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Media war (continued)

Mondayís Washington Post carried a shocking front-page story by Karl Vick on the outbreak of violence in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq where tensions run high between native Kurds and Arabs who were imported by Saddam Hussein to establish his regimeís dominance in the region. It was in Mosul that Saddamís sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed by US forces in July 2003. In a reminder of the grotesque anti-Semitism that lies just beneath the surface in many Arab and Muslim societies, Vick wrote of an attack on an armored SUV last Thursday: "Witnesses said that after its Western passengers were chased into a police station, the driver was burned alive atop the vehicle as the attackers shouted ĎJew!í The city of 1.8 million people then devolved into chaos. Thousands of police officers abandoned their precinct houses. The governorís house was set alight. Insurgents took the police chiefís brother, himself a senior officer, into his front yard and shot him dead."

The deterioration is so marked that even the conservative Washington Times is having a hard time spinning events in favor of the White House. For instance, on Tuesday, Rowan Scarborough reported the Pentagonís assessment that "the anti-coalition will last for years, although not at the current level where it musters 100 attacks per day" ó an improvement, to be sure, but not exactly the sweets and flowers that Ahmad Chalabi had promised.

And in what struck me more as a temper tantrum than a serious piece of commentary, a former military official named Martin L. Fackler wrote in the Washington Times last Friday that just as the US "lost" Vietnam "by the treason of our news media," so, too, may it be losing the war in Iraq by emphasizing negative news. "The American people need to ponder, long and seriously, the consequences of freedom of the press unfettered by responsibility, accountability or rational perspective ó the freedom of the press to commit treason. We could afford to lose the Vietnam conflict. We cannot afford to lose the war on terror."

Thus in the conservative mind does the momentary need to prosecute a tragically unnecessary war take precedence over the First Amendment.

EVEN THOUGH American newspaper reporting has evolved considerably in recent decades, it still adheres to the "five Wís" of journalism ó who, what, when, where, and why ó to a much greater extent than do its European counterparts. So, for some perspective, I turned to the British press. The liberal Guardian and the conservative Daily Telegraph were unexpectedly flat on Monday. Not so the liberal Independent and Rupert Murdochís Times.

The Independent assembled a uniformly dour package on Fallujah. Here, for instance, is the lead of a piece by Andreas Whittam Smith: "In a narrow, almost meaningless sense, American troops have won the battle of Fallujah. But in so doing they have proved beyond doubt that they cannot win the war in Iraq." And beneath the headline A CITY LIES IN RUINS, ALONG WITH THE LIVES OF THE WRETCHED SURVIVORS, Michael Georgy and Kim Sengupta reported: "A drive through the city revealed a picture of utter destruction, with concrete houses flattened, mosques in ruins, telegraph poles down, power and phone lines hanging slack and rubble and human remains littering the empty streets. The north-west Jolan district, once an insurgent stronghold, looked like a ghost town, the only sound the rumbling of tank tracks."

Of course, the Independentís baleful take is somewhat to be expected. So perhaps of more significance is the downbeat assessment in the Times of that paperís former editor, William Rees-Mogg, who on Monday compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler ó and then backed away. "Hitler was out of Saddam Husseinís class in every respect," Rees-Mogg wrote. "Hitler was a genius of evil; Saddam is a relative mediocrity. Hitler aimed at world power, and fought a world war to achieve his ambition. Saddam was a local tyrant, though both aggressive and genocidal. The world had no reasonable choice but to defeat Hitler.... Both the original decision to invade Iraq and the justifications that were used will always be matters for historic debate; my own support for the action at that time is now a minority view in Britain."

Ah, but what about the French? Unfortunately, I canít read the language. However, Le Monde publishes a separate edition, Le Monde diplomatique, that you can get in English every month on the Web. In the September issue, Alain Gresh wrote an essay that attempted to explain why Iraqis detest both Saddam Hussein and the Americans, and that placed it all in a historical context. How French is that? "Iraqis are happy to be rid of a loathsome dictatorship and free of the sanctions that for 13 years drained the life out of Iraq," Gresh wrote. "All they want now is a better life, freedom and independence. But the reality is that no promises made about postwar reconstruction have been kept.... Iraqis have no interest in living under an occupation that they suspect of being interested only in oil and regional strategic domination. The days of colonialism are over. The 1920 revolt against the British has been celebrated in Iraq over the decades and has as strong a hold on the popular imagination as the Resistance and the Liberation have in France."

But enough of theory. "News Dissector" Danny Schechterís weblog on Monday led me to the most human cry Iíve encountered about the battle of Fallujah. Schechter pointed to "Baghdad Burning," a blog by Riverbend, a young Iraqi woman. On Saturday she wrote: "They say the people have nothing to eat. No produce is going into the city and the water has been cut off for days and days. Do you know what itís like to have no clean water??? People are drinking contaminated water and coming down with diarrhoea and other diseases. There are corpses in the street because no one can risk leaving their home to bury people. Families are burying children and parents in the gardens of their homes. WHERE IS EVERYONE??? . . . Iraqis will never forgive this ó never. Itís outrageous ó itís genocide and America, with the help and support of Allawi, is responsible. May whoever contributes to this see the sorrow, terror and misery of the people suffering in Falloojeh."

This is horrifying on two levels: the suffering that Riverbend documents, and the sentiment behind it ó which doesnít exactly auger well for the Bush administrationís hopes of eventual success in Iraq. On November 9, the conservative, pro-war National Review published an editorial grumpily endorsing what it saw as the White Houseís long-overdue assault on Fallujah. "Crushing the Fallujah rebellion will, the administration and Allawi hope, allow moderate Sunnis to be able to participate in the political process without intimidation. That process is in better shape than is widely acknowledged." If only it were true.

The impression is unavoidable that the Americans decided to invade Fallujah because the options are so few, and because Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. couldnít think of anything better to do. But by destroying Iraq in order to save it, they are destroying the lives of real people ó and eventually, as with Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Robert McNamara, themselves.

page 2 

Issue Date: November 19 - 25, 2004
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