Today is the 17th of June 2017, and the US military is in the news. There was an unfortunate and bizarre collision between a cargo ship off the coast of Japan and the USS Fitzgerald, with several sailors still missing as of this writing. There was also a shooting at Camp Shaheen, an Afghan National Army compound in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in which at least one US soldier has been wounded. These incidents are a sobering reminder of the fact that our men and women in uniform, wherever they are in the world, face dangers that most of us can hardly imagine. To them we all owe a great debt of gratitude and respect. They are the constant and solid representation of what the US truly stands for: protection against tyranny and injustice, and the provision of security.
Yet one thing has bothered me since my time in Afghanistan (2003-2012). There is a definite lack of accurate, in depth reporting on the goals and the efforts of both the International Community in places like Afghanistan and the better elements of the government and the people there. In the turbulent cauldron of tribal and political challenges in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, the discussions often deteriorate into shouting matches and recriminations, with no prospect of common ground upon which to build. It is a dangerous cocktail and one that gets no one anywhere. An accurate campaign that defines positive goals and helps people to see how they can be part of them is essential in building the kind of country that such countries as Afghanistan could become.
This encouraging and enlightening approach needs to be something that is as important to Americans as is the military side of the equation and our concerns regarding our sending the men and women in US uniforms into harm’s way in a place like Afghanistan. The combination of actually talking to indigenous populations like the Afghans about what progress is possible and the presence of the International Community that could help them get there is incredibly powerful.
How do I know? Because I spent most of my time there creating a hybrid press service that trained Afghan journalists as it provided positive, factual and educational coverage of the momentous changes affecting the country after the fall of the Taliban. We told the Afghan people that the road to rebuilding would be complex and long, but that there were people from all over the world there to help them. We showed them that working together is better than fighting each other and they began to listen, until, that is, the US government saw no value in such a program and defunded it.
As we place our wonderful men and women in uniform in those arenas, it is sad that there is not a comprehensive, strategic campaign by the US and the governments of the countries involved to really talk to the people and help them to see a positive path forward, because, in the end it is only the people of those countries who can make the changes that will make their countries stable citizens of the world.
We need to begin by helping the Afghan people clearly see how they can realize that goal with a comprehensive information campaign designed to resonate with the indigenous populace. In so doing we will actually produce fruits worthy of the sacrifices made by our brave military.