Episode 175: Selective Humanitarianism and the US Role in Afghanistan’s Post-Occupation Famine

Citations Needed | February 1, 2023 | Transcript

Citations Needed
65 min readFeb 1, 2023
President Joe Biden walks from the podium after speaking at the White House about the end of the war in Afghanistan on Aug. 31, 2021. | (Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thank you for joining us today. Of course, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded.

Adam: Yes, if you can please subscribe to us on Patreon, it helps keep the show sustainable and keeps the episodes themselves free.

Nima: “History will cast a shadow over Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius warned in April of 2021. “Biden’s Betrayal of Afghans Will Live in Infamy,” George Packer cautioned in the Atlantic magazine in August of that year. “The Cost of Betrayal in Afghanistan,” wrote The Atlantic Council’s Ariel Cohen in the Newsweek shortly thereafter.

Adam: When news broke in April of 2021 that the Biden administration planned to withdraw all documented US troops from Afghanistan after a 20-year occupation, media outlets almost uniformly rushed to issue condemnations. How could the US, and the West more broadly, simply “abandon the Afghan people,” especially women, we’d so bravely liberated? How could the US just up and leave, when it had invested and sacrificed so very much to counter the Taliban over the course of two decades?

Nima: This outrage stood, and still stands, in stark contrast to the media’s default state of indifference to the suffering people of Afghanistan, and the US’ extensive role in engineering that suffering. For many decades now, American, British, and other Western media have only really seemed to be concerned with the plight of Afghan people, namely women, when it serves to bolster the case for war, occupation, and the continuation of US regional hegemony. Meanwhile, during Afghanistan’s now second winter of famine after having more than 7 billion dollars stolen from its economy by the United States and its allies, these very same pundits and outlets are uniformly silent on this unfolding human rights disaster, caused, again, in large part, by the United States itself.

Adam: On today’s episode, we’ll examine the media’s pattern of selective, chauvinistic outrage when addressing the welfare of Afghan people. We’ll study how media diminishes the enormous role the US has played in destabilizing the country of Afghanistan and endangering its people, how media portray US military solutions as the only means of support for Afghan people, and how media treat Afghans as little more than pawns in a game of US soft- and hard-power expansion and domestic media-focused moral preening.

Nima: Later on the show, we’ll be joined by two guests. The first, Hadiya Afzal, a Chicago-based program coordinator for Unfreeze Afghanistan, a women-led campaign supporting the Afghan people’s wish to live in peace and prosperity.

[Begin Clip]

Hadiya Afzal: There’s an extremely high percentage of Afghanistan at risk of food insecurity right now, girl education has also been under increasing threat by the Taliban, escalating edicts by them have banned girls education in secondary school, and then universities as well. There’s a whole timeline of back and forth promises and internal tensions. But overall, the country’s in a very severe crisis of both, again, humanitarian and economic proportions, and international the community has a large role they can still play in helping to bring that to a halt.

[End Clip]

We’ll also speak with Julie Hollar, senior analyst and managing editor at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

[Begin Clip]

Julie Hollar: It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that before 9/11, women’s rights in Afghanistan were really barely noticed by US media, and then, as the US prepared to attack, and then did attack Afghanistan, the coverage just exploded of women’s rights. As soon as the war was prematurely declared over, it just disappeared again. So just watch this spike go up and down depending on what’s happening politically with the US and Afghanistan.

[End Clip]

Adam: So we’ve been meaning to do this episode for awhile, the freezing of assets in Afghanistan and the subsequent famine and economic devastation they’ve wrought is a fairly urgent issue going on now for two winters. Activists have been screaming at the top of their lungs trying to get people to care, and they don’t, and since that’s what we tried to do on the show is highlight things that people don’t care about, we’re excited and privileged to talk about this topic today. We’re going to dive into a little bit of background and history about how we sort of got here, and talk about the moral inconsistencies of the media narratives that are used to discuss Afghanistan during and post invasion and highlight how like with many these of conflicts overseas, these are not things that are happening, despite the United States, are not happening because of quote-unquote “inaction” but are very much happening because of action the US has taken, things they’ve actively done even post withdrawal. Something we’ve argued is good but if you withdraw and steal all their money and make sure their economy tanks, that’s not that great.

Nima: There’s a long history of Western empires proclaiming their duty to defend “human rights,” and often women’s rights and women’s lives in particular, in order to justify imperial invasion and occupation.

One of the most commonly cited examples — and one we included before in Episode 65: How Empire Uses ‘Feminist’ Branding to Sell War and Occupation — is the statement made by the Earl of Cromer, the British consul general in Egypt from 1883 to 1907. On a crusade to depict Islam as an inferior religion to Christianity, Cromer condemned the faith for its treatment of women, citing the veil to argue that Egyptians should be forcibly civilized by the British. ​

In his 1908 book Modern Egypt, Cromer wrote:

“The position of women in Egypt, and Mohammedan countries generally, is, therefore a fatal obstacle to the attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of Western civilisation.”

End quote.

Yet as many, including scholar Leila Ahmed, have noted, Cromer, whose heart supposedly bled so much for Egyptian women, agitated to perpetuate the subjugation of women in England. In 1908, after retiring from his work in Egypt, Cromer took the reins of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage back in England.

Similar selective outrage over “Mohammedan” abuses were common across British media during their two wars in Afghanistan and long-time occupation of India and Pakistan during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Adam: So, we’re going to read an excerpt from the Newcastle Daily Chronicle from January of 1880. This was at the tail end of the second Afghan British war that lasted from 1878 to 1880. This details the war crimes of the Mohammedans.The headline is, “The Afghan Campaign: The State of Cabul. Barbarities of the enemy.” It reads, quote:

“The dispersion of the enemy is complete. The Mohammedans are abandoning Cabul, fearing retribution, as they all sympathised with the enemy. The Hindoos report a reign of terror from the 15th of December. Every shop and house was gutted except those of the Mohammedans. The women were stripped publicly, the children were seized and threatened with death. The men were shot. The Kuzzilbashes were spared after swearing on the Koran to be true to the Mohammadans.

“The Afghanistan tribesmen carried away a vast amount of loot. They brought their women and children to witness the British defeat.

“The jehad collapsed. Our troops have rested to-day. The snow is melting. The enemy’s total loss was 2,000.”


Newcastle Daily Chronicle, January 1, 1880

And so the barbarian is the enemy. This isn’t new, right? But the idea of highlighting the human rights abuses of those who you are occupying was very common in, as we also discussed on Episode 65, and the British occupation of India and Pakistan. “Mohammedan” invaders had suppressed Hindus, which was true to some extent, right? A lot of this is true, and that they were effectively on a mission of civilization and liberation of the Hindu minority and to protect women and young girls.

This was common in Algeria as well with the French. The French have kind of mastered this colonial feminism, the concept of a civilizing mission was central to French colonialization instead of a colonial rule of Algeria. Concepts of protecting women’s rights became central to the French quest for domination, and the Muslim veil became its primary battleground.

The article entitled, “Unveil Them to Save Them: France and the Ongoing Colonization of Muslim Women’s Bodies,” by Jyhene Kebsi from May of 2021 notes, quote:

“As a historical example, in 1958 the wives of French army officers presided over the public unveiling of Algerian women. These French wives made a number of Algerian women ‘emancipate’ themselves by making a public spectacle of their unveiling. Under French colonization, Muslim Maghrebi women were persuaded, paid, or forced to remove their veils and to adopt the slogan, ‘Let’s be like the French woman.’”

Nima: Yeah, so this concept of quote-unquote “liberating” Algerian women became central to the campaign to build public support for France’s brutal suppression of Algerian resistance. Frantz Fanon actually wrote about this in an essay called, “Algeria Unveiled,” published in his 1965 book A Dying Colonialism. Fanon wrote this, quote:

“This enabled the colonial administration to define a precise political doctrine: ‘if we want to destroy the structure of Algerian society, its capacity for resistance, we must first of all conquer the women; we must go and find them behind the veil where they hide themselves and in the houses where the men keep them out of sight.’ It is the situation of women that was accordingly taken as the theme of action. The dominant administration solemnly undertook to defend this woman, pictured as humiliated, sequestered, cloistered. It described the immense possibilities of woman, unfortunately transformed by the Algerian man into an inert, demonetized, indeed dehumanized object. The behaviour of the Algerian was very firmly denounced and described as medieval and barbaric. With infinite science, a blanket indictment against the ‘sadistic and vampirish’ Algerian attitude toward women was prepared and drawn up. Around the family life of the Algerian, the occupier piled up a whole mass of judgements, appraisals, reasons, accumulated anecdotes and edifying examples, thus attempting to confine the Algerian within a circle of guilt.”

End quote.

Adam: Yeah, and obviously, look, we’re a secular left-wing podcast, we think women’s liberation is good. The point is that there are cynical actors who are colonialists who use the pretense of liberal values and progress, when they don’t really give a shit about it. Again, as evidenced by the total lack of caring that the vast majority of people starving right now under this asset freeze are women and girls, and this kind of selective, liberal, civilizing mission was popular throughout the 18th, 19th, now the 21st century, right? And this pretextual concern for people’s rights, specifically women’s rights, it does matter that it’s not sincere because, again, when it does come to harming and affecting the poor people that you’ve supposedly just liberated when it comes to stealing their shit, sanctioning them, and committing siege warfare, that kind of bleeding heart is nowhere to be found, and this pretextual pseudo feminism does a disservice to actual feminism, just as the pretextual concern for human rights does a disservice to legitimate concerns for human rights, and then therefore, that colonialism becomes associated with those concepts in many of these places, and that obviously has its own problems.

Nima: To refocus now on Afghanistan. Starting in the early 2000s, western media became very interested in the plight of Afghan women living under Taliban rule. Indignation at the oppression of Afghan women, and calls for international support, were and are still necessary. But, as history shows, the United States has been chiefly concerned with the experiences of Afghan women only when it contributes to the case for war and the expansion of US soft and hard power worldwide.

For instance, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Trudy Rubin wrote an article about this on December 17, 2000. The piece was syndicated across North America and given different headlines depending on which publication it appeared in, of course, but these are just a couple of the headlines that accompanied this piece, again, from December 17, 2000. This from the The Gazette in Montreal, the headline, “Taliban repression: Afghan women need outsiders’ help.” The same article was headlined by the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida, “Suffering is a women’s lot in Afghanistan.” Now, Rubin’s piece didn’t call for US military intervention per se, but rather for diplomatic approaches and the delivery of humanitarian aid. But it did blame the Taliban’s ascent to power on the devastation wrought by the Soviet occupation and the civil war — not, curiously, by the US’s military instigations over those years.

Now, these arguments escalated in the ensuing months. Following this piece, the Edmonton Journal, from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on July 7, 2001 had this headline, “Afghan women fight for survival under Taliban regime.” And in late August of 2001, CNN broadcast “Beneath the Veil,” a documentary capturing the brutality of the Taliban toward Afghan people, particularly women and children.

Adam: So just a few weeks later, 9/11 happened, and obviously after 9/11, the takes grew more hawkish because then the interest in quote-unquote “liberating women” aligned with what the US wanted to do, which was, turns out go to war and occupy Afghanistan for 20 years. So the Los Angeles Times on October 7, 2001, “Beneath the Veil, Anger Seethes Among Afghan Women.” Quote:

“Life under the Taliban is so repressive for Afghan women that many of them now see US military action against the regime as their best hope for a freer life.”

So that’s good that, quote, “many of them” agree with the invasion. The day the piece was published, October 7, 2001, a US led coalition invaded Afghanistan. Promptly the media began releasing reports detailing the liberatory results of the invasion. The Los Angeles Times November 21, 2001, quote, “The Face of Liberation, Unshrouded.” An excerpt reads, quote:

“… now is one of those once-in-a-generation moments when freedom has a face, thousands of women’s faces, in fact, appearing in the streets, bared to the winter sun, singing, laughing. And now what it means to be liberated from oppression, whether imposed by ideology or religion or just brute force, is no longer a dry civics lesson but a real, live show in our living rooms every evening, one that American schoolchildren shouldn’t miss.”

The New York Times wrote an editorial on November 24, 2001, quote, “Liberating the Women of Afghanistan .” It read, quote:

“America did not go to war in Afghanistan so that women there could once again feel the sun on their faces, but the reclaimed freedom of Afghan women is a collateral benefit that Americans can celebrate. After five years of Taliban rule, women in Afghanistan are uncovering their faces, looking for jobs, walking happily with female friends on the street and even hosting a news show on Afghan television.”

So, yeah, the consensus was that the invasion of Afghanistan, and the indefinite occupation was good, because it liberated the people of Afghanistan just sort of incidentally, but was also supposedly one of the kind of humanitarian motives. Laura Bush, then First Lady to President George W. Bush, took this on as her cause and used the liberation of women as the kind of soft angle for this occupation and military actions within Afghanistan over the next seven years of his administration.

Nima: Now as the occupation of Afghanistan continued, media, maybe if not always so breathlessly in the way that they did in the early years of the occupation, still continued to uncritically accept the expansion of US power in the region, and maintaining the presence of American troops in Afghanistan for years to come. When Barack Obama later announced plans to add 17,000 troops, which he swiftly elevated to 30,000 troops, in November 2009, just his first year in office, the New York Times gave no more than two paragraphs — between two articles — to a singular antiwar voice.

Adam: Cut to April of 2021, the Biden administration announced his plans to withdraw the final 3,500 declared troops, there were some private troops as well, from Afghanistan by September 11 of that year. The plan was to leave some kind of minor residual forces and other kinds of CIA State Department types, but then the Taliban took over so that never happened. A search of The New York Times archives for pieces that include the terms “Afghan” and “betrayal” — in other words, pieces that lament the “betrayal” of Afghan people post-invasion through the end of 2021, a two-decade period — returns 161 results, with one from 2013 entitled, “In Afghanistan, Women Betrayed,” explicitly focusing on the Afghan government’s oppression of women specifically, but offering no critique of the US and its role in the crisis.

Another, from 2018, after Trump issued an order to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, The New York Times, warned of a “betrayal” — a word that, we’ll soon see, is commonly used in response to “threats” of US military withdrawal. The headline read, “In Afghanistan, Alarm and a Sense of Betrayal Over U.S. Drawdown,” that was from December of 2018.

And of those 161 results, 19 were published after Biden’s withdrawal announcement. That’s almost 12 percent in a period of just nine months over the course of approximately 20 years, and so there was this acute sense that Biden was betraying the Afghan people by withdrawing American troops without any sense that perhaps a lot of Afghans and a lot of women didn’t want the US there.

Nima: US Troops were technically withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of August 2021, but President Joe Biden never promised to end US military involvement; at the time of his withdrawal announcement in fact, he pledged that the US would, quote, “keep providing assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.”

The New York Times reported that the US would, quote, “Withdraw All Combat Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11.” Yet, as Norman Solomon observed that same year, it took 32 paragraphs in that piece to acknowledge the following, quote:

“Instead of declared troops in Afghanistan, the United States will most likely rely on a shadowy combination of clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors and covert intelligence operatives to find and attack the most dangerous Qaeda or Islamic State threats, current and former American officials said.”

End quote.

Yet with the swift collapse of the Afghan government after the withdrawal and the complete take over of the Taliban in Afghanistan, US mercenaries and special forces never got their chance to do what they were supposed to do according to this piece. With the exception of drone and missile strikes, the US military does not have a footprint anymore in the country.

Adam: The outrage during the announcement in the actual withdrawal was of course uniform and swift by US media. Washington Post David Ignatius in April of 2021, quote, “History will cast a shadow over Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.” Noted CIA spokesman at the Washington Post. CNN opinion piece by David Andelman said, “Biden is making a major mistake on Afghanistan.” The Atlantic’s George Packer in August of 2021, during the actual withdrawal wrote, quote, “Biden’s Betrayal of Afghans Will Live in Infamy.” Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in August of 2021 as well, quote, “The horror of Afghan women abandoned by America’s troop pullout.” The Washington Post ran a piece by Ahmad Massoud, who was the head of the Mujahideen, this was August 18, 2021, The Washington Post’s headline was, quote, “The mujahideen resistance to the Taliban begins now. But we need help,” where it calls for US clandestine assistance to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, something that has historically not gone very well. One excerpt reads, quote:

“…we need more weapons, more ammunition and more supplies.

“America and its democratic allies do not just have the fight against terrorism in common with Afghans. We now have a long history made up of shared ideals and struggles. There is still much that you can do to aid the cause of freedom. You are our only remaining hope.”

Nima: Very Princess Leia of him.

Adam: August 19, 2021 op-ed by Ariel Cohen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, wrote, quote, “The Cost of Betrayal in Afghanistan.” Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic from the same day, quote, “The Week the Left Stopped Caring About Human Rights.”

Nima: And Adam, you actually wrote about that Caitlin Flanagan piece in The Atlantic at the time to save yourself from quoting yourself I will quote you. You wrote at the time, quote:

“The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan…wrote a scolding piece in the Atlantic entitled, ‘The Week the Left Stopped Caring About Human Rights,’ where she accused anti-war liberals of being hypocrites who don’t care about human rights if the U.S. military is the one doing the protecting and upholding…

“Flanagan’s missive even mischaracterized the position of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, insisting she was lobbying for continued U.S. occupation when she was, in fact, doing the opposite.”

End quote.

Adam: Yeah, Flanagan, I mean, everybody needed to sort of find their puppet differential, but actually what she has done, she had for years called for the US to leave Afghanistan. I think there was always debate about the process of it, whether or not it was done, right? That’s the sort of open conversation that people can have. But the idea that the US should not withdraw was definitely not a position she actually had.

But again, the headlines kept coming. The New York Times, “In Afghanistan, an Unceremonious End, and a Shrouded Beginning,” August 30, 2021. August 31, 2021, from the AP, “Afghanistan’s arc from 9/11 to today: Once hopeful, now sad,” with a picture of a sad kid. From later that December in New York Times Magazine, “Inside the Fall of Kabul: An On-the-Ground Account.” CNN ran multiple segments, Jake Tapper especially ran all these segments talking about how Biden had betrayed the Afghan people, and it was the sort of sad lament, the fall of Kabul, and everyone analogized it to the fall of Saigon without any awareness of the history of why Saigon fell, and the idea that somehow — what? — if the US had stayed in Vietnam for another 20 years we eventually would have won. It’s not clear, but the idea is that the US had been humiliated, there was these visuals of people jumping on helicopters, and escaping out of airplanes from the Kabul airport, and this was a form of humiliation, and what people don’t quite understand or appreciate is that, Nima, for 20 years, Afghanistan was a place that people like Jake Tapper, who needed to latch their facile centrist brand on to the troops, it’s where they went to build their credibility. You put the flak jacket on, you report, you know, you spent a year there, you may even write a self serving memoir book about, you know, how the 104th whatever division and how tough they are,and it’s this, again, it’s this sort of middle brow corporate media thing you do to kind of get your bonafides to go back and basically anchor in front of an air conditioned desk and make $2 million a year. It’s the kind of thing you did to cut your teeth. And so this is also true of a lot of elites who wanted to join the military, right? President Biden’s kid is in the military, right? Harry Duke of Sussex, of course, wrote in his memoirs recently about how he allegedly killed 25 people, and you know, it sort of was no big deal. It’s where you go to kind of cut your teeth, and it’s war that sort of always was, and now it’s gone, and that gives them a sad because, you know, generously, you could say, that when they go and they hang out with the, you know, 104th airborne, and they play poker and drink whiskey with them, they stay at the hotels in Kabul, and they get to know all the NGOs, again, many of whom we’re working within a horrible system to try to do good things, right? These are not bad people, but they’re kind of the soft arm of the American, US and allied occupation. That they kind of begin to buy into the humanitarian narrative. This is a very common thing because they don’t see the other side of the equation. They don’t see the missile strikes, drone strikes and US raids that have devastated Afghanistan, because that’s not really what they’re privy to.

Nima: Yeah, there has long been a dearth of reporting about the, you know, effects of a 20 year long occupation. I mean, over a decade ago, I remember when Lawrence O’Donnell reported on a Chinook transport helicopter crash. The helicopter was shot down, a US military helicopter shot down killing 30 American soldiers, including 17 elite Navy SEALs, and Lawrence O’Donnell called that on his MSNBC show, “the deadliest day of the war.” He told his viewers, quote, “This weekend saw the worst single loss of life in the 10 years of the Afghan war,” end quote. I actually wrote about this at the time, noting that not only Americans die there, and actually, the vast loss of life has obviously been the Afghans themselves.

Now, one notable exception to this media rule of lamenting the withdrawal and talking about Afghanistan only insofar as it was a quagmire of Vietnam proportions, the loss of American blood and treasure but never really focusing on the people who live there. The one real media exception to this was Anand Gopal’s piece in The New Yorker in September 2021 entitled, “The Other Afghan Women.” In it, Gopal write this, quote:

“Both sides of the war did make efforts to avoid civilian deaths. In addition to issuing warnings to evacuate, the Taliban kept villagers informed about which areas were seeded with improvised explosive devices, and closed roads to civilian traffic when targeting convoys. The coalition deployed laser-guided bombs, used loudspeakers to warn villagers of fighting, and dispatched helicopters ahead of battle. ‘They would drop leaflets saying, “Stay in your homes! Save yourselves!”’ Shakira recalled. In a war waged in mud-walled warrens teeming with life, however, nowhere was truly safe, and an extraordinary number of civilians died. Sometimes, such casualties sparked widespread condemnation, as when a NATO rocket struck a crowd of villagers in Sangin in 2010, killing fifty-two. But the vast majority of incidents involved one or two deaths — anonymous lives that were never reported on, never recorded by official organizations, and therefore never counted as part of the war’s civilian toll.”

End quote.

Gopal goes on to write this, quote:

“Some British officers on the ground grew concerned that the U.S. was killing too many civilians, and unsuccessfully lobbied to have American Special Forces removed from the area. Instead, troops from around the world poured into Helmand, including Australians, Canadians, and Danes. But villagers couldn’t tell the difference — to them, the occupiers were simply ‘Americans.’”

End quote.

The Costs of War Project at Brown University also estimates that the war has directly killed 243,000 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, more than 71,000 of whom were civilians. These figures do not include deaths caused by disease, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, being displaced from their homes and other indirect consequences of this kind of war and occupation.

Adam: Yeah, what Gopal pointed out in his various media appearances for this, Democracy Now so forth, was we just don’t hear about the deaths in rural areas, that there’s a large rural urban divide, and that the journalists who parachute in and report on it only get the urban side of the story, and there are so many deaths not reported in rural areas and the anger towards the American war and American occupation, even from people who, again, just as well hate the Taliban, is basically not reported. It’s not part of the calculus. It was asserted as an unassailable categorical fact that the Afghan people wanted the US to stay, and that was simply not true. Obviously, some did, and obviously, some don’t. But there was very little analysis or acceptance of the fact that there was a meaningful constituent who didn’t want the US to continue occupying Afghanistan forever, and that their presence simply made the Taliban more powerful and the violence more acute.

Afghan men — among millions facing starvation — stand in a line in January 2022 for a monthly food ration in an area south of Kabul. (Credit: Getty Images/Scott Peterson)

And then when the US left in August, they immediately froze the assets of Afghanistan Central Bank. $7 billion of it was held in the US Federal Reserve. The Biden administration stated in February of 2022, that they had planned to use half of the $7 billion for humanitarian relief and the remaining half for 9/11 victims. The 3.5 billion for 9/11 victims is currently being held up in court. A great deal of 9/11 victims’ families don’t want the money, they find it quite perverse that a bunch of Saudi nationals who destroyed the Twin Towers would somehow result in people who own small businesses in Afghanistan having to pay up a debt 20 years later, it doesn’t make any sense at all. I mean, almost everyone knows it’s a totally cynical marketing thing, and then this $3.5 billion has been sitting in something called the Afghan Trust, which hasn’t gone anywhere, in almost a year and a half, it hasn’t been disbursed at all, and there’s no immediate plans to disburse it at all. And so when you take away all this money from the Afghan economy, this completely torpedoed the economy, the economy sank precipitously after the US withdrawal. Immediately there was a famine or near famine conditions that winter. This winter there is as well. There are horrific stories that we’ve seen coming out over the past 14, 15 months about fathers having to sell their daughters off into marriage to pay for food, cannibalism, the most horrific examples of starvation that you could possibly imagine, and this is barely reported on. It was reported when it really made some press back in November of 2021, but the US’ culpability and responsibility for it was completely glossed over as I wrote about at the time. For my Substack I wrote an article, “Pundits Whose Hearts Bled for the ‘People of Afghanistan’ in August Now Silent About U.S. Sanctions Causing Mass Starvation of Afghans,” in which I wrote, quote:

“In one 7 minute, 53 second segment from a November 1 episode of [Jake] Tapper’s show, The Lead, reporter Anna Coren covered the humanitarian crisis, centering families so desperate they were selling their young daughters into ‘forced marriage.’ In a post-report interview with Tapper, Coren vaguely discussed the cutting off of aid and freezing of billions but made no mention of U.S. sanctions or the U.S. role in it, referring only to ‘the international community’ ‘freezing billions of dollars in reserves.’ The primary culprit is said by Tapper to be the Taliban, which he tells Coren has made the practice of selling children ‘worse.’ (The report has since been disputed, with allegations from the Afghans in the video that Coren had made up the story.) This has been the extent of Tapper covering the crisis: a single report that omits the U.S. role in creating the humanitarian disaster…

“Like Tapper, NBC’s Richard Engel took the omission of the U.S. role in worsening Afghanistan’s hunger crisis one step further, not so much ignoring the issue but actually reporting on it while glossing over U.S. responsibility for helping create it. In one recent 4 minute, 21 second report from Afghanistan that aired online for NBC’s streaming show NBCNow on December 16, Engel discussed the starvation and economic ruin in harrowing detail — even calling it a ‘man-made crisis.’ But which ‘men’? It’s not clear. Engel entirely ignored U.S.-led sanctions and stealing of billions in Afghanistan’s assets, making only vague reference to ‘dried up foreign aid.’”

And so you saw this immediately during the winter of 2021 and 2022, where all these pundits like Richard Engel and Jake Tapper, whose hearts bled for the people of Afghanistan, who made a huge production out of crying. Richard Engel somewhat famously said the following:

[Begin Clip]

Richard Engel: The worst capitulation of Western values in our lifetimes. You left behind, I went to Afghanistan, I arrived a couple of weeks ago, it was a republic, backed by the United States, backed by the West. Now, it is an emerging Islamic emirate trying to find its way.

[End Clip]

Adam: Okay, so here we have an ostensibly straight reporter telling us “capitulation of Western values,” not quite clear what he means by Western values.

Nima: It was a republic, Adam.

Adam: ‘It was a republic and now it’s an Islamic state.’ It’s like, yeah, okay. It’s a little more complicated than that. But again, his heart bled on August 30, 2021, and then when it came time to report on the US sanctions that have caused mass starvation and poverty and basically evaporated half of the economy overnight, he doesn’t even mention US’ roll in it, because to him, again, in case it’s not patently obvious here, we’re making this point over and over again, they don’t really care about the Afghan people, they care about their people only insofar as they can provide a moral bludgeon to support permanent US occupation and to create a place where journalists can go and cut their teeth. And again, I think to some extent they’re not that cynical, I think they buy into the sort of civilizing mission aspect, right? I think to some extent they really do kind of believe it as a lot of nationalists believe their own bullshit. But then again, the second that the US is, not their inaction, but the thing they’re actually doing, which is to say stealing $7 billion of Afghan money from one of the, if not the poorest countries on Earth, $7 billion goes a long way, they’re nowhere to be found, and they’ll sort of do the ‘Oh, dear’ reporting and all the sadness, but they don’t tell you that actually, you can call your congressperson or call your Senator or call or demand your president to give them this money back. There’s no sort of call to action. It’s just emotional pornography.

Nima: The New York Times editorial board even agrees with that.

Women protest the US and UN-led asset freeze in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Credit: EPA)

Adam: And so there’s very few instances where you have a very acute case of crocodile tears where you can sort of say, all these people in August of 2021, acted like they care deeply about the Afghan people, but then when they were starving over 14, 15 months, basically, they never talked about it. Even though there is something very much the US can do today that does not involve arms shipments, that does not involve sending over tanks and surface to air missiles, but can actually just give people their money back, and there’s crickets and they’re nowhere to be found.

Nima: To discuss this more, we’re now going to be joined by Hadiya Afzal, a Chicago-based program coordinator for the organization Unfreeze Afghanistan, a women-led campaign supporting the Afghan people’s wish to live in peace and prosperity. Hadiya will join us in just a moment. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Hadiya Afzal. Hadiya, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Hadiya Afzal: Thank you guys for having me. I really enjoy your podcast. So.

Adam: Well, thank you so much. We’re excited to jump into this to try to contextualize a little bit if you could. I want to sort of recap, I know that after the US withdrew in August of 2021 and the Taliban very quickly took power soon after the United States froze $7 billion of the country’s central bank assets along with Europe and the UAE. We talked about this at the beginning of the show. This of course alongside with other sanctions and the political turmoil has caused a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan that has included famine or near famine, depending who you ask, and much hardship. I want to sort of, if you can, can you kind of start by laying out the situation. Can you give us a sort of explanation of the current state of things?

Hadiya Afzal

Hadiya Afzal: Sure. So after the immediate take over the US and international community quickly moved to freeze Afghanistan’s central bank assets that were located overseas. This, along with sanctions on the country led to a severe economic crisis where ordinary Afghans couldn’t withdraw their own money from the banks to pay for necessities, and so this, along with inflation, led to a really massive humanitarian crisis, which even aid organizations in Afghanistan have said they don’t have the capacity to address by themselves. So there’s an extremely high percentage of Afghanistan at risk of food insecurity right now, girl education has also been under increasing threat by the Taliban, escalating edicts by them have banned girls education in secondary school, and then universities as well. There’s a whole timeline of back and forth promises and internal tensions. But overall, the country’s in a very severe crisis of both, again, humanitarian and economic proportions and the international community has a large role they can still play in helping to bring that to a halt.

Nima: I really want to talk about these frozen funds and the alleged plans for them. But before we get there, I kind of want to follow up on this idea that there’s both a humanitarian crisis and an economic one, and that that’s really talked about as if they’re distinct things, right? This kind of false distinction. Can you kind of talk about how it’s impossible to really fix a humanitarian crisis by exacerbating an economic one and how the current stance on the Central Bank of Afghanistan is exacerbating this problem? Maybe talk about how this central bank was even created, what it was modeled after, and how the freezing of the funds is not just the same as taking money away from the Taliban, but actually takes money away from regular people.

Hadiya Afzal: Sure. So one of the biggest things to emphasize as advocates is that this is a humanitarian crisis with economic causes, and the biggest causes are that asset freeze and ongoing sanctions. The Afghanistan Central Bank was modeled after the US Federal Reserve and built during the US time and Afghanistan. It was the first centralized financial institution in the country, replacing a more informal hawala system of borrowing off the books, essentially. So this required a massive effort through the entire country of hiring civil servants to run this, hiring independent Board of Governors as well to oversee this, separate from the actual government, much like the US Federal Reserve. And in that same vein, it’s almost impossible to think of seizing the United States’ money, another sovereign nation just being able to do that, and the main reason Afghanistan’s money is even in the US in the first place was because that’s what the US told Afghanistan other countries across the world, they could put their money and it will be safe. So this was a really unprecedented move by the Biden administration, and their ongoing releases early 2022 about how that money was going to be dealt with, even talked about how they are making the first of its kind split in those funds half going pending that lawsuit with the 9/11 families case, the other half in the newly established Afghan Fund. So a lot of this is unprecedented, and that’s why it makes it even more important that advocates, allies highlight just how significant the impacts of this are for Afghan people, because, again, it’s their money, and their bank’s money in there, and it’s not anything to use for government functions. So.

Adam: Yeah, so of the $7 million, $3.5 billion was set aside for 9/11 victims families, which is quite perverse. In fact, many, many 9/11 victims’ families have signed an open letter saying they don’t want the money, saying it probably should go to the poor people of Afghanistan, that these two things are unrelated. Of course, bin Laden was found in Pakistan, but to me, that’s a different conversation to have. The other $3.5 billion has ostensibly been set aside for something called the private trust, the Afghan Fund. There’s four trustees, as Sarah Lazare at Workday magazine reported, one of the trustees says it’s unlikely the assets will ever get dispersed anytime soon. They’re all kind of appointed by the White House. There’s a general sense that they’d kind of need to look like there’s some mystery fund but no actual monies are being dispersed. It appears like there’s a sort of game of chicken unfolding between the White House and starving people, or I guess, the Taliban. They claim that there’s like criteria that the Taliban could reach or meet, so-called Human Rights criteria, although I think it’s less about human rights, cynically, I think it’s more about other things, and then they would release the funds. But this seems like a non-starter in terms of what’s actually going to happen. So really, they’re just kind of taking people’s money, as you said, not even the government’s money, but people’s money, businesses money, small businesses money, and they’re just never going to give it back. It’s kind of an f-you. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, well, it’s politically toxic for Biden to give the money back,’ you know, this sort of hit him over the head like they did with Obama with the Iran deal, you know, lifting sanctions on Iran. Every day on Fox News was ‘Obama gives $300 billion back to the Mullahs,’ and it’s like this kind of bullshit. Obviously, it’s more than just political cowardice. It’s also there seems like there’s a vengeance element to it, the military establishment, the National Security establishments are kind of mad they lost and are just doing what is, I mean, you could do it with a pen and a suit and tie, but it’s still just a form of siege warfare. It’s just siege warfare. So it’s another form of siege warfare, the oldest form of warfare, right, goes back to the Bronze Age, just cut a city off and starve it. I want you to comment, if you will, on this kind of game of chicken. Whether or not you think that the White House is maybe, has any kind of sincere commitment to human rights, per se, or whether or not this is just a politically convenient way of getting revenge, for want of a better term?

Hadiya Afzal: Yeah, so I think, quite honestly, advocates are unsurprised at the pace the Afghan Fund is moving at, despite some outspoken members of the board like Dr. Shah Mehrabi, who’s called for a return of assets to the central bank since 2021. There are, as you mentioned, other international agendas at play in the fund’s decision making or lack thereof. So the US representatives on this matter have made the administration’s concerns clear, despite the harm they know this freeze has had on the people of Afghanistan, and I think decades of international attempts to use women’s rights as a foothold for occupation has led to a terrible backlash now, that there is no interest in sincere and sustained diplomatic negotiation to unravel, and so despite the impact that revoking women and girls rights to education, and work and travel are having, protests and urges otherwise, from international advocates, especially tied to the asset freeze, and sanctions have often led to the extreme ruling faction of the Taliban digging their heels in deeper against these perceived outside influences. So recently, the Taliban also issued an edict banning female NGO staff from working in Afghanistan, saying they hadn’t observed proper hijab and dress codes, and so 15 leading NGOs in Afghanistan have since suspended that work, which is a huge, huge decision. Those 15 organizations cumulatively help millions of Afghans and their staff, many of whom are Afghan themselves, are the sole breadwinners for their family. So this decision has had an enormous ripple effect and the UN is speaking out against this, Jan England, from the Norwegian Refugee Council himself has traveled to Afghanistan now to speak with the Taliban directly on this, and they are very clear in saying we are not the ones who can make any big movements happen. This requires diplomatic negotiation from the West, and from the countries that are holding this money and have that leverage over the Taliban. The issue is the breaking of trust, and what trust means for each side and these potential negotiations?

Nima: You know, I’d love to talk about what you see as the media aspect of this, what is being communicated, and you know, as we know, for decades, I mean, before the invasion of Afghanistan, during the occupation certainly ramped up before the more recent “final,” quote-unquote, withdrawal of US troops, there was so much hand wringing, so much concern, as Adam mentioned earlier, you just mentioned, of human rights and namely women’s rights, and you know, what will be the fate of the Afghan people if the US troops leave, and the Taliban comes back into power? And yet that concern for the people, right, that we read about in editorials, ‘what’s going to happen if US troops leave?’ ‘Oh the poor people.’ Suddenly, this concern kind of evaporates when US troops aren’t there, when it’s maybe not in the best military interest of this country to, you know, promote a certain agenda. We stop hearing about famine, we stop hearing about poverty, we stop actually hearing about women’s rights. What have you and your organization, Unfreeze Afghanistan, been doing to kind of refocus the media on some of these concerns? How do you think this can be done if there isn’t, say, the interest of the US military state kind of pushing a press agenda? How do you keep this front of mind? How do you keep this kind of information out there and get people to care?

Hadiya Afzal: So our strategy has been to focus concerted efforts where we can and finding creative ways to raise awareness, and also bringing new coalitions of different types of groups and individuals together to make a media splash where we can. So one big push we did in 2022 was with over 70-plus renowned international economists, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, to write to the White House and urge the release of the bank assets, detailing the impact of the freeze and the subsequent collapse of the Afghan economy. It is, as always, these crises are the most maddening. An issue with the solution, yet politics and narrative standing in the way. It’s always the Afghan people, the Iraqi people, the Yemeni people who suffer from American inaction and unwillingness. So once enough Americans are speaking up and out against this and demanding movement from their electeds, I think that’s when we’ll actually see a change in this. The movement around the Afghan Adjustment Act right now is a great example of how these politics have formed around a specific push for a need that this diaspora saw unaddressed. If we can channel that same effort into helping Afghans in Afghanistan, in their homes where they want to stay, that is the best thing we can possibly do. You’ve probably seen all these news stories, you know, the escalating crises have pushed people in Afghanistan to extremes they would have never otherwise taken, rising child marriage packs, fathers selling their kidneys, parents drugging their children to help them sleep. These are stories that get a lot of traction, sometimes with their headlines, and oftentimes, the economic causes, the asset freeze, sanctions, are maybe a passing sentence somewhere towards the end, if mentioned at all, and so this is where we see kind of an uncomfortable type of portrayal of Afghanistan now where it’s falling into the same type of a hole we’re seeing in coverage of Yemen, for example, where it’s just as awful crisis, and your donation is needed and aid is needed, but who’s supporting the Saudi blockade? Who is responsible for holding the Afghan people’s money? These are the actual root causes they need to continue being called out, and the advocates need to continue calling media outlets out when they fail to uphold those types of journalistic standards in their reporting?

Adam: Yeah, because it’s, you know, I think countries are like people, like one should be self critical before they start criticizing others, and we talked about this earlier, this Jake Tapper segment that dealt with child marriage to sort of keep food on the table, and there’s literally one passing line about US sanctions that says, quote-unquote, “Western sanctions,” and most of it blames the Taliban, and it’s like, well, yeah, okay, obviously, they’re partly to blame. I mean, I think everyone can kind of agree with that. But there’s nothing we can do about that, where there is something we can do about this. Unless your plan is to reinvade there’s not much you can really do, and so there’s this, you’re right, it’s dissolved into what Adam Curtis calls, “oh, dearism,” where it’s kind of this, you know, sort of Sally Struthers look at the starving children, but we’re not responsible, the Biden White House is not responsible, the Democrats are not responsible.

Nima: It’s a crisis from nowhere, with only individual solutions, not systemic ones.

Adam: The first rule of a crisis is, if you can do something about it, you do your thing first, before you start criticizing other people, you know?

Hadiya Afzal: Well, guys, that’s exactly why they gave licenses, duh.

Adam: Exactly.

Hadiya Afzal: The Treasury offered these licenses and now it’s all fine.

Adam: So I want to sort of talk about this kind of moral extortion, because you see this when you talk about this topic, as you say, well, you know, the Biden White House can give some of the assets back, and then this kind of emotional extortion is very common in the State Department crowd where they say, ‘Well, that’s just gonna reward bad behavior on the part of the Taliban,’ and it’s sort of a very kind of comforting thought that these people sort of are starving. It’s this game of chicken and they’re starving because of the bad deeds of others, not something we’re doing, and that that there’s, even though the White House, as far as I know, hasn’t really laid out an actual criteria of what they can do to get the money, that’s very ambiguous. It’s just like, as far as I know, the State Department’s extremely vague about what that’s supposed to be.

Nima: Right. Stop being the Taliban.

Hadiya Afzal: Yeah, exactly. The Treasury Department put out anti counter terrorism financing mechanisms they need the central bank to implement and a bunch of infrastructure they need in place, all of that can happen if they’re given the support they need to re implement that, you know, rehire the civil servants, people are waiting to get it back up and running. That is not of any interest to the West. So they will say X, Y, Z needs to happen but they won’t either acknowledge when it does, they won’t help any efforts to get that going, and they’ll use that as an excuse to continue holding out on the return.

Nima: And as you said, the way to implement that stuff is also going to require the money it takes to create those programs or make those changes or run a government or have certain programs in place. So it’s literally holding hostage the thing that would allow them to get their money back possible. Do you know what I mean? There’s actually a catch 22 built into that. It’s like, ‘Do all these things, you can get your money back,’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, but we need our money back to do those things,’ and they’re like, ‘Well, I guess that’s a problem you’re going to have to solve.’

Hadiya Afzal: Yeah.

Adam: Well, these so-called Human Rights benchmarks are afforded to no other country. It’s not as if we say Israel has to stop gunning down Palestinian children. Saudi Arabia has to stop bombing funerals and mass beheading Shia before we give them $750 million in arms. These sort of precious criteria exist in no other context.

Hadiya Afzal: Yeah, you’ve created an absolutely unprecedented situation where you’ve taken a sovereign nation’s assets, and then you make them jump through higher and higher hoops, while you just sit there and watch that money drain away, essentially, and then say, ‘Oh, well, we are the biggest donors to the UN fund. So actually, we’re helping.’ But that’s not the measure by which you can measure that.

Nima: So before we let you go, we’d love to hear more about the work that Unfreeze Afghanistan is doing, you know, what do you want folks listening to know. I know, we’ve been, you know, really focused on these frozen assets, obviously, and how the Afghan Fund, which is like this, you know, Swiss foundation with American, only four trustees, as we’ve been talking about, they haven’t done anything in three months, it doesn’t seem like anything is going to, you know, it doesn’t seem like grants or a release of funds are going to be made anytime soon. So what do you want folks to know about that part of your work, but also Unfreeze Afghanistan does so much other stuff. What do you want folks to know about and how can people get involved and help out?

Hadiya Afzal: Sure, absolutely. So right now, in January 2023, right before the end of December 2022, because of the NGO ban, UN flights carrying cash for humanitarian aid into Afghanistan have already been suspended pending that NGO ban. That aid was supplied in cash already due to US sanctions. So right now, we are being pushed kind of into a further corner where we have to reassess where our joint efforts can make the most impact. So either fundraising to keep school aged girls learning while waiting for diplomatic negotiations, at a governmental level to move forward, that same head of the NRC, Jan England, he has been calling for the release of the Afghan assets and lifting the sanctions for years, and this is the type of advocacy that needs to be actually taken seriously because the same people that are respected widely, you know, Human Rights Watch has come out with a long, detailed report of the impacts of the asset freeze, all of these organizations are calling for sustained reengagement with the de facto government, because right now the people of Afghanistan are being punished for a government that did not choose, and people will try to shame advocates for our position on unfreezing that aid and the assets, but the people’s right to live with dignity, with food and access to their own funds, and their right to education is a thought that can be held at the same time, and so we encourage people who are upset about this, who feel as though this is something deeply wrong with US continuing to do to the people of Afghanistan, to get involved, to reach out, you might have new representatives now, but to make this a priority, because oftentimes you find unlikely allies in this type of work. I’ve been working in the foreign policy space for a few years now, and you will find people you can work with if your voice is loud enough to attract those people to you. So I think we need to focus on broad coalitions to push for this, because there’s no way we’ll be heard otherwise.

Adam: The New York Times supports it. I mean, it’s the most normie of normie, they support unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets, I think they had some bullshit liberal hand wringing, but I think they ultimately agree with you. So this is not like a fringe position. This is kind of a no-brainer decision for people who are not concerned with what swing voters in Fairfax County think or are not punitive State Department and CIA officials mad that they got humiliated.

Nima: Yeah. But you can tell that there’s this emotional blackmail because of what they did with half of the funds. The, you know, $3.5 billion going to 9/11 victims, do you know what I mean? 21 years after the fact.

Hadiya Afzal: Well, when I say stuff like broad coalition, I mean, for example, the 9/11 families for peaceful tomorrows who are part of Unfreeze, we submitted an amicus brief to the court regarding that lawsuit that was accepted. So we’re just waiting on these things but even the lower judge’s recommendation was this an obvious open and shut, ‘No, this money does not belong to those people kind of case, this is Afghanistan’s money.’ So there are signs, I think, logical people in positions in the media, in government at different levels know it’s right. It’s just about forcing that political moment where you can actually have that discussion again, that has been had many years in formal agreement that has been kind of used as a back and forth tool by each side while getting ultimately nowhere.

Nima: Well, I think that is a great place to leave it. Urge everyone to check out the great work of Unfreeze Afghanistan, we’ve been speaking with Hadiya Afzal, a Chicago-based program coordinator for Unfreeze Afghanistan, a women-led campaign supporting the Afghan people’s wish to live in peace and prosperity. Hadiya, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Hadiya Afzal: Thank you so much for having me.


Adam: Yeah, I’m really glad that she came on to establish the stakes here because I think that, you know, we’re not just a bunch of holier than thou lefties asserting a bunch of shit, like the stakes are very eminent, they’re very high, and they’ve been trying to bang their head against the wall for 15, 16, 17 months trying to get someone to care, and again, the same media outlets whose hearts bled for Afghans are nowhere to be found here.

Nima: Especially bled for Afghan women, right? I mean, decades, decades of that, of the plight of the Afghan woman and how, because of the freedom policy of the US occupiers, African women had it better than ever, yada, yada, yada, and now, oh, my god, it’s going to be sunk back into the dark ages, but even with that approach, the media has completely abandoned the idea of promoting anything that would actually help Afghan women now that doesn’t involve like reinvading the country, but rather involves allowing the Afghan economy to maybe somehow recover, to allow people to have jobs, to allow people to care for their families, in ways that actually save many lives. Al Jazeera reported at the end of 2021, that the cut off in aid to Afghanistan, quote, “May kill more Afghans than the war itself,” end quote. So I think that idea of how the media cares so much for a second, or you know, about certain things for a while, and then when it’s not in the interest of the US military it just completely changes.

Adam: Right, because this is fundamentally a media story of an activist trying to get attention, trying to get momentum, they need media to care, you know, there’s no real sort of, it’s not like the evacuation on August 30, 31st of 2021 where there sort of this moment where everyone sort of cared. The deaths are largely obscure, they’re not filmed, they’re not seen, the starvation, the deprivation, the destruction of entire economies is not seen. People don’t know about it. Because again, it doesn’t suit the interest of US corporate media and the national security establishment. And so this is fundamentally both a humanitarian story which our first guest helped us out with, and now this is very much a media story, which our second guest is going to help us out with.

Nima: So our next guest, Julie Hollar, of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting wrote this in September of 2022, quote:

“When a government invades a country occupies it for 20 years, and then sends it into a humanitarian crisis by appropriating most of its money, you’d expect good journalists from that country to follow the story closely and vigorously hold their government to account. In the US, instead, you get largely shrugs, and government talking points.”

End quote.

We will now speak with senior analyst and managing editor at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, Julie Hollar. She’ll join us in just a moment. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Julie Hollar. Julie, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Julie Hollar: Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Adam: As you detail in your work, concern for women’s rights in Afghanistan, as we’ve talked about at the top of the show, from US media, not to say, of course, people who are actually invested in this as such, largely ebbs and flows with the geopolitical needs of the US military State Department at any particular time. So I want to sort of start by talking about the findings, you found in your research about this issue, how women’s rights were covered in Afghanistan, obviously, we also see similar lines when it comes to talking about, you know, it’s kind of The Wire, ‘there are no gay bars in Gaza’ line, as Israel is leveling entire buildings and wiping out three generations, we see this with Iran and other countries where it’s convenient, but it’s more acute, most acute in Afghanistan. I want to kind of ask you, in your findings, what did you find about this kind of timing of these concerns, and the sort of function they serve, in winning over liberals for supporting what at this point would have been just endless occupation for the next 150 years?

Julie Hollar

Julie Hollar: Right. Sure. Well, so FAIR has been documenting this since 2001, and it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that before 9/11, women’s rights in Afghanistan were really barely noticed by US media, and then, as the US prepared to attack, and then did attack Afghanistan, the coverage just exploded of women’s rights. As soon as the war was prematurely declared over, it just disappeared again. So just watch the spike go up and down, depending on what’s happening politically with the US and Afghanistan. And it was explicitly presented by the media, by politicians and the media, as a justification for the invasion. As you probably remember, at the time, you know, it’s like all these burqa clad women need rescue, there was the famous Time magazine cover “Lifting the Veil,” all this talk about the supposed liberation by US troops and the jubilation and there’s this just huge media coverage of this, and then silence basically, because the narrative is they needed rescue, we rescued them, the end, right?

TIME Magazine, December 3, 2001

So the US is there so the story is over so, you know, there was really very little coverage, ongoing coverage of well, you know, what’s happening to these women that we were so concerned about? There would occasionally be some talk, as the years went on, more or less talk about withdrawal, ‘We’ve been here long enough, what’s happening, we should withdraw,’ and in those moments, you would sometimes see women being trotted out again as political pawns, like, ‘Oh, well, we can’t leave because what about the women?’ Generally, though, you’re back down to minimal coverage. We did a study when the withdrawal, the final withdrawal actually was happening, and we also looked at the previous seven years, we found that there were more TV news segments about women’s rights in Afghanistan in seven days of withdrawal coverage than in the previous seven years. So you know, it’s so patently obvious that they’re just political pawns, right? You have these journalists professing real concern, and like, who am I to say, I think probably they do feel concern for Afghan women and girls, but you’ve got CNN Wolf Blitzer talking about, with the US withdrawal, talking about the horror awaiting Afghan women and girls, you had Caitlin Flanagan writing about how because the left supported the withdrawal, that the left clearly doesn’t care about human rights, and obviously, you know, there’s so many problems with the narrative, right? Besides the disgusting and opportunistic nature of it, Caitlin Flanagan, I searched and searched, I could not find her writing a single word about Afghan women and girls prior to that article.

Nima: Right. Exactly, exactly.

Adam: Yeah, one sees that a lot. And of course, subsequently, there’s been, after the withdrawal, a lot of people say, ‘Well, that’s good,’ obviously, because the status quo was simply not working for anybody, and now you have the sanctions regime that is done ostensibly for the Taliban to make some human rights concessions. But that’s typically also kind of cover for what is basically geopolitical concessions, kind of pivot away from China, etcetera, wth the human rights elements kind of being a sort of nice afterthought I suppose, to kind of make the State Department types feel good about themselves, and until they meet these criteria, the US has frozen $9 billion in their assets, untold economic damage, because basically, Afghanistan was just a confederation of NGOs, and then when those NGOs pull out, the entire economy tanks, teachers aren’t paid, medical professionals aren’t paid, and the only way you can work in the country is to work with the government, you work with the Taliban, which you talked about at the top of the show as well, and the refusing to do that, and so you have this, especially during winter that just passed and in the winter coming up, there’s been widespread famine, and that obviously is disproportionately going to harm women and girls, and yet the same kind of rhetoric is missing, for the most part, to the extent to which we do get caught up with the status of women or girls in Afghanistan, and the reporting, at least some of the analysis I did, is that people like Jake Tapper will sort of solely blame it on the Taliban, which, to be clear, they are partly responsible, right? They’re the ruling government, they’re not immune to responsibility, but the US’ role in creating this famine, which disproportionately affects women or girls, and putting it in a kind of gendered lens or women’s rights lens is almost unheard of. So talk about that double standard, if you can, and why we can only view women’s oppression through one specific lens, which happens to be the one that allies with the US occupying Afghanistan forever.

Julie Hollar: Right. I mean, this story, first of all, generally, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan post withdrawal has gotten just criminally little coverage in the US, I would say, I mean, this is a crisis. There are multiple factors going on, and it has to do with climate change and drought, and it has to do with the pandemic and all sorts of things. But you cannot avoid the fact that the huge central part of this is the US’, Joe Biden’s decision to freeze that money. You said $9 billion, I’ve heard $7 billion, it’s billions of dollars. That’s Afghanistan’s money. That’s Afghan, that’s the money that belongs to the Afghan people, and Joe Biden was just like, you know, I’m just going to do what I want with it. He decided, he announced a few months ago that he was going to take half of it and give it to 9/11 families, which is, I feel like everybody should be just absolutely outraged at this, but there’s just so little coverage of it happening, and then of that coverage, there’s so little that’s really all that critical of what’s happening. I did another study about this when Biden first made that announcement, about how he was going to take the money and what he was going to do with it, when Joe Biden makes this announcement about what he’s doing, there’s just so little coverage on TV news, there was no mention of it on ABC, NBC, CBS, they didn’t even mention it. This is like a multibillion dollar theft, no word on our network news, and you know, there were just a few brief mentions on cable. There were only two shows that even had brought a guest on. One was CNN, I think it was Jake Tapper, who brought on a 9/11 family member.

Nima: Not someone from Afghanistan of course.

Julie Hollar: Right, right, right. There was one guest who was Afghan American, who was brought on to talk about this, it was actually a great segment on MSNBC, Chris Hayes, brought on Masuda Sultan, who was the founder of Women for Afghan Women, as well as Unfreeze Afghanistan, and had, you know, several minutes talking about it with her. This is like the perfect guest to have on this issue. It’s someone who has a direct connection to Afghanistan, an Afghan American person, a human rights activist, one human rights Afghan American guest. I actually looked to see, because, you know, she started Women for Afghan Women, right? She must be, she’s a perfect guest, for the past 20 years she’s been a perfect guest. She hasn’t been on, besides that Chris Hayes show, she wasn’t on for the past year, if you look back 20 years, she’s been on a handful of times, back to even as far as 2002 I think, she was on some cable news show, but, you know, over that span of 20 years, it was less than 10 times, and this is the thing, when we looked at coverage of the withdrawal, we did a source study, this is the thing that we do all the time at FAIR, who gets to talk, who gets to frame the story, who gets to shape the narrative, who gets to define what the problems are and what the solutions are? And so not only is it evidently just obvious that Afghan women are being used as political pawns just in terms of how the coverage spikes when the US government is interested, and then plummets when the US government is not interested, but when you look at even when the US media professing interest in these women, who were they actually talking to about the issue? It’s not Afghan women and it’s not even their advocates. You know, I can grant, okay, it can be harder sometimes to talk to certain sources than others, although it’s certainly not impossible to talk to Afghan women. But we did a study of sources and this was primetime network news coverage of the withdrawal. A week, starting with the day the Taliban took over Kabul, 5 percent of the sources were Afghan or Afghan American women, and only 11 percent of the sources were women of any nationality. So they’re talking about, ‘Oh, but what about the women,’ but they’re not actually talking to women. So they’re just talking about women. So the women don’t get to frame the narrative, and if they were allowed to help frame the narrative, you would have gotten a different story. I mean, throughout the whole occupation, you had Afghan women advocates, talking about how they want US involvement in local peace processes. They want the US to support Afghan women’s rights on the ground. It wasn’t happening, and you didn’t get those voices in the news media, and so you didn’t have anything kind of shattering this narrative that we have of, you know, the US as the rescuers. But all of this stuff, you know, when you come back 20 years later to the withdrawal and the media narrative is, ‘Oh, we can’t leave because what about the women?’ I mean, it just, it’s based on the assumption that women’s rights actually did improve under US occupation, which is highly doubtful. It’s highly questionable. You know, after the 19 years of occupation, Afghanistan ranked second to last in the world on women’s well being and empowerment. I can’t remember what the index is, but it’s a global index, second to last, one in three girls was going to school. So when you sort of have this assumption that the US rescues women, you don’t look at, well, what’s actually happening to women over this occupation?

Nima: I want to talk about the nature of doing media analysis. Obviously, Citations Needed, FAIR, we are focused on that, but it can be kind of deeply cynical work sometimes, right? And so I just want to talk a little bit about how, obviously, women’s rights, women and girls lives in Afghanistan is critically important. That is an absolutely important issue. The fact that sometimes news segments talk about it is good. It’s just that how do we, and here’s a question for you, Julie, how do you, as a longtime media observer, of the tactic of having this story told only when convenient, how do you make a distinction between this cynical exploitation of saving women and girls is very kind of Orientalist notion, Imperial notion, but square that, of course, with genuine concern from these groups on the ground, from activists who are working tirelessly toward this everyday, how do we kind of square that, and in your analysis of who those sources are? I think that’s such a, you know, it’s not just about mentions, right? It’s about who is allowed, as you said, to tell the stories, who is allowed to ascribe blame, causes, and also solutions, also visions for how things can be different, how do you and your media analysis kind of see that shaping up over time, you know, you’re just talking about over basically two decades, and the weight of the activist voice, right, that isn’t necessarily maybe being exploited, but is there finally as a as a guest to really speak on something that they know about and care about, as opposed to the weight of say, generals, or former State Department officials that are just lined up by cable media bookers to speak about, you know, presidential policies on war, and kind of sideline the issues that are still used to exploit occupations?

Julie Hollar: Well, I mean, that’s the problem, right, is that there is no weight given to these activists and to the people on the ground. We’ve done so many source studies related to wars and foreign policy issues, humanitarian crises, and it’s just always overwhelmingly government officials. That’s who top US journalists turn to as their sources. I mean, this is sort of the definition of how you report a corporate media news story, because you have to talk to the official sources, they’re the ones who get to frame the story. So the problem is that, you know, if they were to talk to a lot of these people like Masuda Sultan, if she actually were given more of a platform, you would have so much more dissonance in your reporting, these government officials would be shown to be lying, there would be a kind of confrontation and a dissonance that the US media are not, they don’t show us that. They show us the official narrative. The discord they’ll show us is Democrats versus Republicans, right, you don’t get the third party, you don’t get the challenge.

Nima: Not drone strikes versus human flesh.

Julie Hollar: Right. So it is so rare to see this kind of, you know, someone like Masuda Sultan, given this opportunity to speak for a few minutes about being really critical of the Biden administration and what they’re doing freezing these Afghan funds. You don’t get that, with the withdrawal study that I did, there were no scholars interviewed, there were no anti-war activists, there was a single human rights activist, who actually wasn’t even identified as a human rights activist, she was identified as someone who educates girls, but that was the one activist out of 74 sources in this week of withdrawal that we were looking at. I mean, the media had decided that this is a story that’s framed around the government in the military, and so that’s who the vast majority of their sources were.

Adam: Yeah, because I mean, obviously, you know, there are 19 million Afghan women, there are 19 million different opinions, there’s no sort of uniform voice, which is one of the things that comes up in a lot of human rights discourse and about US interventions where there’s this, we’re sort of told there’s this essential voice that we’re going to speak on behalf of, and that is obviously very muddy, especially during the withdrawal, because I think there was the cynical evocation of women’s rights on the one hand, there was the Taliban, pro Taliban elements on the other, then there, I think, there was probably legitimately a third position which is, ‘We support US withdrawal but the sort of nature of it,’ right, the kind of process criticism. I think there was a lot of disingenuous concern trolling from US pundits about this, but I do think that within Afghan civil society, from my observations, there were people who supported the withdrawal in principle, but thought that they basically, the US government, propped up and funded with matchsticks over the years, these human rights groups to kind of act as the PR wing of their occupation. But the rank and file were occupied by really determined, strong-willed, good faith people who were trying to really create good, right? But that was the only game in town was the NGO and US military so you had to work with them, that those people were hung out to dry, that they were left, and the US was more worried about getting its personnel out, understandably to some extent, than it was the Afghans they had built up and propped up for years and basically left them to be fed to the wolves.

Julie Hollar: And that’s a real story, right? But then it’s also, when you have so few Afghan sources to begin with, then you do end up kind of turning them into this undifferentiated mass, it’s just, you don’t have enough difference. Also, all of these TV networks, they’re just in Kabul, they’re not going out into the rural areas. There’s such a difference between Kabul and the rural areas, and so Afghan women’s experiences in different parts of Afghanistan were dramatically different.

Adam: So let’s talk about that. I want to ask about that. I want to ask about The New Yorker article by Anande Gopal, “The Other Afghan Women,” that blew up this kind of simplistic narrative. It was in The New Yorker, so it has a sort of stamp of approval of a kind of liberal intelligentsia, right? That really detailed the horrific toll US wars took on rural women in Afghanistan, specifically the drone war, and then, of course, they wouldn’t have known at the time, but later of course sanctions, you know, as well, can you talk about how that article kind of muddied the narrative and showed that, again, these kind of simplistic voice-of-the-people, listen to X narratives are never that simple.

Julie Hollar: Right. So this was really fantastic reporting. This is, you know, he was on the ground in Afghanistan, spent a lot of time in areas that most US journalists didn’t go, and he interviewed so many people and really found out that in these rural areas, especially the ones that were particularly affected by US airstrikes, that just every single family had so many people in that family impacted by airstrikes, killed, injured, and the way that the war played out in these more rural areas of the country was so different from what, I mean, we just weren’t getting reporting about this in the US, because, again, most of the reporting, well, first of all, a lot of outlets, just pull, you know, when the war was supposedly over media resources left. People weren’t going to devote, you know, you got to have security details, you got to have, there’s resources involved in having journalists on the ground in Afghanistan, and so you just didn’t have nearly the number as you had during the official invasion 20 some years ago. So there just wasn’t as much invested in that, and people weren’t leaving the capitol as much because this was the area that was just not under US control, all the US was doing was dropping bombs everywhere, and they didn’t have boots on the ground, and so this is where he went, and this is where he was really documenting the toll that was, showing that, you know, it’s really hard to get casualty counts, but he was suggesting that based on his really extensive reporting, that all of the accounts that we have, the official accounts, are just extreme under reporting, under counting of how many Afghans really did die, and not just I mean, it’s not just deaths. It’s also all of the injuries and all of the disruption to families and communities, and it’s really, it was really a devastating report.

Nima: Well, yeah, you know, it also makes me think about how there’s so often a binary that comes out of the way that the way that Afghanistan is reported on, I mean, similar to, I guess, you know, what we saw with reporting about Iraq, of course, but the idea that you can only replace occupying troops on the ground with sanctions, you can take one away, but then you have to add something back, and the thing that you’re adding back is not ever going to be reparations, that nothing we’re seeing, nothing we’re hearing is about calling for a true accounting of two decades of destruction of people’s lives.

Julie Hollar: Right, because this is what empires never have to do.

Nima: Exactly. Exactly. Right. And so it’s all about how do we get our troops out safely? ‘Oh, the poor people that we’re leaving behind and we had been protecting them and now they’re there without their protectors, Us, the noble Americans, noble troops from allied countries, but we have to protect our own, this has been a, you know — what do we hear all the time? — a debacle, a quagmire, we got to pull out. Finally we have to come to terms with this.’ Except it’s never coming to terms with the acts that we have already committed and that will sustain for generations to come, right,? So can you also just talk about, in your analysis of the media that you’re seeing recently with the withdrawal, but also, of course, you know, in the previous decades, covering Afghanistan, what have you seen in terms of just the weight of where the focus is always, right? Troop deaths, but we never hear about civilian deaths? I mean, we’ll, we’ll see this all the time on cable news, you know, morning for US troops, okay, sure, right, US cable news. Sure, but never talking about the deaths that they are causing in someone’s own home, in someone’s own car, in someone’s own wedding. Can you talk about the weight of that and what you’ve seen over time, kind of viewing this media output critically?

Julie Hollar: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when the withdrawal was happening, and a lot of these network correspondents and anchors are people who’ve been there the whole time, you know, they were around for the invasion, and they were doing a lot of these reflective sorts of monologues, and so many of them would talk about, ‘Oh, the, you know, we’re leaving with this many US lives lost and this much spent,’ and so rarely did you hear a mention of the toll on Afghanistan itself. The whole narrative was just the same from the beginning. I’ve just pulled up here, Norah O’Donnell on CBS is this is what she said. She said, “When America leaves, for many so does the hope, the hope of freedom, the hope for human rights, and in its place comes the sheer terror of what’s next.” You know, the language that they use, this flowery, prose that’s so self important, and you have on the one hand, they’re talking about this worry for the Afghan people, but at the same time, it’s so superficial, again, I imagined that Norah O’Donnell does believe herself to feel and cared deeply for the Afghan people. But at the same time, she’s unable to go any deeper with that to look at what’s actually happening to them? What do they think about this? You know, especially when you get into foreign policy news, you know, it’s like the US is the shining city on the hill, and whatever we’re doing, it’s saving, it’s always civilizing, right?

Nima: But we’re also always the victims in the story, right, and all the money in the world is ours to distribute. So it’s kind of both things, we’re the victims of the Afghan occupation, our troops, our blood and treasure and the hope that we are kind of leaving there on the table. So, we are seen as being even kind of sad and victimized in that so much more than the people of Afghanistan, then we get to decide where money is distributed, money that isn’t ours, so we’re holding on to, you know, Afghanistan’s money, but then because we’re so victimized, half of it is going to go to the families of 9/11, and so again, empires do this all the time, simultaneously so beleaguered and so victimized and so under threat, and of course, always all powerful and benevolent.

Adam: Yeah, I want to talk a bit about the civilizing mission narrative, because it would be extremely convenient. So we spent the top of the show talking about reading English newspapers from the 1880s, 1890s, up to the 1920s, about how the English colonies in India were there to prevents the reconquest of the Mohammadians who oppressed Hindu girls and women, because they instituted a kind of Islamic religious order on India. So the rhetoric is remarkably parallel, and it would strike me as extremely convenient that, you know, 100 years later, we have virtually the same arguments, and it seems like getting into the nuances of well, were Hindu women better off under British occupation? Seems to kind of be missing the point, right? Because every empire in history always says they are preferable to the alternative empire or other ruling order, whatever it happens to be, right? Heart of Darkness, right? This sort of great critique of the Belgian empire in Africa, was written by Joseph Conrad, a huge proponent of British Empire, because he thought they were morally superior to Belgian Empire, and of course, the follow up to that would be what if we just don’t have any empire that are occupying this place? Maybe that’s a little pat, but that’s the way I perceive it. So I’ll just talk about the kind of civilizing mission 2.0. It’s a little more sophisticated, right? You have your NGOs, you have your Oscar winning films, you have your kind of slick nonprofits that do work. You had Amnesty International lobby NATO to remain in Afghanistan in 2012. They had a lot of pushback from that, but they were, during the NATO meeting in London, they put up signs everywhere, saying you know, ‘Keep the progress going. Don’t abandon Afghanistan, don’t leave Afghanistan.’ It’s like, what the fuck is this? This is supposed to be a human rights organization promoting the endless occupation of another country. So talk about the kind of 2.0 civilizing mission narrative, and the extent to which, yeah, it’s extremely convenient because it’s just the same version of the other thing we did. Where “we” being the quote-unquote “West,” right?

Julie Hollar: Right. I mean, I think in the current US narrative we’re not an empire, right? We don’t talk about, the mainstream doesn’t talk about the US being an empire. We are, you know, just sort of like the good cop of the world, right, we kind of help out those in need, our founding principles are these ideas of freedom and self determination. I mean, obviously, you know, there are lots of problems with how that happened, but how do you get that to jibe with the idea that we’re not letting billions of, we don’t believe in self determination for billions of other people in the world? Well, you know, we’ve got to have some kind of justification for that. I mean, all of these sorts of, there’s been this shift over time with all of these wars that the US is involved in, from it being about back when it was about just sort of projecting power or Soviet Union or whatever, we’re really we’ve shifted in the last few decades to this idea of the US projects its power because of human rights, because it’s the protector of human rights in the world, because we’re trying to make the world a better place, because there are these dark threats around the world to freedom and democracy, etcetera, and I think that’s a story that people in this country like to hear, they like to feel that way about themselves, ‘Oh, we’re the do-gooders, we only support wars because they are for good causes,’ and the problem is that our media totally support that, right? We learned that in our history books, we learned that from our politicians, both of our dominant political parties talk in somewhat of these terms. I mean, this is more of a, this idea of wars for human rights is more of a Democrat idea than a Republican idea, but it has gained a lot of traction in the mainstream, and then so from our media too being dominated by government sources, by think tanks sources, you get the same sort of narrative, and as I was saying before, the idea of having critical voices of US motivations in the US news is really anathema. You probably have heard the story, when our founder, Jeff Cohen, was working for Phil Donahue’s MSNBC show in the lead up to the Iraq War, it was quite popular, it had really high ratings, but Donohue was personally quite critical of the Iraq War, and he had on guests who were critical of the Iraq War, and he was let go explicitly because of his anti-war guests and his anti-war statements. There was an internal memo that leaked that he was going to be a difficult public face for NBC during this time of war when all the competitors would be waving their flags at every opportunity, you know, it was the news media, the big news media know what they’re supposed to do. They know how to get in line, and all of the journalists who work for them know how to get in line or else they know what’s going to happen to them, and so you have this monolithic kind of narrative that just doesn’t get challenged within that status quo, you know, you only get challenges from the fringe, which, you know, like FAIR, like Citations Needed, you know, I’m not getting called by CNN very often, ever, to talk about my criticisms. So, you know, there is a status quo that’s being maintained very carefully by these media outlets.

Nima: Yeah. I mean, I think you laid it out so perfectly there, just the way that these narratives play out, the way that they are entrenched and reinforced. Before we let you go, Julie, what are you working on now with FAIR, obviously, you all continue to produce amazing work, you have done tons of analyses on Afghanistan and on media coverage of Afghanistan, is there one maybe in the works or has this made you feel like there needs to be another one? What can we look out for and where can folks find your stuff?

Julie Hollar: We’re working on so many things. I just finished up working on an article about CNN, you know, CNN recently has been really shifting to the right. They’re under new ownership, new leadership, and they’ve been very clear that they want to be more quote-unquote “objective,” and one example of this that I’ve just written about is hiring John Miller, longtime NYPD flack, and also formerly FBI, also formerly, I believe, it was ABC and CBS. So this is objectivity. He was, in one of his first appearances, what I was writing about, one of his first appearances he was asked and spatted on about crime in New York City and gave a very NYPD copaganda answer that is entirely false. This is what stands for objective at CNN. So, looking at, I think, this is something that I’ve been sort of paying attention to as we’re approaching the midterms, you know, I think around the last election, there was some reckoning in the media. There was some like, ‘Oh, you know, we maybe need to take threats to democracy a bit more seriously, calling out things like lies,’ and I feel like in the last year there has been a little bit of backlash, there’s been a little bit of a shift back towards this both-sidesing and towards, ‘We need to get more Republican voices on, we need to attract more Republican audience,’ you know, The New York Times, The Washington Post, recently got new editors who are both very bland, not interested in challenging the status quo at all. There’s kind of a retrenchment I feel is happening in the media as we’re approaching these midterms, kind of a hedging their bets kind of thing. So we’re keeping an eye on that. We’ve got some studies underway. We’re working on a study about police reform, coverage of that, how did that change from, you know, in 2020 there was this explosion of coverage coming out of the Black Lives Matter protests, and then the George Floyd protests, and then, you know, two years later, where are we with that kind of coverage? So lots of fun stuff.

Nima: Well, we know that all police departments were instantly defunded.

Julie Hollar: Exactly.

Nima: And then crime spiked. So. Right? Isn’t that what happened?

Julie Hollar: You’ve been following the news well.

Nima: I nailed it, right? Well, this has been so great. We’ve been speaking with Julie Hollar, senior analyst and managing editor at Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, otherwise known as FAIR. Julie, thanks again for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Julie Hollar: Thanks. It was great to be here.


Adam: Yeah, I think this has dragged on for so long now that activists are looking for some kind of impetus, and there was a moment there briefly in the winter of 2021, where there kind of wasn’t movement, there’s a New York Times editorial, it was getting more mainstream coverage, and then it just kind of went away, and they’re just kind of holding on to the money forever because Biden has no incentive and doesn’t really seem to give a shit, and the State Department is run by some of the worst people in the world, none of them give a shit, and so you know, I think it is politically toxic. But also I think very much it’s about being emasculated. I don’t think people quite appreciate how much of this decision is made by, ‘Fuck you, we lost and we need to come away with some kind of W,’ and the humiliation of those visuals.

Nima: Especially after getting so much flack for the withdrawal.

Adam: Right. Because Biden gets attacked from the right on the withdrawal all the time, to be clear, right?

Nima: Exactly. But then needs to somehow reassert that the US is still holding the reins, right, still somehow controlling the destiny of that place, and the victory we have is by making sure that the baddies that we lost to, effectively, are not allowed to even attempt to put a state together because we are holding all of the wealth of that country, and so you know, it’s basically like a fait accompli, right? You get to say, ‘Oh, well, look, it’s a failed state. It’s a failed state, we left and it’s a failed state.’ It’s like, but you’re not actually allowing a state to function on purpose, and I’m not saying that the fucking Taliban is going to put together an awesome government, fuck the Taliban, I’m just saying that when you seize the assets of a nation —

Adam: They’re still somewhat accountable to people, and of course, they say, ‘Oh, we’ll give it back based on a series of ever evolving humanitarian criteria,’ for which they absolutely do not apply to any country. Not only do we not steal their money, right, but we give them billions of dollars in aid like Israel or Saudi Arabia, they’re subject to no such criteria. They’re subject to no such humanitarian concerns. So I mean, look, obviously, it’s a total cup and ball game. I mean, none of this is remotely consistent or honest or intellectually honest, and so people will just continue to starve because there isn’t momentum in the media, the media doesn’t give a shit. They’ve largely ignored it and to the extent they have covered it, they’ve completely glossed over or admitted the US is rolling it.

Nima: Well, right. And I mean, you can see the stark difference in the way that media coverage really does affect public pressure, as well as legislators’ perceptions of things. Wars can be built up by media frenzy when it’s aligned with a political interest, and it’s the same here except you don’t see any interest by the media to follow through on even the crocodile tears that they were shedding for the people of Afghanistan when the withdrawal was being discussed, that just evaporates and now it’s back to holding a nation hostage out of some sort of revenge vendetta and, you know, humiliation spiral based on losing a 20 year occupation, and so yeah, I mean, I think you can see the effect of this and, you know, thrilled that we were able to talk to our two guests today about that and to go in so deep on this issue. Adam, it had been a long time since we spoke about Afghanistan. So glad we got to it.

But that will do it for this episode of Citations Needed. Of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we really are 100 percent listener funded. And as always a very special shout out goes to our critic level supporters on Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thank you for listening again to Citations Needed. Our senior producer is Florence Barrau-Adams. Producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. The newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed episode was released on Wednesday, February 1, 2023.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.