Some areas of Afghanistan are currently on the verge of famine, and many refugees from that nation have flooded into camps in Pakistan. The Clinton administration last year sent tens of millions of dollars to the United Nations to help the World Food Program prevent starvation. This year, the Bush administration announced it would be sending $43 million to the United Nations to help relief efforts and encouraged other people to do so as well.
Which is where Robert Scheer steps in the picture. Scheer is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and a former New Left 1960s radical. Scheer wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times that simply lied about the aid package. Scheer’s account contains two outright fabrications. Scheer claimed the money was going to help the Islamic extremist Taleban fight the drug war in that country, when in fact it is going to provide food (in fact, the largest single component of the aid package is surplus wheat). Second, Scheer claimed that the money was being given directly to the Taleban. In fact, the money is going to the United Nations which will disburse it to aid agencies.
The claim that the U.S. was giving money to the Taleban should have been a red flag to anyone familiar with the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan. Currently the U.S. a) has no formal diplomatic relations with Afghanistan, and b) the State Department lists Afghanistan as a sponsor of international terrorism. I’m not an expert on these sort of things, but even if I knew littl else about this story I’d wonder how the U.S. was going to give formally (as opposed to illicitly as in Iran-Contra) give a country that it has no diplomatic relations with and lists as a sponsor of terrorism $43 million directly.
When some yahoo posted Scheer’s version of this story on Plastic.Com, it took me ten minutes on the CNN site to turn up a story that showed Scheer was either a liar or beyond incompetent.
I thought the story would die there, but no. In an unbelievable move, the Leftist magazine The Nation decided to reprint Scheer’s story and now its starting to spread and be posted all over the net. In this case it is hard to blame the people spreading the story. I completely disagree with The Nation’s politics, but I generally expect the magazine upholds standard journalistic practices and would do at least a minimal amount of fact checking on such an obviously inflammatory story. Others apparently had similar expectations.
Apparently we’re just out of step with the editors there.