This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.
The Great Deluge in Pakistan passed almost unnoticed in the United States, despite President Obama’s repeated assertions that the country is central to American security. Now, with new evacuations and flooding afflicting Sindh Province and the long-term crisis only beginning in Pakistan, it has washed almost completely off American television and out of popular consciousness.
Don’t think we haven’t been here before. In the late 1990s, the American mass media could seldom be bothered to report on the growing threat of Al Qaeda. In 2002, it slavishly parroted White House propaganda about Iraq, helping prepare the way for a senseless war. No one yet knows just what kind of long-term instability the Pakistani floods are likely to create, but count on one thing: the implications for the United States are likely to be significant and by the time anyone here pays much attention, it will already be too late.
Few Americans were shown—by the media conglomerates of their choice—the heartbreaking scenes of 8 million Pakistanis displaced into tent cities, of the submerging of a string of mid-sized cities (each nearly the size of New Orleans), of vast areas of crops ruined, of infrastructure swept away, damaged or devastated at an almost unimaginable level, of futures destroyed and opportunistic Taliban bombings continuing. The boiling disgust of the Pakistani public with the incompetence, insouciance and cupidity of their corrupt ruling class is little appreciated.
The likely tie-in of these floods (of a sort no one in Pakistan had ever experienced) with global warming was seldom mentioned. Unlike, say, BBC Radio, corporate television did not tell the small stories—of, for instance, the female sharecropper who typically has no rights to the now-flooded land on which she grew now-ruined crops thanks to a loan from an estate-owner, and who is now penniless, deeply in debt and perhaps permanently excluded from the land. That one of the biggest stories of the past decade could have been mostly blown off by television news and studiously ignored by the American public is a further demonstration that there is something profoundly wrong with corporate news-for-profit. (The print press was better at covering with the crisis, as was publically-supported radio, including the BBC and National Public Radio.)
In his speech on the withdrawal of designated combat units from Iraq last week, Barack Obama put Pakistan front and center in American security doctrine, "But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake. As we speak, Al Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan." Even if Pakistan were not a major non-NATO ally of the United States, it is the world’s sixth most populous country and the forty-fourth largest economy, according to the World Bank. The flooding witnessed in the Indus Valley is unprecedented in the country’s modern history and was caused by a combination of increasingly warm ocean water and a mysterious blockage of the jet stream, which drew warm, water-laden air north to Pakistan, over which it burst in sheets of raging liquid. If the floods that followed prove a harbinger of things to come, then they are a milestone in our experience of global warming, a big story in its own right.