By Elizabeth Gould
July 27, 2009
Kenneth J. Cooper's Boston Globe review of our book, Invisible History, Afghanistan's Untold Story, titled "Conspiracy-laden look at messy Afghan history" is a painful example of the magical thinking perpetrated by the media that has trapped the U.S. intelligentsia since the end of the Vietnam war. It is the kind of thinking that has maintained a fantasy land of bubble economics, Star Wars military budgets and cognitive suicide for over 30 years. It is the kind of thinking that left the U.S. unaware of and unable to deal effectively with the real threat represented by 9/11.
In fact, Cooper's review isn't really a review at all, but a mumble jumble refutation of the book's purpose which is -- as stated by Afghan expert Selig Harrison -- to correct five decades of biased journalistic and academic writing about Afghanistan.
Cooper's effort to create a "straw man" argument fails on all counts in a brief, sloppy attack that raises doubts about whether he actually bothered to investigate what he was attacking. In fact, he never even cites the book's full title. In addition to carelessly switching information he makes the serious charge that "The agency [the CIA] also gets blamed for Afghanistan's recent turn from producing raw opium to processing it into heroin...," when we make no such charge against the CIA nor do we allude to their involvement in it in the book.
Cooper's reckless use of the "conspiracy" label continues when he describes the authors' experience with CBS News' Dan Rather, "who left out Afghanistan's communist leader saying Soviet troops would depart if American, Pakistani, Iranian, and Chinese meddling ceased, a multi-conditional statement the journalistic couple seem to have taken at face value."
Aside from Babrak Karmal's request being a straight forward request aimed directly at Washington, Cooper avoids telling his readers that the CIA's war in Afghanistan was a secret to the American public at the time. Having Babrak Karmal ask a U.S. audience to stop a U.S. backed insurgency would have revealed it. By sidestepping this blockbuster issue and not informing the American public of what he knew to be the case going into his newscast, the managing editor of the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather kept the lid on the U.S. covert operation and ran with the CIA cover-up.
Cooper's reference to "the journalistic couple seem to have taken [Karmal] at face value" also avoids the fact that we organized a return trip in 1983 with Harvard's international negotiator Roger Fisher to hold Karmal and the Soviets to their promise. Reams of documented evidence confirm that what Karmal had said was true but that the American plan called for holding the Soviets in their own Vietnam, not getting them to go home.
Cooper attempts to have us un-believe the documented evidence, declassified U.S. and Soviet cables and the research of numerous well-established authors and replace it with his word that this is all some kind of conspiracy. He blames us for portraying Afghanistan "as being a better country than it actually was" because of their "pacifist, progressive outlook. [Because] Afghans don't dwell in either of those ideological lands." But even in this, Cooper's proof is imaginary, relying on statements and correlations he has invented about us, to justifying the conclusions that he wishes to draw.
Cooper doesn't know Afghanistan at all. His understanding derives from overtly racist 19th century clichés that now keep the U.S. out of touch with the rest of the world and behind the curve on a fast-shifting geo-political track.
Read Carnegie Corp. President Vartan Gregorian's The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan to get the steady progress that 20th century Afghans were making in establishing a modern society. Read Raymond L. Garthoff's Détente and Confrontation for the political shell game being played by Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1978-79 to undermine détente and how he built on Afghanistan to form an anti-Russian U.S./China bloc.
It is no conspiracy theory that the U.S. supported the worst possible Islamic terrorists and used them to lure and then keep the Russians in Afghanistan. It is no conspiracy theory that Washington helped create a media campaign to cover this up and that Gunga-Dan Rather proudly acted as its point man.
Even a casual reading of the book reveals that we carry no ideological baggage. Our goal was obviously to rid the story of the misinformation and disinformation that still clogs American minds and American policy and replace it with hard sources and hard evidence. But then Cooper even complains about this, claiming that the book is just too "heavily annotated" for easy reading.
Kenneth J. Cooper's review is a perfect example of what American journalism has become and what it can no longer be in order to be called journalism. It is only one sad example of an American culture that is in desperate need of some new ideas and a whole lot of maturity.
Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story. For more information visit www.invisiblehistory.com or City Lights Books at www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100741260.