Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

It must be the crossword

In their now famous apology for their reporting in the lead up to and early stages of the war, published 26 May 2004, the NY Times’s Editors confess, ‘we have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been’. Not much of an apology really, especially when hedged with ‘we found an enormous amount of journalism that we are proud of. In most cases, what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time’, as if they had never heard of Scott Ritter, or Hans Blix, for that matter. The fact is, the Times one of the world’s most prestigious papers, ‘the newspaper of record’, featured article after article, particularly, but not only, those by Judith Miller, effectively promoting Ahmed Chalabi’s agenda to get the US to invade Iraq. There was probably no single agency putting forward the neocons’ agenda for ‘regime change’ in Iraq more enthusiastically than the NYT. And yet their agenda was no secret. The Project for a New American Century was articulating it quite clearly from its inception in 1997. In the notorious 26 January 1998 letter to Clinton, John Bolton, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and James Woolsey, among others, wrote,

We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration's attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam's regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.

We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country.

It’s all there – regime change, WMD, ‘preemptive strikes’, ignore the UN… - for the Times to have known about and borne in mind when they were fact checking Miller’s contributions. But it seems they were asleep at the wheel. Either that or they were really on the PNAC bandwagon and didn’t want to exercise the kind of journalistic professionalism that war hysteria calls for.

You’d think they’d be embarrassed about their failure, and about their grudging apology, as if even a sincere apology could compensate for the damage they’ve done. But no.

In yesterday’s editorial, ‘Picking Up the Pieces’, they write,

It was surreal how disconnected President Bush was the other night, both from Iraq’s horrifying reality and America’s anguish over this unnecessary, mismanaged and now unwinnable war.

What’s really surreal is a few paragraphs later where they claim, ‘we opposed Mr. Bush’s invasion’! It’s as if they think readers have already forgotten the shameful role they played. But that’s not all they believe we’ve forgotten. They criticize Bush for

…sending some 20,000 additional troops in an attempt to impose peace on Baghdad’s vengeful streets. He proposes to do that without any enforceable commitments from the Iraqi government that it will take the necessary political steps that are the only hope for tamping down a spiraling civil war.

Do they really think we’re that stupid? Countries do not send troops to impose peace, for crying out loud, their function is to impose war. And the quisling ‘Iraqi government’ is supposed to take some steps, when it is the US occupation that calls every move. Bush, they claim,

would mortgage thousands more American lives and what remains of Washington’s credibility in the region to a destructively sectarian Shiite government that he seems unwilling or unable to influence or restrain.

It goes without saying that American lives are the issue. The economic conscripts that populate the US Armed Forces do not deserve the fate that Bush and the neocons, in league with the Editors of the Times, have sent them to. But death and injury are widely accepted occupational hazards in their job. Granted, the military ought to have more rigorous health and safety standards, but the 655,000 Iraqis by and large just happened to be in the way.

And where did this credibility come from? The US has done nothing but swagger and throw its weight around the Middle East at least since they overthrew Mossadegh in 1953 and installed the bloodthirsty Shah. They’ve supported, well, not every brutal dictator in the region, but apart from Nasser and the Assads, just about. Certainly not excluding Saddam himself. And then there’s the little issue of that Jewish and Democratic State sitting there – the ‘rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism’, as Herzl put it. Whatever anyone thinks about Israel and whatever anyone thinks about Walt and Mearscheimer, there’s no disputing that US support for Israel, no matter what they’ve done to the Palestinians, over the last six decades has not won the US any ‘credibility in the region’.

And here’s that pesky sectarian government again, completely out of control. It’s as if ‘we’ squandered all those American lives for nothing. So ungrateful. I guess the Arabs really aren’t ready for the gift of democracy. Or could it be that ‘we’ are the ones who aren’t ready for them to exercise democracy. Just like we weren’t when the Iraqis chucked out Britain’s pet monarch in 1958. Yeah, everybody’s talking about Bremer’s big mistake, ‘deba’athification’. But nobody’s talking about the original ‘Ba’athification’, when ‘we’ couldn’t handle their democracy, just like ‘we’ couldn’t handle the Iranians’, or the Guatemalans’, or the Nicaraguans’, or the Haitians’... Anyhow, how can the most powerful country on earth expect to keep a bunch of Shi’ites in line with only 150,000 troops?

But even knowing all that, America cannot simply wash its hands of Iraq and go home. The region’s problems, many of them made worse by this war, are unavoidably America’s problems as well. For starters, Iraq is in imminent danger of violently breaking apart, driving millions of refugees across its borders — who will bring with them their ethnic grievances, and in some cases their weapons — and potentially unleashing a chain reaction of regional conflicts that could draw in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and perhaps others as well.

Imagine, the region’s problems actually exacerbated by war! Who would ever have expected that? After all, every other war has just been jolly. You know, I had an email responding to that piece I wrote about HRW the other day saying, ‘One has to wonder what human institution does have the moral authority to discuss human rights. Seems we need someone from another planet to take on that task!’. Well, it looks like we’ve found a candidate, because these editors sure don’t have any connection with Earth.

It was before the war that a lot of people were talking about a plan to break up Iraq. There was talk of a merger between the predoiminiantly Shi’ite oil rich south of Iraq and the oil rich Shi’ite regions of Saudi Arabia to form an oil rich Arab Shi’ite sheikhdom. Meanwhile, the oil rich Kurdish north would have the independence ‘we’ promised them in 1915 or so and the intransigent Sunnis could join Jordon, or just get nicked. Who cares, anyway – they wouldn’t have any oil? Wasn’t that the plan? Now they’ve gone all nostalgic about Iraqi unity.

Some of us are already concerned about the estimated two million refugees, and the nearly two million more estimated to be displaced within Iraq. We’re thinking about their welfare. Not the Editors. Much too subtle and discerning for that stuff, they’re worried about the guns.

It’s also a little late to start worrying about drawing in Turkey and Iran – I don’t know about Saudi Arabia. Just Friday, didn’t ‘we’ throw diplomatic protocol to the wind, along with the rest of the unlamented ‘quaint’ Geneva conventions, when ‘we’ invaded the Iranian consulate in Erbil? The justification for that was supposed to be precisely that Iran was already drawn in. As the Times itself reported on Saturday,

A recent series of American raids against Iranians in Iraq was authorized under an order that President Bush decided to issue several months ago to undertake a broad military offensive against Iranian operatives in the country, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

As for Turkey, also on Friday, Reuters reported,

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday reaffirmed Turkey's right to send troops into Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels there and chided U.S. officials for questioning it.

"The Turkish Republic will do whatever is necessary to combat the terrorists when the time comes, but it will not announce its plans in advance," Erdogan told a news conference after a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

In any case, as far as I’m aware, Turkish troops have been crossing the border with impunity all along, anyway.

I’m afraid it doesn’t end there.

The expanding power of a revolutionary, Shiite Iran is profoundly unsettling to the conservative Sunni-led governments in most of the Arab Middle East, which have been America’s traditional allies in the region. If the United States is to recoup any of its standing and influence there, it will have to find a way to contain the chaos in Iraq. And it will have to do a lot more to address other concerns of these governments and their people, starting with a genuine and sustained effort to mediate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

America’s traditional allies’, you know, those nice Arabs. The ones with the neatly trimmed goatees and the long white gowns and veil things with the rope around their heads. Kind of like angels. The ones who have those moderate democratic countries, where women don’t have to vote, or even drive, and they chop your hands off if you steal stuff.

Another thing I’m planning to return to, probably in a separate post, is Israel and the Palestinians. Suffice it to say at this point that the Editors must be on something awful powerful if they think the US can pretend that it is some kind of impartial arbiter to ‘mediate’ between those squabbling children. Or maybe not. They got away with it in Angola.

And so long as any American troops remain in Iraq, Mr. Bush must put serious pressure on Mr. Maliki to support the troops’ efforts with a genuine program of national reconciliation. That must include, at a minimum, ridding the police and other security services of killers, torturers and criminals and disarming all sectarian militias.

‘Disarm those militias!’ Now where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, it was Mr Sharon laying down conditions for the ‘government’ of Palestine, that country that only exists in the future.

And check this out – the comrades down at the Times put in a lot of work on this editorial,

The government must also assure that Iraqi oil revenues are fairly shared out among the entire Iraqi population.

I was surprised, too. I had no idea those guys were socialists. Or could it have been a slip of the keyboard? It’s not often they saying anything that makes any sense. But wait a second. That doesn’t make sense either. Didn’t that ‘government’ just pass some kind of decree giving all the oil revenues to foreign oil companies?

Its provisions are a radical departure from the norm for developing countries: under a system known as "production-sharing agreements", or PSAs, oil majors such as BP and Shell in Britain, and Exxon and Chevron in the US, would be able to sign deals of up to 30 years to extract Iraq's oil… Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's number one and two oil exporters, both tightly control their industries through state-owned companies with no appreciable foreign collaboration, as do most members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Opec.

That’s right, even those nice, moderate, traditional American allies in Saudi Arabia won’t give the oil giants the amount of control the democratic government of Iraq have decided to, entirely of their own free will, even if, according to today’s Independent, ‘the US government has been involved in drawing up the law’.

It’s kind of funny that the Times can write of a sovereign government of Iraq while stipulating a whole range of conditions that the US government must lay down for that government to comply with, or else.

…These benchmarks should be accompanied by fixed timelines. And they must be accompanied with a clear message that the United States is prepared to withdraw its troops if the Iraqis continue to refuse to take responsibility for their own future.

Withdraw the troops! Oh, no! After all the wonderful things they’ve done for the Iraqi people, like the big cull. I’m confident the sectarian Shi’ite government will come to heel when faced with a threat like that.

Sometimes I wonder what keeps people buying the NY Times when they seem so intent on insulting their readers with blatant, transparent bullshit, day after day. I guess it must be the crossword puzzle.

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