U.S. election television coverage 2008 has become deafening noise, a gigantic "Tower of Babel babble" with scores of "experts" who separate the wheat from the chaff and then chatter about the chaff.
Bored numb, viewers have tuned out in droves. The rest of the world barely exists. Yet, what the principal economic and financial players around the world are saying to each other and their staffs is critical to understanding the stakes in the Bretton Woods redux summit President Bush will chair Nov. 15 in Washington.
With scores of foreign correspondents riffed by the financial and economic squeeze, news bureaus closing the world over, some newspapers canceling their principal source of information as they can no longer afford the cost of an Associated Press contract, and dozens of offices for rent in Washington's National Press Building, the U.S. public is ill-served and uninformed about the rest of the world.
TV networks say they can cover the world just as thoroughly as before by simply flying a correspondent across the Atlantic and Europe to cover a big story in Moscow "just in time for the evening news." This kind of fatuous nonsense taxes credulity.
Most staff foreign correspondents have been pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Daily security and insurance costs run to $5,000 a day, which even wealthy news organizations can no longer afford.
This, in turn, leaves our presidential candidates flying blind on major foreign policy issues that are rapidly deteriorating and barely reported, at times not at all.
Both candidates know Afghanistan is one such situation, and seem to believe more troops is the answer. Barack Obama said last week that what he meant when he said he favored dispatching two or three additional brigades to Afghanistan was actually three or four or more brigades to be transferred from Iraq.
Even several hundred thousand additional troops wouldn't change the correlation of forces as Taliban enforcers sow fear in every village. Last week, they dragged 30 young men off a bus, said they were national army volunteers, and decapitated them. They were on their way to Iran hoping to find work.
America's NATO allies in Afghanistan have 45 different caveats against putting themselves in harm's way. Besides U.S. troops, only the Canadians, Brits, and Dutch do any fighting.
Little understood in Washington's electronic tower of babble was the degree to which the Afghan crisis is now running on a parallel track of diplomatic wheeling and dealing. It is now generally recognized, if not conceded, that Pakistan is not interested in chasing Taliban guerrillas up and down the many mountains of FATA (the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas that abut the Afghan border).
It is also well-established that as long as the Taliban has secure bases in FATA, the Afghan war is unwinnable. And the occasional U.S. unmanned Predator bombing of suspected Taliban houses at dinner time will not make an appreciable dent in its operations, just as the bombing of North Vietnam by hundreds of U.S. bombers, including B-52s, did not impede the military traffic down the Ho Chi Minh trails into South Vietnam.
Pakistan is broke and the mostly Punjabi army demoralized. They are among FATA's 5 million Pushtu tribesmen whose language they don't speak and who practice Shariah law.
Pakistan also has a major Taliban problem on the home front. In the scenic Swat Valley, a former tourist area, 15 Pakistani soldiers were ambushed and killed last week, which followed the previous week's attack on Pakistani police that triggered government airstrikes.
Swat's vacation paradise once offered golf courses, a ski resort (whose lifts have been destroyed) and hiking trails now controlled by Taliban. Since November 2007, ambushes, roadside bombs, sharpshooters, assassinations, the destruction of 125 schools, and immediately broken truces, have left Swat and Shangla under Taliban control.
Following a briefing by the new intelligence chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, parliamentarians began speaking up against military solutions and demanding negotiations with Taliban.
Frequently overlooked in analyses about Pakistan is the accepted estimate of violent extremists at 1 percent of the population — or 1.6 million violence-prone religious fanatics.
Long accepted, too, is that they have the support of the 10 percent that are known as the "fundos," or Islamist fundamentalists. But that support group is beginning to crack.
Sworn religious opponents recently met in Lahore under the aegis of Mutahidda Ulema Council (MUC) and agreed that only the Pakistani state, not individual clerics or jihadi groups, can issue calls for jihad.
Members of the banned radical Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba terrorist organization and their erstwhile ideological enemies in the Deobandi Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam, and other prominent groups known for extremism, also rejected suicide-bombing as haram (forbidden) and najaaiz (illegitimate).
But the joint statement also accused President Asif Zardari's government of "covertly backing these [suicide] attacks so that patriotic citizens may not assemble and launch a massive drive for the defense of the country." This, then, gave the fundos license to demand an immediate stop to military operations in the Bajaur tribal agency and the Swat district in Pakistan proper.
More ominous was their demand for an alliance with Shia Iran and a public disclosure of any secret deals between former President Pervez Musharraf and the Bush administration.
Taliban guerrillas immediately struck back with suicide attacks against tribal jirgas that were discussing how to neutralize "irreconcilable" extremists.
Draining the swamp of extremist militants in the region is an interesting academic exercise but bears little relation to reality on the ground where millions of boys are still being taught in madrassas that the hydra-headed enemy is Americans and Jews.
Across the border in Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents ordered mobile phone operators to shut down their networks for the next 10 days as their signals gave their movements away. More plausible was the use of mobile phones by hostile villagers calling in the Taliban's presence.
Afghan President Karzai confirmed "peace negotiations" with moderate elements of Taliban, midwifed by Saudi King Abdullah, are under way.
President Zardari and his government see an opportunity to avoid further hostilities in FATA against Taliban and in Aghanistan a deal that would head off an existential crisis for NATO when national parliaments begin calling their troops home in 2011.
How to get Taliban hard-liners aboard who would then renounce their alliance with al-Qaida is still a pale puff of blue smoke and mirrors. Hard to see how Mullah Mohammad Omar, the original Taliban chief, would resist the temptation of doing to the American empire what their predecessors, the Mujahedeen, did to the Soviets.
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