Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Live From Afghanistan Day Two And Domestic Politics

Hi everyone. Anderson Cooper is once again coming at us from Patrol Base Jaker and he updates us on what is turning out to be a craptastic day in Afghanistan. Four Marines were killed on patrol and there was a suicide attack at the airport in Kabul. Also, NATO is admitting that civilians were killed in Friday's bombing and America's General Stanley McChrystal is launching an investigation.

Oh, and no more booze at the command post in Kabul. Why? Well, apparently (though not independently confirmed by CNN) McChrystal's underlings couldn't even answer his questions following the bombing because they were too drunk and/or hungover. Um, what? Anderson then starts intro-ing all the contributors he'll be talking with, but I pretty much miss all the names after he notes that Michael Ware had a close call with a roadside bomb. Um, WHAT?!

We move on to a conversation with Peter Bergen and Candy Crowley. Anderson and Peter talk about the amazing PR disaster of forces being wasted after killing people with airstrikes. "This is a war zone. You shouldn't be drinking," says Peter. You think?

Candy then hits us with the political angle: Afghanistan, I'm afraid the American people just aren't that into you. Thing is though, as Anderson points out, the strategy at this point is looking suspiciously like nation building and well, you need a significant amount of troops for that. In other words, political clusterfuck ahead. It'll match the real one already going on in the country.

So, our president is in a bit of a pickle, especially seeing as though most of the opposition to the war is coming from his own side. Good American that I am, I'd like to help our commander in chief out with a little useful advice: don't lie. Don't manipulate intelligence to support your agenda. Don't hire a PR firm to sell your war--and it is your war now--by manipulating language and plastering the word "victory" everywhere because their focus groups told them people like that. Don't hide behind the troops. Do. Not. Lie. Because we'll know.

Next up, we have a piece from Michael Ware, who if he was a cat, would probably be on his frickin eighth life by now. Michael travels to Kandahar and hooks up with his police chief friend, Mullah Gul Akund, who he hasn't seen in six years. And aw, he's so excited. Given that the guy has been a target of the Taliban for eight years, it's amazing he's even still alive. Michael then goes on patrol with him. In the dead of night. Oh Michael, why you gotta cause a blogger so much stress?

So they're driving and we hear that they're about to enter "the most dangerous place." Oh excellent. And then...kaboom! IED. Michael and the other occupants of the car are okay. According to our crazy Aussie, it detonated a "heartbeat" too soon. Thank God for heartbeats. And thank God for fearless journalists, even if this one is currently giving me an ulcer.

Following Michael's piece, he joins us live and talks a bit about the political limbo Afghanistan finds themselves in due to the apparent election corruption. He tells us the election is a blow to the US, the whole war plan is up in the air, and we don't have enough troops. I think what I love most about Michael is his optimism. Kidding. We need all the realism we can get.

Coming back from commercial, we see a picture of, well, sand. But we hear Anderson talking and then the camera very slowly pans over to him. I know I'm not the only one who began unconsciously motioning with my arm to move the camera. You know, since we can all control shot angles from our living rooms. Just me? Anyway, I guess that was an oops because, um, not really the right time to be getting all artistic with the camera work. Wow, what an irrelevant paragraph I have just typed.

Transitioning now to some domestic politics. Our prez is giving his big address to the joint session of Congress on Wednesday and today he met with Democratic leaders to synchronize their watches. Or something. Ed Henry joins us with the low down. When it comes to the public option, Speaker Pelosi will fight all the way for it, Hoyer (number two guy) doesn't think it's needed, and Obama isn't willing to make it a deal-breaker. Glad to see everyone is on the same page.

Then there's Max Baucus and his bill, which seems to be big on fining everyone, including individuals who don't buy insurance. And the bill has no public option. So basically, there's nothing to keep the insurance companies honest (a co-opt? please.) and then it makes everyone buy insurance from them. Sounds great...if you own an insurance company.

Subject change-up now and Candy is back to talk about Obama's speech to the school children, AKA Commie Chat 2009. They then play us a clip of the indoctrination without a disclaimer. Hide the children! Obama tells the kiddies to work hard and spend time studying. Oh the humanity! So okay, as Anderson and Candy note, pretty basic speech. Maybe even a little--gasp--conservative. I'm really glad we all had that big freakout.

Transitioning back to Afghanistan, Anderson givens us some info regarding life for the Marines in Helmand province, much of which can be found in his blog post from today. (Yes, he actually blogged. I was surprised too.) This intros us into an Anderson piece about sweeping for IEDS. And here I was just getting rid of the ulcer Michael gave me.

Anyway, we meet Lance Corporal Phil Howard who is the point man on patrol, which is basically the most dangerous job, like, ever. If someone's getting blown up, odds are it's going to be him. I remember when IEDS were rare in Afghanistan. Now they're the number one threat. Marines on patrol walk spaced out 10 to 15 meters apart to minimize casualties. And yes, our anchor is walking that way too. IEDS can be anywhere, especially in the brush. We see Anderson take a rather big leap down as he follows the patrol. I'm sure that was fun for the cameraman.

Anderson talks to other Marines as well and they tell him of their efforts to gain the locals' trust. A lot of tea-drinking going on. See, the problem is that the United States has a bit of a history when it comes to Afghanistan and skedaddling. Some of the Marines risking their lives today are now paying for situations that occurred before they were even born. The Afghan people aren't really too keen in choosing sides when they're not sure if one side is going to stick around.

Moving on to a Sanjay Gupta piece, once again from Camp Dwyer. We meet Major Augustus Brown, the only vascular surgeon in the whole country. Um, wow. No pressure there or anything. Major Brown has sacrificed a lot for the people of Afghanistan, including witnessing the birth of one of his children. His six-year-old takes his deployments the hardest, but gave him a little stuffed dog as a good luck charm. Aw.

Camp Dwyer keeps Major Brown busy. They used to see 80 patients per month, but in August they were up to about 230, a number sure to grow. In fact, they're stretched so thin that our own Dr. Gupta was asked to assist. In a way it must suck to be his colleague. It's like, oh, so you're just a brain surgeon. Not ambitious enough for two careers, huh?

Anyway, following his piece, Sanjay tells us that Dr. Brown is a reservist and therefore only required to stay in country for 90 days. But he volunteered for a year. What an amazing guy. I feel for his family though. Sanjay also gives us an update on that two-year-old with a brain injury we met yesterday. So far, so good. Let's hope it keeps on that path.

Finally, the "shot" tonight is a dank, dark, crowded room occupied by men. Sounds kinda seedy doesn't it? But really we're just getting a tour of the living quarters of our anchor and crew. In case my prior description didn't already imply it, Anderson lets us know that it's "kinda smelly" as well. I never would have guessed. This ain't the Hilton that's for sure. There aren't even any chairs. They sit on boxes and containers. This is where they work, eat, sleep, and bathe. Bathe? Where? Never mind. I don't even want to know.

We see producer Charlie Moore and cameraman Neil Hallsworth working at the computer. Oh Charlie Moore, I'm still waiting for you to get on Twitter. Just a little FYI for you to ponder. Anyway! Ms. Erica Hill has been doing the headlines throughout the broadcast and she and Anderson talk about the dust and sand in the country that apparently coats everything. He tells us they try very hard to keep it out of the computers and camera equipment, "but everything else you just kind of give it over to the dust." How very Zen.

I should probably point out that our peeps here were in no way complaining about their quarters because they know the Marines have it much rougher. Just thought I'd note that, lest they look like douches. Anyway, wow, great broadcast. This is CNN done right. More please.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post as usual. The 360 team put together a very good program last night, less focus on domestic issues is their best strategy while they're in Afghanistan, although I don't expect that they'll be able to do that tonight with the President's speech happening.

Michael Ware seems nearly invincible, but it still was a little worrying hearing all those bullets and explosions during his report. Anderson's report about IED's was also nerve wracking to sit through in spite of the fact that we know he and the soldiers got through it fine. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous rosephile said...

Michael Ware has got to be the luckiest crazy bastard alive.

I'm glad to see you're as pleased with this week of 360 as I am--this is 360, like, in all caps, if you get my meaning. Important, informative coverage we could all use, and a dash of levity but barely any "crime"/tabloid-type pieces. Please, 360, PLEASE keep the momentum after getting back to New York!

7:45 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@Anonymous: Thanks! I know what you mean about Michael Ware seeming invincible. As for the IED report, I can't imagine what it must be like for the soldiers doing that everyday, not to mention their families worrying back home.

@rosephile: Haha. "Lucky crazy bastard" is an excellent way to describe him.

Yes, I am very pleased with the coverage this week. It's the best they've done in literally months. I'm with you, please keep it up back in New York!

5:49 PM  

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