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Policies for the "Forgotten War"

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Conversing with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, former NPR journalist Sarah Chayes discussed many of the complex challenges on the ground in Afghanistan, including what she suggests is a fundamental contradiction in American strategy:

“We’re paying a billion dollars a year to Pakistan, which is orchestrating the Taliban insurgency. So it’s actually U.S. taxpayer money that is paying for the insurgents, who are then killing – at the moment – Canadian troops... It’s been very clear to me, watching since 2002, that Pakistan has been buying us off by a well-timed delivery of an al-Qaeda operative, which has then caused us to look the other way about the Taliban... so this is why 99 % of the people in Kandahar believe that we are allied with the Taliban. Everybody thinks that America is allied with the Taliban.”

What do you think?

  • Should the United States remain in Afghanistan? Why or why not?

  • If the U.S. should remain, what should our mission be? Counter-terrorism? Democratization? Nation-building?

  • How do you suggest reformulating U.S. policy and strategy to realistically pursue that mission?

    Note: We’d like to thank Sarah Chayes for adding to the discussion on the blog. Her responses are in bold below.

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    Thank you so for that very inspiring post.

    u.s. forces will completely
    withdraw from Afganistan and Iraq on July 4th 2009.

    Only reason why we are over there is the oil, NOTHING ELSE!

    Bush owns an oil company

    if this site does not work for some reason just look it up under google

    invalid caused Alot of needless bloodshed all over oil! Douse him in gasoline and burn him at the stake!


    Billy Bobs will fight Billy Bobs unless they has sumpin' else to beat on. A'ts jus"
    'tway 'tis.... an you cain't stop 'em! Know what, the modern Indo-Aryan peoples dwelling in Afganistan aren't Arabs. It wouldn't matter anyway, because all people alive today are aware and modern and live in a failing global economy.
    Notice how the U.S. elite operates twin narco states for fun and profit (Afganistan and Colombia) leaving most of their citizens in insecurity and poverty? It stems from the needs of the exploiters, not the nature of the victims.

    I have appreciated Bill Moyers, and the majority of thoughts introduced; but none as much as yours. If only the people running this world would express the same intelligence, wisdom and compassion. Exemplify our true potential,--our humanity,--our ability to change our reality, perhaps to realize what has always been our goal,--heaven on earth.

    To extrapolate from a small group within a tribe to make conclusions about the relationships between tribes, that comprise a country, may not provide realistic info. for developing expectations of actions that may change if key elements were removed.

    The arabic cultures, countries, regions, tribes have been involved in armed conflict & oppression for centuries. Were the US military power removed in the near future, then a struggle for power will occur until another power takes control. Then that group will begin to look at neighbors to defend against or usurp its valuables.

    Arabs will fight arabs, unless they unite to fight a common enemy. Iraq & Iran were at war for 7 or 8 yrs. & the rest of the region had some peace.

    To bring our military home NOW will be just to refurbish for the next conflict.
    To leave our military there until the region is peaceful will prove to be very uncomfortable.

    So, who wants to be the next president?

    On micro financing why not get connected with

    On alternative crops why not try the Jatropha plant that is being used for biodiesel and energy. The plant grows on poor land and can improve the land. see:

    If oil, morality, the American idea of America are not considered, and 9-11 is the only reason America acted then:

    The military should have been sent to destroy elements in Afganistan that supported terrorism, and then withdraw all forces.

    Iraq should have been told to completly comply with disclosure or have govt. structures destroyed by air and we should have then withrawn from the area.

    Of course this is not how the real USA sees it's role in the world.

    Of course a stable region that supplies such a large portion of the world's oil must be maintained.

    Of course the USA is not independent, so that actions are not pure & ideal,(as it was Saudia & Egyptian citizens that carried out the 9-11 attacks & not Iraqi.)

    Therefore, the USA will operate in the uncomfortable regions of selfservice that all the world functions in. We just let self image get in the way, at times.

    So, Iraq had to pay for a lesson to Egypt & Saudia Araba. So Am. military personell die-look at how many US citizens die in cars. (I strongly stand with our military)

    So, the NDP & candidates conspired to deny states' voters' rights to determine a presidential canadidate. So one candidate said he gave his word that he would support denial of Am. voters' rights. That is change!

    Have we become the country of "So What"?

    So what, if the patient dies while destroying the Al Quida cancer--So What!

    Hers's what. We are responsible for our individual acts & when we as a country send agents (military) to act at our direction then those that support our form of govt. are responsible.

    No matter who you voted for we are all responsible for our country's actions.

    So! VOTE wisely!
    Billy Bob, Florida

    Underscoring our desperate need for accurate human intelligence, Ms. Chayes astutely paints a portrait of an Afghanistan which is seldom seen or mentioned in today’s mass media. Her unique ability to go native and personally interact with the Afghan populous allows her to make first hand observations that would by other means, spy satellites, be impossible. While most Americans are fed their daily dose of political spin regarding the success of the U.S. led U.N. military mission in Afghanistan, Ms. Chayes’ report thankfully tempers this political spin or view point with an illuminating insight into the complex policy tests facing both the U.S. and its allies.

    In stark contrast to the falsified political justifications for invading Iraq, Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, and the unrepentant Taliban can be directly connected to the attacks which were leveled against the United States on September 11th. So, in my opinion, the war against them is both just and necessary.

    Regarding the U.S and U.N. missions, military and political, within Afghanistan, the military should focus on what it does best – the use of violence in order to achieve a clearly defined political goal. Ironically, that political goal should be the reduction of violence, establishing basic security, by killing or capturing those who would endanger the lives of Afghanistan’s citizenry or our soldiers through lawless activity. In essence, we become the Wyatt Earp of Kandahar. However, the military’s limited role should not be one of nation-building because our soldiers were not suitably trained to be nation builders. In short, they were purposely trained to kill our enemies, but not skilled and equipped to build and maintain electrical grids. To employ our military in this inadequate fashion is to rudely invite disaster and inevitable policy failure, which is presently occurring as Ms. Chayes has already poignantly pointed out in her revealing discussion of the grave situation on the ground in Afghanistan. When some semblance of security is established militarily, then international aid organizations, which specialize in different areas – construction, farming, education, etc...- should be introduced to begin the process of nation building.

    Additionally, the agricultural monopoly that the opium crop has on fertile land and available labor could be broken through the institution of something as simple as a farmer’s market where small farms could market their crops and earn a profit on a staple produce other than opium. In fact, the global demand for commodities is increasing at a staggering rate as other nations, China and India, begin to industrialize. So, a global market for their agricultural goods would be readily available.

    Thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to elaborate on your thoughts re Canadian involvement in Afgha'n. I will forward this to appropriate gov't and media contacts that I have.

    To Canadians who have written in to this blog. I am going to shock you. I strongly support not just continued Canadian presence in Afghanistan, but increased combat troop presence. I feel very strongly about this, and have told the Manley panel as much twice.

    Here's why. As I stated in the interview, the "insurgency" in Afghanistan isn't really an insurgency. That is, it is not a spontaneous uprising by Afghans against the international presence in their country. I was in Kandahar when the Taliban fell in 2001, people were overjoyed to be rejoining the community of nations; they were overjoyed that foreign countries were coming to help. I have never experienced spontaneous hostility because of my nationality, even in Kandahar, supposedly the heart of Taliban country.

    The "insurgency" is really the INVASION of Afghanistan, by proxy, by the Pakistani government. So Canadian troops in Kandahar are actually PROTECTING Afghan civilians from invasion. Things have changed a little bit in the last year or so, but that's still more or less the case. Therefore, instead of asking yourself whether things are going better since your troops arrived, think about how much WORSE they would be going if they were not there.

    Also: the debate in Canada often juxtaposes military activity and development activity. But currently in Kandahar it is simply not possible to do development work in almost the entire province, because it's so dangerous. Not just dangerous to development workers, but to the RECIPIENTS of the aid. They are targeted by the armed opposition. So more military personnel are required currently (and especially this coming spring) in order to protect the population from the militants.

    This is not to say that Canada's approach doesn't need to change somewhat. More attention should be paid to the issues of governance that I raised in the interview. I would like to see Canadian officials -- military backing up the civilians -- taking on the corrupt and predatory government officials, demanding redress and results in the name of the civilians. Until we goad the governing officials we placed in power into acting in the interests of the population, the population can not be expected to support the government. Canadian officials have been extremely polite and shy about this, usually refusing to "interfere" with the "democratically elected government." It is no such thing, and you polite Canadians need to redefine your mission as being in support of the Afghan PEOPLE, not the Afghan government.

    Your bureaucratic culture is also just a bit too rigid to handle a complex, crisis situation such as exists in southern Afghanistan. You need to learn quickly how to be more proactive and flexible.

    I think there needs to be more acceptance in Canada of Canadian casualties. This sounds heartless. But an army is not a postal service or a bank. And if military commanders are terrified that a single Canadian killed in action is going to scupper the entire mission, then they are forced to use the blunt instrument of air power in order to protect their troops. That in turn tends to kill Afghan civilians, which turns AFGHANS against the international presence. You have to be willing to let your army do its job bravely and close to the ground.

    Finally, I do think the disproportionate sacrifice being made by Canada gives you leverage in the larger diplomatic arena. Rather than unilaterally stating you will pull out in 2011, why not say, "We will stay IF there is a change in US policy towards Pakistan, so we can be convinced that US money is not buying the bullets that kill our soldiers." Canada should join with potential supporting NATO countries like France and Germany to say that we will keep southern Afghanistan covered, if and only if the United States resolves the contradiction in its policy towards South Asia.

    Please believe me, the deaths of your beloved young people, as painful as they are, are not in vain. Here is what I think your troops are doing in Afghanistan. I am surprised that the Harper government is not able to articulate this. Withdrawal from Afghanistan would only strengthen those forces, in the West as well as the Muslim community, that are agitating for a division of the world into permanently hostile blocs. We live in an interconnected world. Afghanistan, whether we like it or not, whether we are conscious of it or not, is part of us. Going off home in order to keep our hands clean in the short term would only leave the field to those who would seek to pit us, one civilization against another, for decades and decades. And that way lies an extremely unhappy century. Please. Let us work to build bridges. Of all kinds.

    Thanks again for writing, all of you.

    Sarah Chayes

    Wow, What a beautiful story!!! It sounds so simple, and maybe it is... Find a person who knows what is going on in a country, has been living there, and ASK her to talk about it. Brilliant! Why aren't the media doing this??? I'd like to see this program broadcasted several times, especially before 10pm, so all can see it.

    I am an 85 year old Canadian woman and I most heartily thank Bill and Sarah for presenting this programme.I am a life-long Socialist and we demand in our Party ,the New Democratic Party that the soldiers are brought home immediately.We are assured by the Military and the Government that things are Great in Afghanastan.Oh how I wish that Sarah could stand up in our House of Commons ,where we are soon going to bebate our place in Afghanastan,and tell how it really is over there.What courage and it makes me glad that I am a woman.We have promised NATO to stay until 2010 but if the young men going over to fightcould view that journal ,maybe many would be reluctant to go.

    As a Canadian viewer, I heard some very troubling things in the excellent interview with Sarah. We've seen 80+ dead Cdn soldiers come home from Afgh and every such "repatriation" drives a spike through my heart. To think that our gov't is involved in any kind of a duping by the U.S. or GWB is deeply disturbing; to think that PM Harper and Co. could be complicit is beyond the pale.

    Thanks, Bill, for this. I have alerted several in our national media to the interview b/c this is a story which, as my fellow Cdn further up the thread indicated, no one else up here is telling.

    Sarah Chayes-(12:37pm today) You make me thirsty for pomegranate juice. Have a good trip back home. (I like your jacket: I am a weaver of hand spun wool.) You know the "garden of eden" where pears and apples originated is just to the north of Afganistan.

    I was pleasantly surprised by Sarah Chayes' pictures, non-exploitive and commonplace. I believe she is showing us her home, the home she has chosen in her heart.
    And yet I have a class conscious question. Why is it that Harvard MAs with their connections can get so much more attention for "helping" than anyone else? I don't blame Sarah because she didn't plan her birth, but now has chosen a difficult path.

    Her exchange with Bill was cryptic. She intimated how one can manipulate a people by turning their power (electricity) on and off. Phillip Foti (23rd-12:58am) related the same when he described the practices of WBHM in Birmingham. Sarah said she was trying to provide a legal living for her Afgani community with co-operative enterprises, but that opium dominates the economy. Clearly, the people at the bottom benefit relatively little from its sale but are basically serfs in an international enterprise. She is fighting serfdom and dependence more than opium.
    Worker ownership and collective enterprise are despised by capitalists here.Sarah has the special opportunity to experiment with economic democracy. As Ruh (23rd-11:21pm) was saying about Kosovo oil going to big operators, there would be no point developing an extractive agricultural economy leaving Afganis in serfdom, but that is the developmental tendency. Lisa Kadonaga (23rd-3:49pm) sees the potential for a wide variety of lucrative crops (possibly after climate change) but under what economic regime? What Sarah is organizing is denounced as communism and is punished by death squads under U.S. tutelege in Latin America. (She knows.)
    Sarah brings in the coconut and palm oil for the cooperative products and understands the military dynamic. I have read that she prefers NATO forces to U.S. units. (I wonder what she's seen.) If the Bush administration is understood as in league with the taliban and al quieda, that is not so far-fetched. Their mutually advantageous terror keeps us co-opted here at home too. (Some 9/11 theorists claim that the U.S. budget maintains enemies in the Pakistani territories in order to continue a war on terror that is analogous to the war on drugs and profitable in itself.) Brian Flaherty
    (22nd-1:34pm) has expressed agreement here and Ruth from Mercer County NJ (22nd-10:08pm) believes the opium-industrial complex to be a major reason for U.S. presence. (The oil pipeline of Unocal being almost as important, Karzai is a former Unocal exec.) Some see drug revenue as necessary to keeping Wall Street and the U.S. economy afloat. (Sarah comprehends this arrangement.) It is true that the U.S. is approaching and leading a worldwide depression. Chris
    (Feb 23rd-5:04pm) is witnessing it up close and understands that Obama and Nader can not rescue us, that we can only save ourselves by insisting on the kind of democratic reforms (plebesites, and designation of tax payments) Sarah would want for Afganistan. She even hints in her "Thank you" (23rd 1:26pm)that the war has come home to the U.S. in an economic repression that could lead to violence and chaos, saying Americans might appear tribal and vengeful after many years of war and occupation. (I agree: It happened in Yugoslavia.) Izabella Warwag (24th-4:40pm) understands why opium can't be eradicated: It is a U.S. corporate asset, and the taliban is needed to both beard and police it.
    And yet Sarah Chase never explicitly states any of these revelations to Uncle Bill. She is getting by acting "dupid" (feigned unawareness, knowing duplicity) I expect Sarah Chase, like myself and most Americans would agree privately that 9/11 was an inside job for the purpose of saving western financial infrastructure from collapse after many decades of undermining corruption, and that JFK was killed for his dissent against the same wealthy cabal that continues to run and ruin America. When Sarah says she doesn't think hope is relevant, that determination (trying) is all that matters now she is saying that effective action is possible without rhetoric and that reasons for trying can remain personal. It is her mission to save a community there, and for people like myself to save our community here. She has taken on a hopeless task but is holding the fort while we fight off the real enemy (nationalistic hubris/needs of the wealthy class). It is our mission to help good persons like Sarah by overthrowing lies and reforming the system here.That will give her people self-determination.
    We must retain the luxury of hope (for without victory our planet is dead). St Augustine said Hope has two daughters: Anger and Courage. True Americans are brave and courageous like Sarah Chayes. She has hope but is being dupid. (How else could a 45 year old woman living in those conditions remain so radiantly beautiful.) I pledge allegiance to Sarah Chayes in an interconnected world, seeking justice for all.

    Is it just me or does anyone else feel the Journal has dropped the ball in exposing the manipulation of the Democratic primaries, especially since the culprits are the same folks who brought us the Afghan war? As Mr. Moyers reported this week, the United States is funding the Taliban by way of Pakistan in order to keep the war in progress. This isn’t anything knew. U.S. government funding of jihadists started well before the coup against Benazir Bhutto’s father in 1977. Nothing has changed, except that we’re now the verge of blowing an opportunity to break the neoconservative grip on the White House. And on March 4th, that window of opportunity may slam shut for another four years.

    That’s because Bush political strategist Karl Rove is using the ultimate dirty trick– placing a false candidate in the Democratic race. In 1988, when Bhutto first ran for president in Pakistan, the slogan at the U.S. embassy there was “Anybody but Benazir”. Earlier this month, if you watched the coverage of the CPAC meeting of conservatives in Washington, you saw a similar rallying cry. Their banner read “Anybody but Hillary.” Nobody in that camp appears to be losing any sleep over the prospect of Barack Obama being elected. Don’t you think that’s rather odd, since this is the gentleman who claims he will meet with five dictators in his first year in office? And Obama’s support for granting undocumented immigrants drivers licenses violates another one of their sacred cow issues, yet there isn’t a peep out of them.

    Maybe that’s because they know something we don’t about his prospects in November. Why else would all the major newspapers in Texas have endorsed Senator Obama? Obama is also not the candidate burned in effigy each night on the corporate consolidated media networks of NBC, CBS, and ABC. It is Hillary Clinton. When she’s not being accused by their employees of waging a losing battle, or "pimping out" her daughter to get votes, she’s described as the divisive and polarizing establishment candidate whose corruption is legendary.

    Karl Rove, meanwhile, is likely to field his Bush-Cheney successor ticket as independents this year. Maybe that’s why Clinton needs to be ripped apart now. In November, it will be too late for them to stop her.

    To move things along, during Senator Obama’s senate race in 2004, the Illinois G.O.P. forced its own candidate to withdraw and replaced him with an incompetent, non-Illinois resident whom Obama easily defeated. A year later, he formed his presidential exploratory committee. It’s safe to say, Rove knew Clinton was coming down the pike in 2008, and an African American would provide the perfect cover for his spoiler scheme, since upper-middle-class, educated whites would simply never suspect in their wildest dreams that this fellow was in reality a Trojan horse. The other aspect to Rove’s plan was making sure the G.O.P. frontrunner was so weak, the left would not think twice about Senator Obama’s thin credentials and absence of experience. Progressives certainly haven’t bothered to compare the claims of Senator Obama’s stump speech to his actual record. By never discussing his past, the press allows him to be viewed as a fresh, virgin pup untainted by Washington corruption.

    Of course, his friends in Chicago know better. His 17-year paper trail of deals with slumlord Tony Rezko will provide endless material for Rove’s political attack ad team in the fall. There’s also that safety language in a congressional bill that Senator Obama watered down on behalf of his contributor Exelon. This attack ad will feature unsuspecting Illinois residents drinking groundwater contaminated by the many radiation leaks at the Exelon nuclear plant in that state. Thanks to the senator, the company doesn’t have to publicly disclose them.

    Naturally, every news program, including Bill Moyers Journal, has its priorities. Yet it’s difficult to understand how a story on earmarks should take precedence over an expose on the corruption of the country’s democratic process while it’s actually happening. After all, the demographic that watches the Journal is one that’s helped put Obama over the top in the last 10 primaries. And while there’s nothing anybody can do to stop the legions of Republicans from crossing over to vote against Clinton in Texas and elsewhere, at least if this interference were exposed, that could justify action by the superdelegates to counterbalance its effect at the convention. In short, if it's not her, it's going to be them.

    Is hating Hillary such an intractable part of the progressive mindset that we’re willing to accept another four years of neocons over the first pro-women’s rights president in history? If so, that speaks volumes about the state of our anti-war movement.

    I hope the Journal will review its policy of always looking back at crimes that have already been committed, and make more of an effort to cut off future ones at the Khyber pass, so to speak.

    For more on the Rove strategy, I’ve posted an in-depth article at

    Hello again, all. What a conversation. The depth of kindness of some of your words almost frightens me. May I not let you down.

    I'd like to weigh in on opium, a subject that got some time during the interview, but could perhaps do with a bit more discussion. "A tired infidel woman" argues that if businessmen can offer farmers credit to grow opium, they can "damn well" offer them credit for growing something else. Here's the flaw in that exclamation. The market. WE, in the West, are still willing to pay a whole lot more for opium and its derivatives than we are for pomegranates or almonds. Therefore, any normally constituted businessman interested in making a profit will invest in opium-growing rather than in other products. Here's the thing: Afghans don't use opium, or only very few of them do, and in ways and quantities that are not dangerous. (A tiny bit of opium, not heroin, mixed with milk as a sleeping draught, for example.) Opium is, in fact, our problem, not theirs. The only reason it has come to skew their political system as much as it has is because we have demanded that they ban it. So the ban on production, and corruption surrounding that ban, infects the whole political system, and makes the Afghan government and its international backers look hypocritical -- since Afghan government officials are deep in the traffic, and international officials sit down with them. If we really want Afghans to stop growing poppies, we ought really to focus on this end -- on the demand side. The minute we don't want to buy the stuff any more, no one will be growing it.

    A few other commonplaces I would like to challenge:

    1) The Taliban ended opium production.

    In fact, the Taliban regime was largely financed by opium. Mullahs used to take zaqaat, or religious tithe, on opium. The government offered protections to convoys running opium down to Kandahar's wholesale market. What the Taliban did was ban cultivation of the opium poppy in 2000 (only), because there was a worldwide glut and prices had fallen. So by eradicating the whole harvest, they gained a price increase, which they could exploit by selling off their stockpiled opium paste, while simultaneously gaining a terrific PR coup.

    2) The "insurgency" is forcing people to grow opium, or is organizing the industry or is primarily financed via opium.

    Taliban do benefit from opium -- driving convoys across land they control, getting the public relations benefit from protecting fields from government eradication, getting financial "contributions" from opium traffickers. But they don't need to force people to grow opium, the economic realities do that. Also, it is a complex thing to run a major national industry. Taliban are for the most part too busy running an insurgency to run the opium industry. If anything, it would be more accurate to say that members of the Afghan government are financing themselves primarily via opium. Again, in a variety of ways: diverting eradication away from their friends or those who pay them off, securing trafficking routes, etc.

    Apart from reducing demand, there is a solution to the opium problem and it is multifaceted. It does NOT include buying up the opium, since only 7% of the Afghan landmass, approximately, accounts for the current glut. If you legalize ALL THAT OPIUM, the traffickers would still have 93% of the Afghan landmass on which to encourage the production of illicit narcotics.

    Here are some possible components of a comprehensive solution:

    1) Pay farmers to grow something that is NOT opium. Let's think about reforestation, for example. Let's donate fruit tree saplings (of which hundreds are growing in non-profits' nurseries) to Afghan farmers. Let's pay those farmers the equivalent of what that fruit would bring in, for the first five years of the life of the saplings, until they are producing. (Almost no Afghan landowner could afford to effectively take his land out of production with no return for three to five years.) Once the trees are mature, you CAN'T grow opium under them.

    2) Radically expand the availability of credit to the rural population. Credit for buying fertilizer, for planting non-opium crops, for major home expenditures.

    3) Experiment and train farmers (especially where the new fruit trees are planted) in water-conservative irrigation techniques.

    4) Subsidize the acquisition of organic certification -- that is, offer more expensive and sometimes less effective organic fertilizers free of cost, for the two to three years that organic processes need to be practiced before a farm can be certified. Then farmers can aspire to the higher prices that organic produce commands in the West.

    5) Assist in the development of processing that meets European and North American phyto-sanitary standards, so fabulous Afghan fruit could be exported. Currently, Afghanistan does not even boast a laboratory to do the phyto-sanitary testing that it is the producer's burden to complete before export.

    6) Spend some of our development dollars on agro-processing facilities, and not necessarily gigantic ones. How about a small dairy in Kandahar. How about a fruit juice plant. Why is pomegranate juice imported into Afghanistan from Iran, when Afghanistan produces the world's best pomegranates? If such factories would lose money at first, so what? We're losing billions as it is.

    I think you get the idea. There is no one magic bullet, but the solutions are not rocket science either.

    Thanks again to you all, and of course, to Bill and his entire team.

    Sarah Chayes

    Heartily agree with the flood of lauditory comments already posted. One other angle - By comparison, what shame ought to be felt by the major network's bottom-fishing, bubble-headed, politics-made-sport "news coverage".


    Nader running for president
    Consumer advocate announces third-party bid on ‘Meet the Press’

    updated 10:33 a.m. ET, Sun., Feb. 24, 2008
    WASHINGTON - Ralph Nader is launching a third-party campaign for president.
    The consumer advocate made the announcement Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." He says most Americans are disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties, and that none of the presidential contenders are addressing ways to stem corporate crime and Pentagon waste and promote labor rights.
    Last month, Nader began an exploratory presidential campaign and launched a Web site that promises to fight "corporate greed, corporate power, corporate control."

    I'm late to the party here, but after watching Ms. Chayes speak again (I watched on Friday but had to see it again via quicktime), I needed to add a word. Or two.

    1) I don't think I've ever had so powerful a sense of having been connected to a subject by "merely" watching, and listening to, someone speak as I did listening to Sarah. (And, at 65, I can say I've some experience in the matter.) I can imagine Sarah writing an essay entitled "Why I Speak" as a nice book-end to Orwell's "Why I Write."

    2) "I think hope is irrelevant." I almost slid off my typing stool. But I completely agree. I've certainly not lived a "determined life" all the time (being in the presence of a stellar soul, however remotely (by TV & webcast), seems always to set one off to make comparisons), but I was reminded of this graf from GB Shaw:

    "This is the true joy in life: Being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."

    May your torch burn long.

    Bill Wilt
    Waltham, MA

    Was stunned by this interview. How often do we get to see such a "newsworthy" interview?
    For an in-depth background of our recent history with Afghanistan please see my parent's independent documentary "Shadow of Afghanistan."
    Would love Mr. Moyers to interview my parents. The story needs to be told to all and MSM is not telling. To quote Mr. Moyers "The news is everything they keep hidden, the rest is PR." Thank you, Mr. Moyers.

    I have to agree with Sarah.
    Actually there is not much talk about opium production in Afghanistan. I do not understand why Afghanistan is able to keep its position as number one of the world's opium producer even though international military forces are present out there for so many years. Only this one fact is very suspicious.
    Although I voted for Obama I am very relunctant to his idea to quit war in Iraq but continue in Afghanistan. If he wants to fight Al-Qaida there, all evidence suggests that Al-Qaida is present in Pakistan rather than in Afghsanistan. I must say that all information about Al-Qaida is very confusing, and I believe that this is intentional. After so many years of "fighting Al-Qaida" I became convinced that Al-Qaida is just a scapegoat, so underneath this kind of "cover" American and maybe other countries' establishment can realize their private goals. I don't want to create another conspiracy theory, but these simple facts prove that this is illogical: under the Taliban opium production diminished, but during the presence of American and other international military forces the production rose to number one in the entire world. Really strange. Also one must take into account that the Taliban insurgency is pretty strong there. Do the Taliban agree to opium production now? Did they change their minds about it? I would like to ask Bill Moyers to ask the future president what he/she thinks about this subject..

    Thank you Sarah Chayes,, your comments about the origin of the Taliban match those of a 2004 three hour BBC Documentary called The Power of Nightmares. This program can be viewed on-line at It is three separate one hour programs that were shown on British Television over three nights. Plans are to release the entire program on DVD sometime this year. It is all too typical of the investigative journalism that we no longer see in this country. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the content of this program.

    Thank you, Sarah Chayes, for your beautifully relevant insights. Though it is unlikely that I could freeze my American life and directly help you now, please know that as a ripe 20 year old, I am committed to being a partner in, not the fight, but the complex process of creating peace, community, tolerance, and sustainability. I wish you and those with you in Arghand the best luck.

    Thankfully for Americans and the larger world, Mr. Moyers did not retire after NOW. Friday nights on PBS have become a bitter pill to swallow due to the world corruption led by the Bush II Administration. Still most PBS stations only show these programs once, while they have time to repeat the trivial and self promotion for hours on end besides the huge gap still remaining in PBS arts programming.

    I can't help but add one more comment as I read more tonight about the terrible situation in Serbia/Kosovo. Bankers Petroleum just gained rights to 50% of the Kucova oil field (490 million barrels of original-oil-in-place) located in the southern portion of Albania ( Kosovo). It seems our government delights in creating problems wherever it goes in the name of oil or opium. The citizens there think the Kososvo decision is about their religion or is always and only about greed. Oh, and its not over yet: The Company (Banker's Petroleum)has until June 30, 2008 to exercise its option to acquire the remaining 50% interest. I am sure the Albanians will prosper. It is time for the Citizens of the World to "just say no".

    Thank you bill for introducing us to sarah chayes and this story.

    we are a people of stories.

    We must make our stories better with our lives.

    we cannot make our stories better without knowing the people of the stories.

    The problem comes from our inability to tell the made up stories from the true stories that are being lived this very moment in a true place and time because we are not there and don't see it, don't feel it.
    another problem comes when we don't want to know these stories, we are afraid of these stories. the stories tell us things have gone wrong and there is a need to correct what has gone wrong.

    How do we rescue ourselves and correct these stories?

    The one way I know to start is to find a person like sarah, who is awake and walk with her, keep your eyes wide open and walk along side such shoes. Listen well and act from the heart. Don't worry, your heart will know what to do when the time comes. Have courage and it will make your stories good and you will wonder why you haven't lived your whole life this way when such good things come forth.

    Thanks for the insight on Afghanistan. Thank you Sarah Chayes for doing something for people in need regardless of the personal hazard.

    Looking forward more great interviews.


    Thank you for this riveting interview with a credible journalist, who is also "walking the walk" with the suffering people of Afghanistan. Highly informative and interesting!

    What do you think?
    Should the United States remain in Afghanistan? Why or why not?
    If the U.S. should remain, what should our mission be? Counter-terrorism?
    Democratization? Nation-building?
    How do you suggest reformulating U.S. policy and strategy to
    realistically pursue that mission?

    Before we undertake a mission to resolve the problem of the world,
    first, we should resolve our own problems at home. Examples, “The ANF
    also did not allow the public to comment on changes...”
    Before a school board meeting is adjourn, a person states, "May I ask
    a question! The response was," You are out of order" etc. This is a power
    of dictators that assume the roll of god in pretense that our kids are being
    educated about "Democracy"! It does not matter what I or others
    think it is a "dictatorial power"! Should we worry about nation building?
    We have over "41 millions or one in five working American families can't afford
    basic needs, and many scrape to get by on insufficient income"!
    For me, the main important issues have been represented in a very informative way.
    The responses given to the "TRANSCRIPTS" that I have read ( though I have
    not read all of them) do not provide unified agenda as to solving the problems!
    Examples: We have one uniform language; one uniform
    currency etc. We have a "Constitutions" that does not serve any longer
    as a unified agenda. There has been breach of duties, responsibilities, accountabilities etc.
    Parties, Religion, nationality, languages, Laws provide division and not unity!
    I have stated before and now, "ALL ISSUES SHOULD BE PLACED
    I join the person that stated, "WE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE EMPOWERED TO
    "Switzerland has this system and they live in peace and prosperity".
    The society should not be expose or force to choose between two good or bad apples
    and not be empowered to vote on the issues.

    Sarah Chayes does represent the best of America. The Bush administration is truly the best ally the Taliban and Al-Qaeda can have.They have created a hamstrung military that is incapable of finishing anything correctly. As for Afghanistan, they have nothing America is interested in (oil), and will forever remain underfunded and forgotten. Pakistan is, perhaps the biggest nuclear proliferator in the world today and not an ally, Bush was duped again. India is our true friend in the region and is the only country in the region worthy of our aide.

    Iraq remains a big factor to anti US sentiment in the world. The war profiteering that is going on (private contractors) will remain biggest obstacle to ending our occupation. Ending military presence there is needed in order to handle Afghanistan. The USA faces the dreaded Stagflation (Thanks to our conservative Republicans) and will not be able to throw money at the problem.

    Afghanistan should remain our highest priority, but, it will not until Iraq is resolved. Bush's blunders will haunt us for decades, as Clinton's will also. We need to end the Bush-Clinton dynasty.
    Lets elect Barack Obama President, his multi cultural background and Harvard intellect is exactly what we need to begin finding reasonable solutions to our challenges. McCain would be a disaster, there is no military solution to this. Our Military intervention, in the Middle East, is the problem.

    Thank you so much for covering this story! I just committed to joining the support team for an agricultural development project in Afghanistan, and with my research partner scheduled to leave for Kabul next week, I have been really worried about whether I made the right decision. I was very impressed with the work done by Sarah Chayes, and what she said about the agricultural potential for the region -- a wide variety of lucrative crops like pomegranates and pistachios, plus the expertise of the local people in dryland farming -- matches exactly what my co-researcher, who was born and raised over there, has been telling me.

    Afghanistan is part of the region that developed many of our fruit, vegetable, and grain crops, during the Neolithic. It has many varieties that are unknown outside of the country, and which could be of immense commercial value. The project I am working on is attempting to conserve some of these ancient crops.

    I think it's also important to consider that there are many places in the world, including California and the central and southern US, that will be experiencing drier conditions due to climate changes this century. Knowing how to produce food in a sustainable way, under arid conditions, is something that will become increasingly valuable. The West may end up asking places like Afghanistan and Ethiopia for technical advice, in the not-too-distant future.

    I was extremely impressed with Ms.Chayes' work and bravery and indomitable spirit.

    What she's doing is a good start on cleaning up the mess that the Military-Industrial-Complex has made.

    I think we should provide financial assistance to farmers who wish to grow legitimate crops instead of opium, then provide transportation of those crops to a market where they get top dollar.
    I would suggest the US government help (secretly) a non profit organization that already provides funding in the developing world annd who would provide funding in areas of the world like Kosovo and Afganistan.
    Perhaps a senator could be convinced to provide an earmark for such a purpose.

    I want to thank everyone who has written into this blog from the bottom of my heart for your incredibly moving praise. I need you to understand how much it means not just to me personally but to the whole gang at Arghand -- I am only their ambassador, after all, and I do share your thoughts -- that you take the time to write. Sometimes it feels like we survive on your reflected energy, so believe me, your letters are precious sustenance.

    A couple of substantive points. To Brit, who wrote about sustainable economics, I could not agree with you more. Though infrastructure and schools are very necessary, they are not in and of themselves sustainable, or self-regenerating, and I think it would behoove donor agencies to consider offering a bit more support to the (sustainable and respectful) private sector, while being careful not to merely line the pockets of the powerful. We should be taking more initiatives in favor of innovative entrepreneurs, perhaps thinking of some of our aid dollars almost as a venture capital fund.

    As many of you will imagine, I take strong exception to most of what "a tired infidel woman" wrote. We will only come to grief by caricaturing whole swathes of the population of this planet. Afghanistan was in great shape before one of the world's superpowers, the Soviet Union, invaded and tried to occupy it. It has suffered some 30 years of combat. I wonder what the United States would look like after that experience. I wonder how New Yorkers would behave after an entire winter with only a few hours of electricity every two or three days. Talking in an erudite fashion about "Dar al-Islam" and "Dar al-Harb" is misleading, because the terms originate more than a thousand years ago; one could compare the Spanish Inquisition, a more recent phenomenon. Our Western culture committed a genocide only sixty years ago. Our own beloved United States are founded not just on some of the highest political principles ever articulated as a basis for a nation-state, but also on one genocide and one crime against humanity. It is important for us to remember these things when we are feeling high and mighty. Finally, the Taliban did not originate in Afghanistan, they were manufactured by the government of Pakistan, and (many) Afghans embraced them because they had undergone an extremely violent period of civil strife, caused in part by the massive infusion into civilian society of veterans suffering post-traumatic stress while remaining armed. Please. Let's try to think in a rational fashion about other people.

    But that was just one letter in a whole beautiful bouquet.

    Thank you all.

    Sarah Chayes

    Dear Bill,
    Thank you for having Ms. Chayes on your show last night. For me it was a verification of what I have understood the war to be all about. The fact that Canada and the US indeed the free world are filling the coffers of Pakistan and at the same time Pakistan is harbouring the Taliban inside their borders has alawys seemed like sheer folly to me. Canada just like the US prefers to engage in support the troops fever, every second car has one of those patriotic stickers on it.I support the troops as well but my idea of support is to get them all out of Afganistan and Iraq and out of harms way.
    A good half of Canadians and Americans share this view but mainstream media keeps the other Half of the people on the side of stay the course.
    I also want to thank Mrs Chayes for pointing out that Killing Iraqi's and Afghans as well as destroying opium crops
    is only building up Al Qeda and Taliban support,
    Thank you for your Excellent Work, N Farley
    Tottenham Ontario Canada.

    Comments on your 'earmarks' section refer to Kosovo as the trafficing hub for the opium trade. In light of the eagerness our government has displayed to recognize Kosovo's independence (and I must sadly say that the Obama camp seems to be on board with this) I am having a very sick feeling about what exactly IS going on in Afghanistan.

    Thank you for two very important investigations.

    Ms. Chayes offered what it takes too much work and effort to find... a clear unfettered view of a country that has been simplified to an emotional soundbite in our collective mindset.

    I will buy her book, recommend it to others, and then help her close the economic loop that will allow her Arghand cooperative to sustain itself and serve as a model for others... I'll buy some of her soap (despite being a modest midwest school teacher rather than a member of the "pampered" NYC affluentia).

    Now if only governments could put as much emphasis on building goodwill (eg, security and prosperity) via sustainable economics and civil society as they do on the application of "hard power", we'd cut the roots of poverty and instability off at their source. The trick is how to support emerging cultures (their needs, not ours), give them access to globalized markets while permitting them to keep their identity and dignity (their definitions, not ours), while allowing them to determine their own pace and level of engagement. Chayes is right - hope isn't enough; we need to facilitate the action that turns hope into reality. She walks her talk.

    Sarah Chayes is one of our national treasures. She is one of the few heroes that the US is sharing with the world. Despite the fact that she is one of the most knowledgeable, incisive and brave Americans working in Afghanistan, she is invisible in the US media. Thank you, Bill, for allowing us to benefit from her wisdom.

    Dear Mr. Moyers,

    Afganistan grows and sells opium, and America grows and sells war. I think we should become farmers again for the common good of all and reap as we do exactly what we sow.

    Thanks again,


    Sarah Chayes for Secretary of State!

    To the poster who wanted to donate to Sarah Chayes' business: here is the website for her company, which accepts online donations.

    I was so drawn to Sarah Chayse every thought and word and wished the interview lasted at least another 3 hours. She is not only magnetic but intellectually and politically brilliant. I wish I could be by her side often to learn from her. She is a strong person.
    Many thanks for giving me the opportunity of hearing her.

    I am moved to make a remark substantially *off topic: I notice two things.

    1. Ms. Chayes totally charming remark about knowing the pashtuns who inhabit both sides of the Durant Line, and having no difficulty "running" her palm and coconut oil if she wished.

    2. Her continued well-being despite what might be perceived by a hard core traditionalist as her tendency to encourage both the uppityness of women and the independent thought of men.

    Someone very important, maybe several someones, have her back.

    They have my thanks.

    *Withal, the fact alone that a woman as luminescent as Ms. Chayes has come under the protection of the Pashtunwali tells us that there is a sheikh or maybe three that is sprung like a minibus gone over the side of an Afghan highway... At least "her guys" know a good thing when they see one (specially when she isn't wearing a burka)...This should give us hope for the brotherhood of man

    Is it too much to hope that the next president invites Ms. Chayes to the White House—and listens closely to her? We desperately need a voice of real truth and reason close to those in power. Meanwhile, though, Ms. Chayes doesn’t wait for hope and is literally taking matters into her own hands, day by day helping to rebuild a country we have helped to unravel. All I can say is…wow, and thank you.

    Knew this was a must watch when my local PBS station (WBHM - Birmingham Alabama), immediately cut your show off midway and started Charlie Rose. Now this was a wee bit suspicious, as we don't even get Mr. Rose any longer. It's a shame the rest of my little hamlet will never get to hear Ms Chayes. But of course it's only natural... as around here most everyone knows everything the need to know - about the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Afghanistan. Thank you PBS for providing streaming video.

    Thanks so much for making the public aware of this forgotten war and kudos to Ms Chayes for her untiring efforts. I think all of us in America should start asking why the current administration continues to ignore the threat in Afghanistan and instead throws away our resources and the lives of our men and women in Iraq.

    Bill introduced Charlie Wilson's War as having a "happy Hollywood ending". Did he see the movie? I think not. The ending of the movie was far from this. It provided the viewer with some limited insight into why Afghanistan is the way it is now. I watch BMJ every week. For most stories I can't "ground truth" the information that is presented. This week I could and I was left wanting. Granted the information in question was trivial. But I wonder if the trivial information is wrong, what about the non-trivial information?

    Terrific interview—as usual.

    I am against any interference in any Islamic country.

    All we are doing is spending blood and treasure for nothing; throwing good money after bad.

    We liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban it voluntarily brought forth and from Al Qaeda it also voluntarily supported.

    It's time for the Afghans to stand up against their own devils.

    SARAH CHAYES: "...You've got people now with blood feud against NATO troops because of things like, you know, civilian casualties. These are people who need-- it's blood debt. They need to recoup that debt. And they're not going to be persuaded out of that."

    I'm sorry, but it seems to me that all these people know is "blood debt and revenge." Thousands of years of that and look where they are—still in the dark ages.

    After all, the Afghans embraced the Taliban. They harbored the Arabs who plotted 9/11.

    What did the Afghans grow for survival before their country became a narcostate?

    What business does a person who makes a few hundred dollars a year have spending ten thousand dollars on a wedding?

    If "businessmen" can offer farmers credit for growing opium poppies they can damn well offer credit to grow other crops and build factories to process those crops instead of building opium processing plants.

    In my opinion the West would be wise to leave well enough alone. Pull out of all Islamic states and leave them to their fate. Seal the borders and let other Islamic states send them aid.

    We owe nothing to the Afghan people. It is they who owe us!

    Ms. Chayes may not want to live in a divided world. However, the fact is that it is Islam that divides the world into "dar al-Islam" (the land of Islam) and "dar al-Harb" (the land of war). She can blame Muhammad for dividing the world and not the rest of us!

    A tired infidel woman

    Ms. Chayse is a fascinating lady of international stature. My appreciation to Bill Moyer's Journal for making me aware of her. As a thinking American with international experience, I rarely am able to see someone else that "Get's It", and is "Doing It"
    Please forward to Ms. Chayse my humble appreciation for what she is doing for humankind, and my wishes that she can safely continue. Her words meant a lot to me and I will past them on to the youth.
    Ensuite, Elle est extraordinaire.


    Sarah Chayes was amazing.

    I want to support her cause, so like a typical American I'll ask; Where/ how can I throw money at her?
    (and don't tell me I have to buy a boat for the coast guard, I already heard they don't need one!)

    It would seem being able to pay your employees a higher wage would attract more employees, increasing production, requiring more raw materials requiring more fruit and nut fields, farmers and so on....maybe they would even have to cut down the opium fields to make way for the shampoo herbals!


    Bravo Ms. Chayes for your insightful, passionate, and extremely eloquent assessment of the mess we are making in Afghanistan. Your ability to help viewers understand the mess our government has made and continues to make, while offering sensible suggestions for improvement - made real by your own economic and personal commitment there - was truly inspirational. I wish you, your company and the Afghan people peace, safety and prosperity. Thanks to Bill Moyers (again and again) and to PBS.

    Dear Mr. Moyers, a copy of this amazingly forthright interview needs to be sent to every member of Congress as well as hand delivered to the White House. Each Presidential Candidate should receive a copy and the American Public should demand a response to each of the points raised by Sarah Chayes. I would be more than happy to contribute an additional amount to Public Television to defray the cost of these copies. Money very well spent in my opinion!!! Would PBS consider such an action?

    Sarah Chayes is someone we should all be listening to re: Afghanistan. However, there was ONE thing that was NOT mentioned during the interview. . .That American corporations are making hundreds of billions of dollars of the Afghan "excursion" [the same massive profits are being made in Iraq, also!]

    It's been said many times, many ways. . .War is good business!

    This story is excellent and it points out just how stupid we have been for years and how stupid we continue to be about the area.

    Thank you,

    Bob Mooney


    I don't know if you read these, but you did a wonderful job.

    You defined the problem, offered valid immediately useful solutions and you are working to solve the problem. This is called being a Citizen of the World.

    Sounds like there is a need for MicroCredit in Afghanistan.

    Incredible interview! When are Americans going to wake up that Al-Qaeda really is Al-CIA-da. I hear similar reports on alternative media all the time, that the war on terror is a hoax, and that our government is actually financing, through nefarious ways, the taliban that we are supposed to be fighting. It is like an empowering triumph for such an interview to air on mainstream media. I want a copy of this interview with Sarah Chayes and intend to loan it to my friends. What a true and honest hero she is. Thank you Bill Moyers.

    Reply to Sara Demo:
    Yes, if we spray their crops, they are out the money they make from growing poppies (which is generous, I am sure). What is the US alternative? Dead poppies and a poisoned field, no income. Why wouldn't they threaten to join the Taliban? As Sarah mentioned, why aren't we helping to rebuild their country by fostering fruit and nut groves to rival those in California? Why aren't we offering them a valid economic alternative? With GE calling the shots in Pakistan and India, Pakistan has no choice but to help us with "whatever". No wonder the Afghans are confused. We aren't really there to help the Afghans, we're there to make money. What a mess we've made.

    Villages shaken-down by a corrupt govt during the day, and by the Taliban at night, of course, echoes Vietnam. As a result we are likely going to lose hearts and minds as we did there. That ppl cannot figure out who their friends really are or how they are going to live decent lives is not surprising. There were ppl like Sarah Chayes in Vietnam as well, herself an advertisement for good journalism, but it took a purge and years of suffering for the ppl there to unite and embark on a moderate path.

    Sarah Chayes' piece was certainly an eye-opener! But I'm confused about one thing. She said that, if we sprayed (destroyed) a poppy field, the farmer would join the Taliban. But later she said that the Afghans believe that, by virtue of our alliance with Pakistan, we are also allied with the Taliban. This seems contradictory. Can you explain?

    It was great to see and hear Sarah Chayse! She is saying everything that I have been thinking for several years now. We are in Afghanistan for the opium poppy. The Taliban had wiped out the poppy crop prior to 9/11/01 and now it is a bumper crop thanks to George W, et al. In Iraq for oil, in Afghanistan for opium. All the senseless killing and maiming in the name of freedom??? NO! in the name of GREED. When is enough enough? If you think Obama or anyone of those puppets will do anything to stop this flow of cash crops, think again citizens. I respect Sarah's courage and respect her more than any politician. Thank you Bill for offering her a platform from which to speak the truth.

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