Thursday, May 27, 2004

Admission or Excuse? 

The New York Times ostensibly published a "mea culpa" from its editors in its International / Mid East section. What, exactly, it means, however, has been debated by Command Post commenters to some degree. While on the surface it may seem to be some sort of apology or admission of error, to my eyes it seems more of a CYA and excuse. Taken at face value, the note provides the following rough chronology:

Before the war: we believed intelligence estimates and dissident reports about WMD and terrorist links
After the war: we jumped on the Administration for "lying" about WMD and terrorist links
Now: if we had thought more carefully about it before the war, we wouldn’t have believed intelligence estimates and dissident reports about WMD and terrorist links
Future: we will jump harder on the Administration for "lying" about WMD and terrorist links

A major hole in the "Bush lied" mantra has always been that he believed and said nothing different than many others from across the political spectrum. To believe that "Bush lied" was to imply that either everyone lied or he and his administration, unique among all others, "figured it out" and yet still clung to the party line. It looks as if someone at the NYT is trying to plug that hole by saying they could have known it was all "bunk" if they had just done their homework. By extension, it is possible that the administration really did know, but hid the truth. For some reason, I keep having visions of Pee Wee Herman falling off his bike and saying "I meant to do that".

What we really have in this article is the NYT trying to excuse their attacks on others for believing what they themselves believed as well. That they do so using two specific examples (Salman Pak and biological facilities) that either have independent corroboration or are unverifiable demonstrates just how difficult it would have been prior to the war to "know" the things they believe today. Perhaps I am too cynical, but I see little more than plausible deniability for harsher criticism of the Administration yet to come being masquerading as a humble admission of fault.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Globe Looses the Bubble 

It seems that a recent link from Rev. Sensing has greatly multiplied readership (especially considering that, as of yesterday, the only person I could positively say had visited was myself). Thanks to a man I consider to be well spoken and of clear thought. As such, perhaps I should try and provide new content more often than I have. Even though it is a bit old, in web terms, I think the following is still relevant.

Like many others, I am keeping up with progress in Iraq as best as I can, given the sometimes vast difference in pictures provided by the traditional media, official sources and un-official, non-traditional reports from actual participants (soldiers, civilians and Iraqis alike). Like many, I am turned off, though not surprised, by the often mindless Abu Ghraib feeding frenzy the press have given us lately. A prime example of this is the Boston Globe’s attempt to be bestest and firstest and being duped by Internet porn as a result of not exercising their supposed journalistic skepticism.

The most surreal piece of this whole episode, for me, was the Globe’s ombudsman’s remarks, that totally missed the real issue at hand. I sent the ombudsman the following, with no reply from her (in fairness, I did not expect any, as I am sure she was being buried in e-mail at the time):

In the subject article (linked above), you matter-of-factly state that the Globe "decided it was better to write the story, raise questions within it, and let voters judge Turner's actions", despite the fact that "the photos were unverified -- and there was reason to doubt them". You later say, though, that the Globe's "Mistake No. 1 [was] a misperception and a miscommunication, perhaps attributable to simple human error" regarding publication of the picture.

In this regard, I feel I share many others' feelings to say that "Mistake No. 1" should more properly be identified as the decision to give a story that is entirely based upon unverified and doubtful photos such a strong lede. If a City Councilor has presented unverified and doubtful photos of UFOs or Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster would you have chosen the same path? Perhaps more to the point, if he had been presenting unverified and doubtful photos of children killed by Iraqi insurgents would your response have been the same?

I feel you fail to recognize that the real issue is not the procedure by which inappropriate material found its way into print, as all reasonable people understand that human processes do fail. The real issue is why the editorial staff of the Globe seems to be more willing to accept and believe unverified and doubtful accusations provided they are made against the military or the Administration. It is this issue you so off-handedly dismiss. It would seem prudent to ask why the article "seemed to give weight to [Turner's] case" in the eyes of many readers. Perhaps it is because such a slant is perceived to be the norm in the Globe vice the exception.

By completely ignoring the question of "did the article and photo show a level of attention appropriate for unverified and doubtful accusations?" you only contribute to the perception that sensational reporting that sheds a negative light on the military and the Administration is the norm for the Globe. I cannot help but think that the Globe missed an excellent opportunity to objectively evaluate its editorial decision and candidly acknowledge an error.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Reasons for Invading Iraq 

Andrew Sullivan recently posted "two fundamental reasons for war against Iraq and posted a letter from a Bangladeshi Muslim questioning why we went to Iraq when the real source of radical fundamentalism is Saudi Arabia (partnered with Egypt and Yemen). Andrew gets two good points, and another reader gets one more, but I feel there are a few missing, ones that might answer the questions asked by our Bangladeshi friend, and so I, too, will revisit the topic in, hopefully, a clearer way.

1. Potential Threat Posed by Iraqi WMD. Andrew, and most others, are spot on when they cite Iraq's suspected WMD as being of paramount importance in initiating the Iraqi campaign, although I differ in opinion if this premise has been as convincingly disproved as he seems to feel. As I have said before, no amount of revisionism will change the fact that everyone with an official opinion felt that Iraq posessed both proscribed weapons and programs to make more and better weapons. Likewise, Iraqi intent with regard to WMD had been demonstrated to be offensive. This is key in light of my reason #2.

2. Iraqi Cooperation With and Support of Terrorists. While many detractors of the Iraqi campaign adhere to the mantra "Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11" there is noone informed that can convincingly argue he had nothing to do with terrorist or terrorism. The presenece of training camps for Ansar al-Islam and the Salmon Pak training camp (including aircraft fuselage for hijack training) are just two undeniable physical representations of this. Material support of Hammas suicide bombers, Abu Nidal and other notorious terrorists and terrorist leaders is well documented and, in some cases, was even bragged about. While not directly impicated in 9/11 attackes, there is plenty of evidence of Iraqi contact with the al-Queda group. Now, couple the presumed WMD capability with Saddam's demonstrated petty minded vindictiveness (e.g. the tile of G.H.W. Bush in front of the Palestine Hotel, not to mention a few hit-men) and partnership with terrorists, and who would not think he would take any opportunity that afforded plausible deniability to use surrogates in his vengence? Additionally, removal of the Ba'ath government has dried up another source of financial support for terrorism, really one of the most important and least publicized fronts in the War.

3. Humanitarian Case. Andrew gets this right, but only from a compassionate liberal perspective. Freeing the Iraqis was absolutely the right thing to do. But not just because of human rights benefits to mankind as a whole, but it was justified in terms of cost to coalition nations because it serves the greater goal of protecting civilization. Prosperous, free nations do not engage in petty wars because they are too busy working for and enjoying their prosperity. One reason Radical Islam has no problem recruiting people to fight against "Western Cilivilzation" is their lack of understanding about what Western Civilization really is. Granted, what we saw on 9/11, when men who had lived and worked in America for years still followed through with their plan means this is not the whole answer, but for many, how are you gonna keep them down on the farm once they've seen the big city?

4. Demonstrating American Resolve. This is what Andrew's reader touched on, but he went at it more from the angle of ensuring the credibility of the UNSC. I, however, feel that the Oil-for-Graft UNSCAM scandal will absolve any thinking man of accusing the UNSC of being credible. The credibility of the U.S., however, has already been of great importance in the GWOT. It was a perceived lack of credibility that, in large part, emboldened al_Queda to undertake the 9/11 attacks. It was imperative that we demonstrate the error of that thinking as strongly as possible. In Iraq we were offered an avowed hostile that failed to meet its international commitments and tried to face down American resolve. It would have been impossible to continue prosecuting the GWOT with any degree of success and cooperation had we not demontrated that we meant what we said. Other countries have apparently taken note, to the benefit of the GWOT.

5. Cultivating a Regional Ally. I feel this is the most important long-term reason for the Iraqi campaign. We need real allies in the region as well as a regional base of operations. Who are the main supporters of global terrorism? Iran, Syria and, of course, Saudi Arabia. Now look at a map and tell me what's smack-dab in the middle of them all? Iraq. It is the perfect geographic location from which to base our operations and affords the best flexibility, allowing humanitarian action, political action, unconventional action or, if called for, conventional military action. Not only that, but Iraqis are intelligent, well edudated by regional standards and the country possesses natural resources, all key in a comparatively rapid rise to proserity and national reconstruction. Add in broad cultural contacts with all major groups in the region (Kurds, Shiia, Arabs) and a largely appreciative population and Iraqis may well end up being one of the most important allies we will ever have in the GWOT. This is where the Abu Ghraid incident concerns me, but a lot of what I've been reading indicates that the process by which the incident has become public and the open accountability for the actions seem to be more important in the long-term than the abuses themselves. I hope so.

So, my Bangledeshi friend, I don't think anyone has forgotten your Sauds or Egyptians or Yemeni. But to eat an elephant one must take many bites. And if you want to bite the head you had better first eat the legs or bring a ladder. I believe Iraq is our ladder.

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