Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 25, 2003
WAR: 'Confusing News With Wishful Thinking'
For those of us who supported the war against Iraq, there were four types of reasons for war - Tactical, Strategic, Humanitarian, and Legal.
The Tactical reasons were the most pressing: get weapons out of Saddam's hands and prevent him from sharing them with terrorists. It has been somewhat surprising how long (and with how many false alarms) it has taken to gather evidence of those weapons and terrorist contacts; it is yet possible that Saddam actually did destroy them (yet oburately refused to share the evidence of that destruction with us), and there is also the worrisome possibility that he disposed of them. The capture of Farouk Hijzai, long identified as a critical link between Saddam's regime and international terrorists, will hopefully provide useful information about all this.
The Humanitarian case has now been totally vindicated, although it was never, by itself, a sufficient case for war. The Legal case was in some ways tied in to the tactical case, although I still believe that we were justified in using force to remedy repeated violations of the terms on which we ended the last war.
But the Strategic case was always, to me, the most important: the need to put an end to 'business as usual' in the Middle East, with business including the acceptance of terrorism as a routine tool of foreign policy and the incitement of hatred against the U.S.
Steven Den Beste, one of the most eloquent proponents of the grand strategy, is declaring a partial victory. More evidence now comes from this April 26 editorial in the Saudi-based Arab News, long a bastion of anti-American and anti-Israel conventional wisdom in the region:
Editorial: ‘It’s All Israel’s Fault!’
As the dust settles over Iraq and the cacophony of excited voices on our television screens dies down, the Arab world has begun to stir from the confusion into which the swift fall of Baghdad had thrown it, to take a good look at itself and take stock.
The political repercussions, as ever in the Arab world, are not easy to ascertain, but the fallout for the media is all too evident. To put it bluntly: A great many journalists and media outlets have been left with egg on their face. From accepting the wild claims of Iraqi minister of information Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf, to wildly predicting a jihad among the Iraqi people, very little the Arab media speculated on had when push came to shove anything to do with reality.
* * *
During the war, everyone in the Arab world agreed that US news networks such as Fox TV and CNN had dangerously — and not infrequently ridiculously — confused patriotism with reportage; and they were right. After the war, however, most Arabs have come to recognize that they were throwing stones while sitting in glass houses.
In the Arab media, it wasn’t so much a question of confusing patriotism with reportage as confusing news with wishful thinking. In a word, what was lacking was objectivity and critical self-analysis.
This, of course, is nothing new. For decades it has been difficult to find anything in the opinion pages of the Arabic language press that did not concern Israel. Every problem faced by Arab societies was blamed, in however obscure or far-fetched a way, on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. The issue served as a sort of lowest common denominator, satisfying many journalists who were not equipped to write about anything else as well as many of those who rule the Arab world and who would prefer Israel — rather than their own shortcomings —to be the subject of heated discussion in the “Arab street.”
* * *
The days when the Arab world could just scream “Israel”, as if that one word were sufficient answer to every question about every problem that came its way — as though saying that one word could deflect all further inquiry — are over. The time for peaceful coexistence, internal reflection and healthy, progressive thinking has now arrived.
To those of us who have accepted the big-picture Strategic case for regional reform, this sort of reaction is beyond what we had hoped from the first war in the Arab heartland. To the Arab world, Afghanistan is like the Balkans to Europeans: a crazy outpost on the frontier. Iraq is like France (no snickering). Its occupation is traumatic, and is apparently seen as a radical break of a sort that the war against the Taliban was not. We in the West saw nothing revolutionary in the idea that the U.S. military would swiftly crush any opposition, but we have been exposed to reality; readers of the Arab media have not, and they have reacted with shock and shame.
The fact that even the Arab News is treating anti-Israel rhetoric with scorn (not recanting it, granted, but recognizing it as a diversion from the larger issues) - that is more progress than money alone could ever buy.
And, in Glenn Reynolds' wonderful phrase, the Arab News "doesn't look neoconish."