While Smedinghoff’s death is tragic, what’s more tragic is why she was in Qalat at all. She died on a mission meant to prop up the American people in the eyes of a country that doesn’t want us here anymore. Or at least prove to the American people that we are still doing G. W.’s good work, since the Afghan people aren’t buying it. From Karzai down to the “average” Afghan (who, not being as rich as a Karzai, only has the one name), the Afghan people have grown disillusioned as the early years of hope gave way to the understanding that the Americans were here to back a rogue’s gallery of war criminals and thugs, because, well, freedom. We were supposed to be different. To be better. But instead, we’ve replaced the old meritocracy with a new one, one that’s full of a lot of bad men.
Smedinghoff was yet another casualty in the perception war, part of the “messaging” process, her role to ensure that the Afghans got the story that U.S. Embassy Public Affairs needed them to get. That’s not cynicism, but a gross acknowledgment of the pragmatism that drives these kinds of photo ops.
Rather than ensuring that education officials in Zabul had the tools they needed to succeed, what happened instead was boilerplate Public Affairs/Public Diplomacy: get the press to the event, get the right pictures of the right kids and maybe get them saying the right things, then get the message out. In this case, the message is that the American people care deeply about the future of education for the Afghan people. It’s 2013: if we’re still having to hand out books for the photo op, we’re doing it wrong.
It’s 2013: America’s legacy here post-2001 has already been written. There’s nothing a book drop can do to change that. Nothing we can do to rewrite the painful story the American involvement in Afghanistan. And now, there’s nothing we can do to bring Anne Smedinghoff back.
If a more succinct version of America’s failure in nation building has been written, please send me a link.
Anne Smedinghoff was also involved in the propaganda show that brought several young Afghan musicians to the U.S. this year to ensure Americans that the nation was well-loved.
And on the same day Anne died, a NATO air strike in Afghanistan killed ten children.
I mourn Anne’s death along with you, but mourn it doubly; not just for Anne’s own life so early taken, but for what she represented. I too do not doubt her good intentions and desire to do well in Afghanistan, but am angry that such a person ended up having her life taken from her for such an ignoble cause– U.S. failure in Afghanistan.
By her death, she is thrust into the role of symbolism, and our job is to determine what she is indeed a symbol of and try to learn from that. I in no way suggest disengagement or isolationism, just the contrary. But America must do so with true intentions, not just as a series of photo ops and wasted lives.
Diplomacy, yes, always. Propaganda at such a price no more.
So now, in 2013, as the American Empire rolls over the top of the hill and begins its descent, this is what we sacrifice our young, bright and energetic for. It has reached the point for our nation where killing off young people in the cause of photo ops that are hollow and false makes some wicked sense. In that calculus, we are forever lost.
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