The Wolfowitz mission just reminds me that the Afghanistan strategy has become a scramble to keep Hamid Karzai in power at all costs. (The same thing is going on across the border in Pakistan with Pervez Musharraf.) And for very good reason. It seems written on some putrid stone somewhere that the Afghan people have been and will remain, like a population of Lots, doomed to suffer. Pakistan has other choices. Though as soon as the government gained tread on anything there, corruption and largesse drained the momentum. (Benazir Bhutto is one of the great political disappointments of our time, and if she'd remained in power rather than played out a Shakespearean family drama, there is a decent argument to be made that Sept. 11 might never have happened.) But I have a hard time criticizing the administration on this one. Yesterday I started writing about America's accountability and communication, and, well, here it is in some form. I don't remember U.S. diplomats of Wolfowitz's rank showing up and saying "Sorry" when something happens in the war-is-hell department. On Sept. 12 in N.Y., if you remember, there was talk everywhere on the streets of turning Afghanistan into a parking lot. Now, at least, the "conversation" has become a little more nuanced. Karzai, though, seems like something of a miracle, doesn't he? I'm sure that behind closed doors the man is a political tiger. On the surface, though, he couldn't look more placid and confident—this in a part of the world where appearance can be everything.
Have you, by the way, read the first installment of William Langewiesche's long piece on Ground Zero in the Atlantic Monthly? Through personal contact he managed to gain access to the site within hours of the collapse of the Towers and he stayed, every day, for months. His piece is soulful, hard-bitten, somber, and real—and without melodrama. He was always a masterful journalist, and of all the writing and journalism that emerged from the dust of that day, this long piece (so long it has been split up among three issues) might be the one that lasts.
Coincidentally, I had an argument last night with a friend about whether movies can be as important as journalism. It didn't seem like an argument worth having—they can both be facile, they can both be memorable. But her point was about resources (movie studios have budgets like small countries while magazines, especially now, operate on a shoestring). But we had just come out of the premiere of K-19, which opens nationally on the 19th, I think. It's a big-budget movie about a little-known nuclear catastrophe on a Russian submarine in 1962, that, had it not been stopped, might have led to nuclear war. Harrison Ford gives what might be the performance of his career and Liam Neeson was, as usual, powerful. But here was a hugely expensive movie about something seriously serious and intimate (it was really about the lives and heroics of the men aboard the sub; this wasn't Fail-Safe), and it was sensitively and beautifully directed, and it reminded me that a film can not just entertain but also instruct.
Just something on this baseball business, because Labor Action in professional sports seems to come as frequently as the presidential elections. Even calling it "Labor Action," actually, seems to me a criminal misnomer. I am one of those people who loves baseball's slowness (as in: baseball is "languid," not "boring"). I also shake my head and laugh every time I hear what the scrubs make, not to mention the greats. (The average salaries are incomprehensible—what did you say yesterday? $2.4 million in baseball.) I understand that baseball players think of the way they spend their days as careers, and they are. But work? Labor? To me this stuff is simple. If players and owners feel the need to go to war over their burgeoning and ample pie, they really should do it in private. I'm not saying there aren't contractual issues. But go figure it out in a closed room.