Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bush Administration Gave $43 Million to Taliban: We're So NICE

Man, we give money to everybody. It's like money grows out of printing presses!

May 2001, the US government gave $43 million to the Taliban. I guess it wasn't enough.

Next time, we should give them our entire cache. Then, perhaps, they'll be grateful. Pricks.


Anonymous said...


6/12 - Scheer propaganda

Robert Scheer, a syndicated columnist, has written an an outrageous piece of propaganda about the Bush administration that needs to be debunked. Originally published on May 22, it was picked up on The Nation's website last week.

In the article, Scheer condemns Bush for a "recent gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan", which he alleges is intended to reward the theocratic regime for its recent crackdown on opium production. He calls the US the "main sponsor" of the Taliban, extensively condemns the very real repression and human rights violations of the regime and then blames the US for supporting the perpetrators of those acts.

Reading this without any context, you might be outraged. That's because you have no way of knowing that it's a wild factual distortion, as Bryan Carnell of LeftWatch.com points out. The US did not give a "gift" to the Taliban. In fact, it was widely reported by CNN and others that the aid consists of $28 million in surplus wheat, $5 million in food commodities and $10 million in "livelihood and food security" programs intended to help alleviate a looming famine. Moreover, as Secretary of State Colin Powell said in his announcement of the aid, it will be distributed through international agencies of the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, not the Taliban. Powell specifically added that the aid "bypasses the Taliban, who have done little to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people, and indeed have done much to exacerbate it."

The aid does indirectly help the Taliban by helping prevent mass famine. And it does mitigate the effects of the ban on poppy cultivation and thereby discourage farmers from resuming cultivation. Can we say that the drug war had no relationship to this decision? Absolutely not. Powell acknowledged in his statement the administration's desire to help farmers hurt by the ban on poppy cultivation and its support for the ban. But it is unfair to omit details of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, in which more than one million people are estimated to be at risk, and to dismiss any humanitarian motivation. Remember, Afghanistan is under UN sanctions imposed at the request of the US under President Clinton that are supported by Bush. Sheer is just being blatantly deceptive.

In addition to his factual distortions, Scheer uses a practiced and rephrensible technique - comparing American conservatives with extremists in other countries. Early this year, in fact, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said the Bush admnistration "selected nominees from the Taliban wing of American politics". Scheer follows Bond's lead, implying that proponents of the drug war and the Taliban are comparably extreme. First, he writes: "[t]he war on drugs has become our own fanatics' obsession and easily trumps all other concerns." Then: "[t]he Taliban may suddenly be the dream regime of our own drug-war zealots, but in the end this alliance will prove a costly failure."

All in all, Scheer should be ashamed of himself.



The myth that won't die (2/27)
By Brendan Nyhan

Since it was first created by syndicated columnist Robert Scheer, the myth that the Bush administration "gave" $43 million to Afghanistan's Taliban regime in 2001 has circled the globe and circulated throughout the mainstream media in the US. Even after myriad attempts to correct the record, this pervasive bit of disinformation refuses to die.

As we have noted many times, President Bush granted $43 million in food aid and food security programs to relieve an impending famine in Afghanistan in May 2001, continuing an aid program initiated by President Clinton. The programs were administered directly by the United Nations and NGOs, bypassing the regime.

Scheer's June 2001 column, however, claimed that this constituted a "gift of $43 million" to the Taliban while never once mentioning the famine in the country or that the "gift" was food aid that bypassed the regime. Scheer's distortion has set off a series of echoes that shows no signs of fading.

As Dan Kennedy points out, the most recent issue of The New Republic contains an article by Samantha Powers repeating the error (link requires subscription). "We can go to war against the Taliban," she writes, "never acknowledging our previous aid to the regime--we offered a grant of $43 million as late as May 2001--for its help quashing opium production." In fact, while Secretary of State Colin Powell did link the granting of the aid to the Taliban's previous crackdown on opium production in part, saying that the US was concerned about farmers hurt by the ban and that the US "welcome[d]" the decision, it was simply not a "grant" to the regime.

Similarly, Fox News Channel's Alan Colmes, co-host of "Hannity and Colmes," said this on February 11: "By the way, in terms of Afghanistan, we supported the Mujahadeen. George Bush gave $ 43 million to the Taliban in April of 200[1]. And if it were the other way around and a Democratic president had done that, you would go crazy." (Colmes also repeated the myth on May 16 and June 3 of last year.)

And finally, in early January 2003, Cathy Young claimed in the Boston Globe that "[t]he Taliban also profited from our war on drugs, receiving $ 43 million from the US government in 2001 for the purpose of eradicating Afghanistan's heroin-producing poppy fields." This is obviously untrue; the aid came after the crackdown, and was not "for the purpose" of eradication.

Whatever one's opinion of President Bush's policy toward Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks, pundits owe their readers some context. These allegations, as written, are simple misinformation.



Scheer Deception: The Lies and Jargon of Robert Scheer
By Ben Fritz (October 8, 2001)

Many pundits sling jargon or make blithely irrational arguments. Some, however, seem to specialize in twisting the facts to fit their ideology, continually making assertions that are at best unsupported and at worst blatantly false until they--and presumably their readers--come to accept these false tropes as truth. Robert Scheer, a nationally syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, has established himself as the leader of this breed, with some of his worst spin coming since the September 11 attack. Sadly, this is only the latest iteration of a trend that can be seen in Scheer's columns throughout the year.

A brief history

Scheer has had an interesting career in journalism. He started at the radical left publication Ramparts in the 60s, then become a national correspondent for the L.A. Times for 17 years. For the past eight, he has been a columnist whose work appears weekly in the Times and papers across the country. He also co-hosts a radio show on an affiliate of National Public Radio in Los Angeles and writes for publications like The Nation. Throughout his career, Scheer has been one of America's leading liberal pundits, reliably bashing Republicans and many conservative Democrats.

Dissemble, spin, repeat

An overview of Scheer's writing reveals that one of his favorite tactics is to create a politically potent trope and repeat it over and over until it seems true. When faced with criticism, Scheer simply dismisses his critics without addressing their arguments and continues to repeat his idea, as if the more he says it, the truer it becomes.

An excellent example of this tactic can be found in what my co-editor Brendan Nyhan has labeled the "Taliban aid trope."

Scheer created this trope in May, when he attacked a "gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan," saying it "makes the U.S. the main sponsor of the Taliban and rewards that 'rogue regime' for declaring that opium growing is against the will of God."

Drawing on work by Bryan Carnell of Leftwatch, Brendan pointed out that the $43 million was not aid to the Taliban government. Instead, the money was a gift of wheat, food commodities, and food security programs distributed to the Afghan people by agencies of the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Secretary of State Colin Powell specifically stated, in fact, that the aid "bypasses the Taliban, who have done little to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people, and indeed have done much to exacerbate it."

Since the US began focusing on the Taliban for harboring Osama Bin Laden, whose Al-Qaeda network is the primary suspect in the September 11 attacks, Scheer has repeated this false assertion about U.S. aid to Afghanistan, and in fact twisted it even further. In a September 17 column, he says that the aid was a tacit endorsement of Bin Laden:

"This is typical of the mixed signals we've been sending. Call it what you will, even humanitarian aid, and funnel it through the United Nations, but the effect is the same: to send to the Taliban a signal that its support of Bin Laden has been somehow acceptable."

Note how Scheer takes note of his critics' points by prefacing them with "Call it what you will," as if these points were arbitrary labels and not facts. They are facts, however, and Scheer is simply trying to avoid them.

Scheer wasn't done spreading this trope, or with his irrational dismissal of critics, however. Two weeks later, on October 1, he spun humanitarian aid for the Afghan people as some sort of a fairy tale:

"Believe that [the Taliban convinced farmers to stop growing opium through religious appeals rather than by force], and you can believe that the $43 million in aid that Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that same week--to help the Afghans, "including those farmers who have felt the impact of the ban on poppy cultivation, a decision by the Taliban that we welcome"--was simply humanitarian aid and not really a reward to the Taliban for helping the U.S. in its drug war."

Again, Scheer does not explain to readers how humanitarian aid funneled through the U.N and NGOs can be considered a gift to a government that never receives funds or controls any food aid.

Notice also how he selectively quotes Powell, avoiding the statement mentioned earlier in which Powell explicitly notes that the aid will bypass the Taliban. Even more disturbing, however, is a fact brought to our attention by Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix in an email: Powell's statement was made in response to a question about future aid and had nothing to do with the $43 million aid already provided. Once again, Scheer is twisting the truth to fit his argument.

Although Scheer's use of the Taliban aid trope has been the most disturbing this year, it is not the only falsity he has repeated. In another instance, Scheer has twice tried to frame the current economic slump as a recession caused by President Bush and Congressional Republicans. This started in July, when Scheer argued that Al Gore should criticize the Bush Administration and Republicans for economic policy:

"The job market was never better than under Bill Clinton and it's not too much to expect Gore to hold the Republicans, who have controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, responsible for the loss of 300,000 jobs in the last three months alone."

The truth that Scheer is avoiding here, however, is that the current downturn began while Bill Clinton was still President. Furthermore, in the three months prior to July, Bush's economic policy had barely begun to take effect. There is no logical reason to hold the economic policy of Bush and Republicans in Congress responsible for a downturn that began before Bush's inauguration.

Earlier in that column, Scheer also dissembles when he refers to a "recession" that at the time had not been established (although it is now quite likely that we are in one). Blaming Bush for the weak economy, regardless of the facts, is a favorite tactic of Scheer's, however. He did so again just a month later, as my co-editor Brendan Nyhan pointed out, when he succinctly referred to "a recession [Bush] helped create." At this point, however, there was still no evidence that the U.S. was in a recession, nor was there evidence that the slow economy was caused by President Bush.

Such facts seem to matter little to Scheer as he creates his false tropes. The truth is merely an obstacle to be illogically dismissed.

Labels and frames

Another favored tactic of Scheer's, and one that can be seen in his false tropes as well, is to bash President Bush and other Republicans whenever possible. There is nothing wrong, of course, with criticizing political opponents. What is troublesome, however, is that Scheer often does so not with reasoned criticism, but irrational broadsides and unsupported allegations.

When it comes to President Bush, Scheer seems to have two insights that he repeats endlessly: the President is rich and he is dumb. From global warming to economic policy, Scheer seems to always find a way to return to these two points.

During a discussion of the importance of Social Security and Medicare, for instance, Scheer sees fit to state that many benefit from these programs, "[u]nless your family happens to be super rich like the president's." In a column on global warming, Scheer again takes an unnecessary swipe at the Bush family's wealth, making ridiculous generalizations about young people in the process:

"Here's a guy born with credit cards in his cradle, enough to take him anywhere in the world, first class, who nevertheless pointedly refused to go. Even kids without any money manage to scrape up a few bucks and go see the world, but not young George, who satiated his curiosity about foreign lands with a few beer busts down in Mexico."

Scheer's ostensible point here is that Bush "never seemed to think that there was a world out there worth visiting, let alone saving," as if a vacation in Europe would necessarily make him more competent in foreign policy. Notice also the irrelevant assertion that Bush went on "beer busts down in Mexico," which is, again, hardly relevant to his current foreign policy. Also notable here is Scheer revealing his own class bias, as he absurdly asserts that even the poorest of young people manage to travel around the world.

The broadsides don't stop there, though. Another one of Scheer's insights into Bush's foreign policy is that it "can more charitably be viewed as the confused performance of a struggling C student." In the same column, Scheer's conclusion about the Bush's administration's rejection of many foreign treaties is, again, that the President is dumb: "[I]t is therefore unfair for critics to hold his proposals to too high a standard of logic and sophistication," he writes. "After all, this is George W. Bush we're talking about."

Scheer also plays on a common and again unsupported liberal trope: that Bush is merely a front man and Vice-President Cheney is running the country. "It's a sad measure of the president's need for adult supervision," Scheer wrote in July, "that Cheney has become the first vice president in modern U.S. history to seize control of the White House and render the president himself a public relations front man sent around the country to do photo ops." Once again, Scheer presents no evidence to support his attack, simply asserting that "[e]veryone knows that Cheney, not Bush, runs the show."

To be fair, however, Scheer doesn't exclusively pick on President Bush. Vice President Cheney himself came under attack in a column on environmental policy that labels him "an oil-guzzling, intellectually irresponsible, anti-environmental oaf."

Best of breed

At a time when all too many pundits engage in their share of lies, spin, and jargon, Robert Scheer stands out in a class by himself. In column after column, his favored tactics have been irrational criticism, distortion, and spin. At his worst, Scheer's false tropes spread and become part of the commonly accepted discourse. Since September 11, for instance, as Dan Kennedy noted in the Boston Phoenix, the Taliban aid trope has been repeated in The Nation, The New Yorker, The Denver Post and Salon. For those concerned about the rise of irrational discourse in American politics, Robert Scheer stands out as one of the worst offenders.