot continue to "pretend to be a nation at peace."

He may be right (in fact, I think he probably is), but his opening paragraph bears all the hallmarks of a journalist who is overstating the reality in order to persuade his audience of the overall point.
Kabul is a city at war. There are green zones and red zones, and roadblocks everywhere. The city is awash with a host of uniforms -- those of NATO states, as well as others, from Australia to Mongolia. Americans in uniform walk the streets fully equipped and armed. American government civilians wear body armor, as I did when making the short twenty minute walk from Camp Eggars to the U.S. Embassy.
Here Dov reveals his ignorance (or hubris) by trying to paint an inaccurate picture of Kabul. I have no doubt that the short walk between Camp Eggers and the U.S. Embassy is "awash with a host of uniforms," but that's hardly true of the rest of Kabul. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen ISAF soldiers in Kabul outside of the main thoroughfares and the military district around Eggers,* and I've been here nearly ten months. They certainly don't "walk the streets fully equipped and armed." Quite simply, they're not allowed to go out. Personally, I think they should get out more, leave the body armor and tricked-out M4 carbines behind and just go shopping and meet locals, but the risk-averse U.S. military won't let them.

*Oh, and not to be nitpicky, but he misspells Eggers as well. What, Dov, didn't read the letterhead on the fancy stationary they let you take home?

While it's true that Kabul is not entirely safe (after all, I do travel with a PSD or a weapon, or both), to describe the entire city as an armed camp is simply not accurate, at least as far as ISAF is concerned. There are plenty of ANP and ANA on the streets, and lots of checkpoints, and a large number of private security guards, but the ISAF military presence is limited to an extremely small area and most Afghans go about their daily lives as best they can. If you're going to provide a travelogue on Kabul, you should at least get out to see the city.

And there are no "zones," green, red or otherwise, except perhaps on some staff officer's map in Eggers.

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