In case you thought the WikiLeaks story might change everything: The forthcoming Time magazine (out tomorrow) has a cover photo of a disfigured Afghan woman with the headline "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan."
The implication would seem to be that the Taliban will commit similar atrocities without the presence of U.S. forces. You can see the cover (and a portion of the story) here.
Something tells me that no one at a the magazine's editorial meeting suggested a "What Happens If We Stay in Afghanistan" cover headline, which would have been accompanied by a photo of the corpse of an Afghan child killed in an airstrike or a house raid.
Time magazine editor Rick Stengel explains the cover decision in some detail, writing that the cover subject "posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years." The accompanying story, writes Stengel, addresses "how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban."
Stengel voices his concern about the effect the cover might have on children, but decides in the end that
bad things do happen to people, and it is part of our job to confront and explain them. In the end, I felt that the image is a window into the reality of what is happening–and what can happen–in a war that affects and involves all of us. I would rather confront readers with the Taliban's treatment of women than ignore it. I would rather people know that reality as they make up their minds about what the U.S. and its allies should do in Afghanistan.
Of course, what Time is depicting is only part of "the reality of what is happening" in Afghanistan.
Stengel notes that the"much publicized release of classified documents by WikiLeaks has already ratcheted up the debate about the war," and that Time is trying "to contribute to that debate. We do not run this story or show this image either in support of the U.S. war effort or in opposition to it."
As lawmakers and citizens begin to sort through the information about the war and make up their minds, our job is to provide context and perspective on one of the most difficult foreign policy issues of our time. What you see in these pictures and our story is something that you cannot find in those 91,000 documents: a combination of emotional truth and insight into the way life is lived in that difficult land and the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.
The idea that the way to respond to the WikiLeaks documents is to highlight atrocities by the Taliban is precisely what CBS correspondent Lara Logan called for. It's also propaganda.
UPDATE: woodward bernstein notes in comments:
this incident occurred while the us was in afghanistan.shouldn't the time headline reflect that?