July 19, 2009

Taliban Hearts CNN

There’s more evidence today Afghanistan is growing larger on the radar screen.

On Thursday, we noted the public impact of a funeral convoy involving British soldiers. On Friday, we looked at the dramatic effect (and rapid increase) in the use of the IED to “level the playing field” with U.S. and NATO forces. Just this morning comes the first use of another weapon of asymmetrical warfare, the Taliban engaging the “battle space” of the media sphere, the military confirming Private Bowe Bergdahl of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, is a Taliban hostage. (Reuters story via NYT here.)

Playing it on “the soft side,” the photo is docile compared to what Western audiences have seen of other hostage videos. (The subtlety, though, is likely more effective, at least at this point, focusing people less on the antagonist than on the war.)

Shown alone drinking tea and eating bread and rice, Bergdahl participates in an interview with someone off screen where he is compelled, if mildly, to urge the U.S. government to bring its troops home. (Missing for about three weeks, I’m not sure about Bergdahl’s “look” but the loose-fitting clothes, shaved head and slight “under beard” make him look less “like one of us” than “one of them.”)

Certainly, it doesn’t take much to turn an image like this into a media-enabled enemy onslaught. Notice how this morning’s CNN report, for example, replays the clips of the hostage ad nauseam, instills breathless drama and urgency and, in a perfunctory way, invites the role of the family into “the situation.”

If there was any thought Afghanistan was going to politically play out in the background, or somehow resist a substantial investment of presidential (along with human and financial) capital, this week spoke vividly to the opposite.

(Slightly edited: 11:15 am PST)

(image: AP)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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