March Madness: Fun Here, Death Abroad
It is a warm and pleasant Sunday, and my Twitter stream is full of March Madness, the selection of 68 college basketball teams for the NCAA tournament.
Other media are awash and aflame with it also, and soon Barack Obama's official website will publish its own brackets, inviting citizens to match their expertise against the president's.
On Tuesday, the president and British Prime Minister David Cameron, in America on a state visit, will travel to Dayton, Ohio, to attend a first-round game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky. Both world leaders will be interviewed at halftime.
My Twitter feed scrolls. Spirits rise and fall as the brackets are announced. And then I see a small, virtually buried item and click on the link that it contains.
In Afghanistan, another type of March madness has occurred.
A U.S. Army sergeant, a family man with two children of his own, has methodically gone from house to house in a rural south Afghan village and allegedly massacred 16 unarmed civilians, including nine children, four of them younger than 6. He then set fire to their bodies.
The sergeant, The New York Times would inform us on Monday with unintended irony, had been assigned to "what is called a village stabilization operation."
I think we can consider that at least 16 people in that village are now permanently "stabilized."
After the shootings, President Obama is immediately briefed and issues a statement of apology. He then talks to the president of Afghanistan from the back seat of the White House limousine. Obama is on the way to a basketball game in which his daughter, Sasha, is playing. The White House releases a picture of Obama on the phone in the limo's backseat, looking serious and concerned.
After the call concludes, the official White House pool report makes clear, Obama continues to the game.
One wonders what they make of all this in Afghanistan. The United States has been in that country for 10 years. After quite correctly going there to destroy the al-Qaida terrorist operation that carried out the 9/11 attacks from that country, the United States has lingered.
According to an ABC report from back in December 2009: "As he justified sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan at a cost of $30 billion a year, President Barack Obama's description Tuesday of the al-Qaida 'cancer' in that country left out one key fact: U.S.
But we remain. Obama has announced we will finally leave at the end of 2014, though the pace and scope of our withdrawal may be affected by facts on the ground.
Meanwhile, 2012 has already proved a horrendous year.
Last month, American soldiers burned copies of the Quran — "inadvertently," we say — which led to attacks by Afghan soldiers that killed six U.S. soldiers. (Afghan soldiers and U.S. soldiers are supposed to be allies, just in case you were wondering.)
Now a U.S. staff sergeant based at Lewis-McChord, Wash., with 11 years in the military and three tours of duty in Iraq, has allegedly killed16 unarmed men, women and children.
The White House press briefing on Monday began with a presentation about fighting high gasoline prices, and then Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, opened things up for general questions.
Did he have any statement to make about the shootings in Afghanistan? he was asked.
"No," Carney replied.
A reporter then asked if "killing children in their sleep" would affect American thinking about staying in Afghanistan.
No, Carney replied. "The president's policy is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and stabilize Afghanistan so Afghan security forces can stabilize their country," he said.
ABC's Jake Tapper asked if the United States had reached its "sell by" date in Afghanistan.
"We've been there a long time," Carney said and then seemed to deflate slightly. "Incidents like this do not make it any easier, no question. This is a challenging time, there is no question. Our goal is not to stay any longer than we have to."
Carney was then asked whether President Obama would continue with his plan to attend the NCAA tournament on Tuesday considering the terrible events in Afghanistan.
"His schedule has not changed," Carney said. "March Madness is just getting started. Many of us around this country enjoy this. March Madness is a wonderful tradition in American sport and culture."
Message: Life is good. For those who get to live it.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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