On Tuesday’s "Good Morning America," co-host Diane Sawyer reported on the second day of her tour of Afghanistan. Unlike previous trips to Syria and Iran, the anchor had no dictator to coddle. She did, however, have time to ask somewhat bewildering questions to members of the United States military. Speaking to one soldier who just had his tour extended, Sawyer wondered if the young man ever felt like just giving up:
Diane Sawyer: "How do you make it through 15 months out here? I mean–"
U.S. Military member [Name not given]: "Well, it's just one of those things. I mean– We, we have a job to do."
Sawyer: "How many times a month do you say, I don't know that I can do another month of this? A day?"
U.S. Military member: "No, I don’t– It doesn't ever occur to me that way. Pretty much everyone– We're not excited that we got extended by any means, I mean, but we realize there's a job to do."
Unlike previous Middle East excursions, nicknamed by NewsBusters as the Dictator ‘07 tour, there was no tyrant, such as Syrian President Bashar Assad, to ask about iPods. However, Sawyer, during the April 10-11 trip, did offer positive stories on the improving state of women and positive developments in Afghanistan, such as the advent of young people publically dating.
The GMA host’s questions to military personnel mostly highlighted the negative or, at best, indicated that Afghanistan was neither improving, nor failing. During the April 10 segment, which aired at 7:02am, Sawyer asked soldiers how they saw the effort:
Sawyer: "This young man already has the three purple hearts. One from an IED, one from shrapnel, one from a suicide bomber. Do you stay scared the whole time?"
U.S. Military member #4 (male): "Yeah, sometimes. It depends. Yeah. Everybody just wants to go home."
Sawyer: "You know, there's a lot of debate in the United States right now about how it's going here. What do you want to say to everybody back home? Winning? Maintaining?"
U.S. Military member #5 (Male) "Definitely not losing."
U.S. Military member #6 (Male) "Yeah, we’re definitely not losing, that’s for sure."
Sawyer: "Does it feel to you as if it's moving some place? Moving forward?"
U.S. Military member #7 (Male) "I know we're making a difference over here and you can see that."
Sawyer: "In these young men and women, a cross section of America have been working with the villagers in the slow steady work of gaining trust from building dozens of schools, and clinics. Giving smiles. While living in the barracks two by two. And dreaming, they say, of Taco Bell and family."
So, while Sawyer portrayed the service of the soldiers as noble, she continued the media tradition of assuming American servicemen are stuck in a quagmire. (Matt Lauer famously did this while interviewing servicemen and women in Iraq.)
On April 9, she interviewed Afghanistan’s President, Hamid Karzai. Sawyer mostly focused her questions on the significant struggles that Afghanistan continues to face. Now, of course this is a legitimate topic for discussion, but the ABC anchor made very little mention to Karzai of the country’s progress. A partial transcript of her questions, which aired at 7:09, follows:
Diane Sawyer: "And we just spoke with Hamid Karzai, the first elected president of this country to ask him about these reports that thousands of suicide bombers and insurgents are getting ready to come over the hills. And can it be stopped? Five and a half years after 9/11, we now hear that the Taliban and al Qaeda are getting ready to move back into Afghanistan. Has the U.S. failed in Afghanistan?"
President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai: "Not at all. Neither has the U.S. failed, nor are the Taliban coming back. Al Qaeda is defeated."
Sawyer: "But we are hearing that they are coming back. They’re talking about 6,000 insurgents ready to come down, now thousands of suicide bombers."
Karzai: "Well, suicide bomb is a sign of desperation. You kill yourself if you're very disappointed, you have no hope of life. It is a disgrace."
Sawyer: "We hear they are just young men in the madrassahs who have now been completely–"
Karzai: "Some of them are. Some of them are, yes. But the majority of them are drug addicts desperate to help people, and those who have no hope of life. Their families are paid some money to say, this man is going to die anyway."
Sawyer: "But thousands of them can still take a lot of other lives."
Karzai: "It hurts us. It kills our people. It hurts our children. But it does not stop the progress that we are making as a nation."
Sawyer: "Do you have a rough number on the foreign fighters and the–"
Karzai: "No. We don’t have that. Anybody who gives you figures would prove wrong."
Sawyer: "You are giving a very confident picture of the ability to withstand whatever incursion the Taliban makes."
Sawyer: "But we asked about the experts who say that 30,000 American troops are not enough. All told, Afghanistan needs about 80,000 more American and NATO soldiers. Do you need more?"
Karzai: "And that’s a good question. No, we do not have enough manpower, or enough equipment or air power to respond to certain situations, and I believe we should add that power to the fight in Afghanistan."
Sawyer: "How many more do you need?"
Karzai: "That’s a military matter. That’s– That’s– The Minister of Defense and somebody should say, what else do they need? But, the overall picture, I can tell you we need more forces, and more ability to project force."
Sawyer: "In the tens and tens of thousands though?"
Karzai: "Not in the tens and tens of thousands, no. No, more in equipment and, and planes, and helicopters, and things like that."
Sawyer: "But, I have to ask you–"
Karzai: "What we need here, I must add something. We need a lot of effort to train more of the Afghan forces, organize the foot soldier, the army."
Sawyer: "I want to give you a chance to address some of the criticism raised."
Sawyer: "And it is a criticism of this government, as you know."
Sawyer: "There are people who have said that they hoped that you would be George Washington."
Sawyer: "But they say then, your government is ineffective and that you have been like a weather vain, that you are a conciliator, that sometimes it takes muscle."
Karzai: "Yes. Muscle a different issue. Muscle has to be developed. Muscles we didn’t have."
Sawyer: "That takes help?"
KarzaI: "If you’re talking of muscle as the ability to deliver services, as you do in America or as you do in Germany, or even as you do in Pakistan, that we don't have. Yes, we are better than what we were four years ago. Much, much better."