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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

A terrifying look at the roots of terror. The cover story of tomorrow's New York Times Magazine is an adaptation from Paul Berman's new book, Terror and Liberalism. And it is terrifying. Berman examines the life and work of Sayyid Qutb, an early Islamist extremist, who was executed by the regime of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966.

According to Berman, Qutb is slightly known in Western circles as a writer who inspired Al Qaeda. But his best-known work in the West, Milestones, is "shallow," Berman writes. What really inspires terrorists is a 15-volume work he produced mainly in prison, under horrific conditions, called In the Shade of the Qur'an.

Berman's essay is long and detailed, and defies neat summary. Read it. Qutb loathed the Jews, and blamed the Christians for the 2000-year-old theological mistake of separating the secular from the sacred, a "hideous schizophrenia" that harks back to Jesus' telling his followers to render unto Caesar that which was Caesar's -- almost certainly a misquote, in Qutb's view.

Worse, the Christians later exported their notions of the separation between the worldly and spiritual realms back to the Muslim world -- particularly Turkey, a non-Arab country that nevertheless was the seat of the seventh-century Islamic caliphate for which Qutb and his followers so yearn.

Not-so-fun fact: Qutb's brother, who held similar views, taught theology to a young Osama bin Laden.

Qutb favored a society that practiced a particularly harsh form of Shariah, or Islamic law, and stressed martyrdom, a message that gained particular resonance after his execution. He would have loved the Taliban.

"He opposed the United States because it was a liberal society, not because the United States failed to be a liberal society," Berman writes. Later, he adds: "Qutb gave these people [Islamist radicals] a reason to yearn for death. Wisdom, piety, death and immortality are, in his vision of the world, the same. For a pious life is a life of struggle or jihad for Islam, and struggle means martyrdom. We may think: those are creepy ideas. And yes, the ideas are creepy. But there is, in Qutb's presentation, a weird allure in those ideas."

And this is an extraordinarily creepy article.

posted at 10:12 PM | link

Death from above. A conservative critic of Media Log who goes by the name of Yee Haw thinks my item on Donald Rumsfeld's briefing yesterday suggests I was being critical of the Bush administration for not unleashing "shock and awe" earlier.

Yee: "Are you going to sit there and tell me you're going to second guess these guys on tactics? C'mon, Dan.  You're going to criticize them on trying to keep as many Iraqis alive as possible? Because there's a delay in how quickly the Iraqis are surrendering, this is somehow going to be a political problem for Bush?"

Wow. I hope Yee was the only reader who misinterpeted me that badly. For the sake of argument, I'll assume I wasn't clear enough, so I'll try again:

There would be no need for shock and awe if we hadn't launched this war in the first place.

Clear enough?

Having said that, we are at war, and everyone hopes it can be wrapped up as quickly, and with as little loss of life, as possible.

I'm glad that Rumsfeld and George W. Bush held off on the massive bombing. My only point is that, by raising expectations that shock and awe might not be needed after all, the effect on worldwide opinion is going to be even more damaging than if they had simply opened the war with it, as everyone had predicted they would.

posted at 2:37 PM | link

Why Colin Powell shouldn't resign. New York Times columnist Bill Keller has called on Secretary of State Colin Powell to resign. Keller is a former managing editor of the Times and a legitimate bigfoot.

The first time I read Keller's column, I thought it was brilliant and right on the money. The second time -- no less brilliant, but ultimately wrong-headed. Keller seems overly concerned about Powell's ability to maintain his own personal credibility. He should be more concerned about the country.

Keller's take, which I'm oversimplifying, is that George W. Bush has rejected Powell's internationalist, multilateralist approach, and that Powell is essentially fighting a rear-guard action, occasionally slowing Bush down and ameliorating his and his hawkish advisers' worst instincts but not really changing the ultimate outcome in any significant way. Keller writes of Powell:

His formidable skills have been too much engaged in a kind of guerrilla war for the soul of the president, and it has shown. Critics in the administration and colleagues on this page have unfavorably compared his performance in the buildup to war with James Baker's whirlwind of global coalition-building before the gulf war in 1991. But Mr. Baker was operating as his president's right arm; Mr. Powell was busy protecting his right flank.

True enough. But here's the money graf, and, if you look closely, you'll see more reasons for Powell's staying than going:

I can't count the number of times in the past two years I've heard -- occasionally from my own lips -- the observation that the Bush administration would be a much scarier outfit without Colin Powell. Allied diplomats, international businessmen and the American foreign policy mainstream have regarded him as the lone grown-up in an administration with a teenager's twitchy metabolism and self-centered view of the world. He was the one who acknowledged that other countries had legitimate interests, and that in the application of America's unmatched power there was a case for generosity because what goes around comes around. His pragmatic caution offset a moralism that sometimes verged on recklessness. If others, including the president, seemed given to hype and swagger, Mr. Powell's word seemed bankable -- at least until the White House began misspending his credibility in its rush to the war that couldn't wait.

Okay, so it's been an ugly time for Powell, and he's losing some of his hard-won credibility. But is that a reason to resign? Powell is well into his 60s; the next step is semi-retirement, probably in academia. I'd rather have him keep playing the lone "grown-up" role for as long as he can stand it.

Imagine Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Paul Wolfowitz surveying the scene after they've finished destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein. As they look out at other trouble spots -- North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria, Iran -- they are going to be feeling very, very sure of themselves, full of smugness and vindication after having triumphed over their critics.

Now ask yourself this: do you not want Colin Powell in the room with them?

posted at 2:26 PM | link

Hazardous duty. Boston Globe reporter Brian MacQuarrie, who's embedded with an Army unit, almost bought the farm yesterday. His harrowing account is online here.

posted at 2:25 PM | link

Gitell on the Turks and the Kurds. The Phoenix's Seth Gitell writes to Media Log:

I think the focus the left has placed at merely protesting the war has robbed the country of an important moral voice right now. Turkey has currently placed at least 1000 troops into Northern Iraq. Pentagon spokesmen from Myers to Franks have minimized the danger posed by the Turkish Army in this region and have expressed little interest in the issue. But the Turks directly imperil the people who have been most victimized by Saddam, the Kurds of the North.

Because so much of the antiwar sentiment has done everything to ignore Saddam's humanitarian depravities in the North, you don't see any moral voices making the case on behalf of the Kurds in any of the antiwar protests on the street. To me, allowing the Kurds, who have managed to govern themselves for the last 12 years, to fall under the occupation of the Turks -- especially with the help they have given us in the effort against Saddam -- would be an unbelievable outrage.

That's something people should be protesting about. Unlike the question of war versus peace, it's probably a question that protesters could have some impact on.

posted at 2:25 PM | link

Friday, March 21, 2003

Rumsfeld's -- and Bush's -- dilemma. It's hard to tell when things aren't going well for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, because he's so peevish and arrogant even on a good day. But at his news conference today, it seemed pretty clear that things aren't going the way he would have liked.

What's becoming increasingly obvious is that the White House and the Pentagon are striving mightily to avoid unleashing the full force of their "shock and awe" campaign, and that they're frustrated over the Iraqi leadership's refusal to behave in a way that, in the US view, is rational.

"Apparently what we have done thus far has not been sufficiently persuasive," Rumsfeld said at this afternoon's briefing. He listed a series of intermittent steps that could have brought about the desired result: the 48-hour ultimatum that President Bush delivered on Monday evening; the bombing of a leadership compound Wednesday night; the start of the ground campaign Thursday night; and, earlier today, what might be called "shock and awe lite" -- an intense bombardment of Bagdhad that lasted for a limited time.

One questioner noted that the ground troops seem to be moving through Iraq almost unimpeded. Given that, he asked, wouldn't the US be seen as a "bully" if it unleashed its full might on Bagdhad? Rumsfeld bristled. "It would be a misunderstanding of everything that has taken place," he said. Earlier, he spoke of the "humane" effort that would be made to spare civilians when the heavy bombing begins. Well, fine. But it was a good question.

It appears that Bush and Rumsfeld may have created a dilemma for themselves. Having chosen to open the war slowly, without "shock and awe," they raised hopes that massive destruction and killing would be avoided. Now they may end up doing it anyway, thus bringing yet another round of international condemnation on themselves.

If they'd done it at the beginning, as everyone assumed they would, they'd have taken the hit, it would be over with, and they could move on. But having created the perception that "shock and awe" had been called off, they're going to make it that much worse for themselves when -- if -- they unleash it.

posted at 2:57 PM | link

The return of the white man's burden. Daniel Kruger, writing in the Spectator, makes the case against this war more effectively than just about anyone else I've seen. Too bad for him that he's in favor of it.

Imperialism is good, Kruger argues, because the savages need to be civilized, no less today than in the 19th century. (Link via Arts & Letters Daily.)

posted at 12:06 PM | link

The wrong way to do the right thing. The dilemma that many liberals -- including Media Log -- find ourselves in is that we oppose George W. Bush's arrogant, unilateralist approach, fear the long-term consequences of his pre-emptive war, and yet understand how vital it is that the horrors and depredations of Saddam's regime at long last be brought to an end.

Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, a moderate liberal, gets at that this morning:

But criticizing the diplomatic process that has led us to war is quite different from questioning the ultimate moral righteousness of this war. For all the predictable animadversions directed America's way, for all the accusations of unilateralism, of illegality, this is not an unjust war. Regardless of how one feels about this administration, there can be little dispute on this point: The end of Saddam's dictatorship will be an immense blessing to the average Iraqi.

And in a piece for the Weekly Standard's website, Jonathan Last -- a prowar conservative -- praises the media for "the fact that most Iraqis are eager to have Saddam Hussein removed is finally seeping into the mainstream."

posted at 8:11 AM | link

Hypocrisy and dissent. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne weighs in this morning on the importance of dissent in time of war. He also takes note of the hypocrisy of Republicans who all but accused Senate minority leader Tom Daschle of treason this week, yet who savagely went after Bill Clinton when he commenced military action in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999.

Dionne writes:

[T]he more a president's supporters use the term "commander in chief" to enhance his authority, the more important it is to remember his role as the political leader of a free republic who is not endowed with infallibility, unlimited power or immunity from criticism. That, after all, is the essential difference between our country and Iraq.

posted at 8:00 AM | link

Coalition blues. Given the Bush administration's unilateralist bent, it did well to find 33 countries openly willing to support the US invasion. But as the Wall Street Journal notes this morning, it's not much of a coalition: Britain is contributing major military support, Spain and Australia a bit, and that's about the extent of it. One coalition member, Iceland, doesn't even have a military. (No link; subscribers only.)

Christopher Cooper and Mark Maremont report:

With the missiles flying and fighting under way, officers at Central Command in Qatar are careful to refer to every military operation as a coalition undertaking. But in truth, most of the missiles rocking Baghdad, tanks rumbling across the border or soldiers girding for battle are almost certain to be American.

Of course, this is one of those facts that means whatever you want. If you're antiwar, it's evidence that what the US is doing is deeply wrong. If you're with the White House, then this can be cited as support for the notion that only the US is willing to do the dirty work of keeping the country -- and the world -- safe.

What's sure is that this is nothing like the Gulf War coalition of 1991.

posted at 7:51 AM | link

Hans Blix: Kicking ass and taking names. Click here for photo (link good today only).

posted at 7:32 AM | link

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Saddam is dead. Or maybe not. The Washington Post is running a great story tomorrow that is no less fascinating for the fact that it doesn't answer a single damn question.

To wit: US officials are convinced that Saddam Hussein was in the bunker when the cruise missiles hit on Wednesday night. Some are privately exultant that he's dead. Some think he got away. He made several videotapes before the attack so that they could be released after his death or injury to make it look like he's still alive. And the coolest touch: his ex-girlfriend is convinced that the guy on the tape isn't Saddam.

Three bylines plus two contributing reporters equal no answers. But I love this story anyway.

posted at 11:01 PM | link

Treason alert! Sean Hannity's got something to talk about tonight, provided he can find an intern to read him Michael Kinsley's latest for Slate. Kinsley dares to question the vast power that George W. Bush has arrogated unto himself in waging war against Iraq. Our commander-in-chief! (Don't cry, Sean; your make-up will run.)

Kinsley's piece has the additional virtue of being true, as geriatric war criminal Henry Kissinger used to say. Thus Kinsley has given us what we are unlikely to see on network television until, say, six months into the occupation: a good old-fashioned righteous attack on our only president in a time of war. Good for Kinsley.

Here's the wind-up:

Bush is asserting the right of the United States to attack any country that may be a threat to it in five years. And the right of the United States to evaluate that risk and respond in its sole discretion. And the right of the president to make that decision on behalf of the United States in his sole discretion. In short, the president can start a war against anyone at any time, and no one has the right to stop him. And presumably other nations and future presidents have that same right. All formal constraints on war-making are officially defunct....

In terms of the power he now claims, without significant challenge, George W. Bush is now the closest thing in a long time to dictator of the world.

The Supreme Court must be very proud indeed.

posted at 7:27 PM | link

Troops on the move. Media Log is stuck with dial-up at the moment, as our DSL connection has unexpectedly gone on the fritz. We have no information at this time to suggest that Iraqi operatives may be responsible for this tragic return to the 56K Internet speed of the late '90s.

Just finished watching World News Tonight on ABC. What's going on right now is fascinating, if ultimately impossible to sort out until later. It appears that American and British troops are now pouring into Iraq and heading to Bagdhad without the two-day, massive "shock and awe" bombardment that we've all been hearing about these past few weeks.

Was "shock and awe" disinformation? Did military plans change? General George Joulwan, one of those retired military types who's advising ABC News, told anchor Peter Jennings that it appears last night's raid on Bagdhad -- reportedly aimed at killing Saddam Hussein -- has forced a change.

Because of the raid, Iraq retaliated today, shooting missiles ineffectively at the troops in Kuwait. And because of the missile attacks, the commanders decided to start moving rather than let the troops be sitting ducks. At least that's Joulwan's theory.

The consequence, of course, could be that the US and Britain will take Bagdhad without wreaking the massive destruction that so many had feared. A much better outcome -- and possibly by accident.

posted at 7:26 PM | link

Sorting out the truth. has posted a piece called "Myths and Misconceptions About Iraq," which functions as kind of an urban-legends debunker. Were those aluminum tubes intended to produce nuclear weapons? No, not according to the best evidence available. Is this a unilateral war? Not with 30 partners supporting the United States. Something for everyone, in other words, all of it well-researched.

posted at 1:57 PM | link

Flushing Saddam out. Joe Conason offers a fascinating theory in Salon -- that the US's claims that Saddam Hussein might have died in last night's raid may in fact be part of a ruse aimed at getting him to show his face.

"With intelligence units and special forces on the hunt," Conason writes, "the best and only way to find him may be to force him to end his radio silence and communicate. Surveillance of the Iraqi information ministry and broadcasting facilities could, in theory, allow a trace to wherever Saddam is holed up."

Then again, Saddam might really be dead, as Salon's Jake Tapper reports.

posted at 1:33 PM | link

Winning without (much) war? The extent to which the White House and the Pentagon are trying to topple Saddam Hussein's regime without escalating to all-out war is surprising and heartening. At this morning's Pentagon briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's main emphasis was on how Iraqi soldiers and officials could surrender without fear of reprisal.

Just one example: "Iraqi officers and soldiers must ask themselves if they want to die fighting for a doomed regime."

What really struck me, though, took place as the news conference was drawing to a close. Earlier, Rumsfeld had been asked what kind of evidence he had that the call for Iraqis to abandon the regime was working. "Good evidence," he replied with his characteristic sneer.

Just before leaving, though, he returned to the question, acknowledged he hadn't done a good job of answering it, and offered a several-minutes-long soliloquy -- of how Iraqis can't resist when they're under constant threat of arrest, torture, and execution, but of how things may reach a "tipping point" at which a critical mass of the population understands that Saddam isn't going to survive. At that moment, Rumsfeld said, the regime may simply collapse of its own accord.

Needless to say, if the psy-ops strategy succeeds, it would be the best possible news.

posted at 12:08 PM | link

Stuck on one channel. News Dissector Danny Schechter compares television coverage of the first hours of the war to what it must be like in North Korea:

I have never seen North Korean TV but I have been told that all it offers is one unending commercial for the government featuring three channels locked in to the same programming. We had a dose of that last night as every channel locked on to the same stationery pictures of Baghdad and followed the same format, if not script.

He also cites a report by Jeff Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy, on the pernicious effects of the major networks reporting on the war at the same time that they are begging for deregulatory favors from the FCC, headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell's son. Says Chester:

While the absence of critical analysis, including dissenting voices, on TV news programs, for example, can be attributed to the narrow, commercial mind-set of the U.S. media, viewers and readers should also be aware that these news organizations also have a serious conflict of interest what it comes to reporting on the policies of the Bush Administration.

posted at 10:45 AM | link

Onward, ever onward. The quick and relatively painless victory we're all hoping for may have some truly ugly consequences, as the Boston Globe's Peter Canellos reports this morning. Canellos quotes Harvard foreign-policy expert Stanley Hoffman:

This is a very important moment, but not a reassuring one. If there is agreement in the administration on a wider plan, I think it's so wide as to be utopian.

I think after Iraq there'll be disagreement among the people who agreed on Iraq. Some will want to go into North Korea. Some will want to go into Iran ... but I'm not sure they have a game plan beyond Iraq.

On Tuesday, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recalled what "a British official close to the Bush team" told Newsweek last August: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran."

Nuke-bearing North Korea obviously needs to be dealt with -- preferably through the kind of one-on-one negotiations the White House has refused to engage in, as New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, Bill Clinton's UN ambassador, called for during an appearance on The O'Reilly Factor on Tuesday.

But the vision of war without end that some White House advisers seem to entertain is horrifying beyond belief.

posted at 9:46 AM | link

Reporting for duty. Slate warblogger William Saletan avoided court-martial, filing his first post-bombing dispatch at 12:15 a.m. EST -- 44 minutes after Media Log!

posted at 9:32 AM | link

Democracy through death. Josh Marshall, who writes the Talking Points Memo weblog and who is normally the most sensible of centrists, has written a truly bizarre little commentary for the Hill.

Marshall argues that US plans to democratize Iraq are likely to go astray because we're not willing to kill enough Iraqis to effect the kind of culture shift that's needed. The devastation we wreaked upon Germany and Japan in World War II, he writes, was a necessary precondition for the subsequent democratic transformation of those societies.

He continues:

Violence, death and destruction on such a massive scale have a profound conditioning effect on the psyches of individuals. And the same applies to whole nations. Japan and Germany weren't just "defeated" or "occupied," they were crushed -- not just their armies, but their civilian populations too. This led to a sort of national humiliation and a transformative willingness to embrace defeat and change.

Mind you, Marshall isn't in favor of destroying Iraq's civilian population in order to save it. ("If everything goes according to plan, the loss of civilian life in Iraq will be minimal. Certainly, we all hope so.") He just thinks that, absent such destruction, it's going to be pretty much impossible to accomplish the White House's long-term goals.

Here's where I think Marshall is wrong. Japan and Germany were infected by virulent nationalism. Their countries were composed almost entirely of true believers, with tiny resistance movements. Can you imagine Japanese or German soldiers surrendering without firing a shot, as thousands of Iraqi soldiers did during the Gulf War, and as many are already doing or trying to do as the latest conflict gets under way?

Marshall compares the people of Iraq to the citizens of Japan and Germany. A more apt comparison might be to Germany's Jews. Iraqis don't need to be reconditioned; just saved.

posted at 9:26 AM | link

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Saddam on a stick? I was hoping that when President Bush came on tonight, he'd be holding up a Polaroid with Saddam Hussein's head on a stick. No such luck. Maybe that quickie air raid at 9:45 p.m. got Saddam, but we likely won't know for hours, maybe days. It would be well worth it if it would avert a full-scale war.

William Saletan is blogging the war for Slate. Actually, he's supposed to be blogging, but is currently MIA. Bill! Wake up! The bombs are falling! Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer are standing on a rooftop! We all know what that means -- even if they are in Kuwait City, hundreds of miles away.

Take a look at the White House website. Yes, I know we're in a serious situation. But this is just over-the-top -- almost nothing but war messages and terror alerts. (Orange, Connie Chung's favorite color.) Bush comes off as the ruler of a national-security state rather than an elected (or whatever he was) president.

Here are his remarks from the Oval Office. The nut graf: "On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign."

This is it. Despite my misgivings, I'm hoping for the best. It's in all of our interests for the US and Britain to win quickly, with as few civilian casualties as possible, and to begin the work of rebuilding the long-suffering country of Iraq.

posted at 11:31 PM | link

Into the darkness. My piece for this week's Phoenix -- a mediacentric reflection on the pending war -- is now available on

posted at 7:47 PM | link

Liberation and the left. Edward Lempinen of Salon has written an impassioned and important essay to his fellow-travelers on the left on why they should support the invasion -- and liberation -- of Iraq. Lempinen makes a number of points that I would have thought were obvious, but I guess that's the difference between being a mainstream liberal (Media Log's political hangout) and a genuine leftist like Lempinen.

Here's one example of that difference. As Lempinen acknowledges, the left opposes this war on so-called principle, spouting -- if perhaps not quite believing -- that George W. Bush is no better than Saddam Hussein, or for that matter Adolf Hitler. Try to wrap your minds around the genuine offensiveness of that point of view.

What Lempinen leaves out is that most liberals who oppose the war -- like me -- do so mainly out of the fear that Bush's unprecedented feat of alienating the vast majority of international opinion will produce myriad nasty and unpredictable consequences down the line, not out of blanket opposition to the use of force. The French probably never could have been brought along, but a few more weeks, some tough benchmarks that Saddam would have had to comply with, and who knows? Maybe we could have done this as world heroes rather than international pariahs. But a leftist would never think that way.

Lempinen's main concern is the ongoing human-rights catastrophe in Iraq. Among leftists, he writes:

Such opposition to war is reflexive, and too often outweighs its outrage on behalf of the oppressed. Its capacity for the kind of muscular empathy that leads to action has atrophied, leaving only the possibility of reaction, of opposition. The antiwar left does not mount massive protests against China, Pakistan or Egypt. Millions do not pour into the streets on behalf of the student-led democracy movement in Iran. And Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are not angrily compared to Hitler -- that treatment is more often reserved for George W. Bush.


The implicit assumption of the post-Vietnam culture is that pacifism always holds the moral high ground. But in the Iraq conundrum, there is no high ground, no moral purity. If you argue for war, on humanitarian grounds, you are saying: We must risk thousands of casualties not only among soldiers, but among children and civilians, so that Saddam's weapons can be destroyed and his murderous system of repression can be dismantled. If you argue that war is to be avoided because of those potential casualties, then you are arguing that Saddam's system of repression -- the political murders, the torture chambers, the slow death of the soul that comes from living under such tyranny -- must be endured.

Not that our thoughts matter any more -- the deadline for Saddam and his sons will come in about 20 minutes -- but Lempinen articulates exactly why any thinking person's position on the war should be agonizing, subject to constant reflection, and open to change.

The only people who think this is an easy call are Bush and the right-wing ideologues egging him on -- and the leftists who'd rather march around with posters depicting Bush as Hitler than confront the terrible reality of Saddam's Iraq.

posted at 7:40 PM | link

Here's where your money went. Can't ignore all non-war news today -- especially when Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey is reporting that one-third of the state's 50 largest publicly traded companies paid the $456 minimum state tax for 2000, a year when money was still growing on trees. Read it and be angry.

Bailey notes that Governor Mitt Romney has shown some willingness to close corporate tax loopholes. Well, here's one big enough to serve as a fourth harbor tunnel.

posted at 12:47 PM | link

The Killing Fields revisited. Syndey Schanberg, the legendary former New York Times reporter whose coverage of the Cambodian holocaust was transformed into the 1984 film The Killing Fields, offers up his outrage in the Village Voice.

Schanberg runs through a list of US inconsistencies: its cozying-up to nuclear proliferator Pakistan, its studied indifference to North Korea's nuclear capabilities, its friendship with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, when he was no less evil than he is today.

Schanberg writes:

As for the instant question of Iraq, what would be so wrong if, instead of the all-out smash-and-destroy war the president and his people have planned, the U.S. and Britain simply began to ratchet up the small, quiet war that has been going on for quite a while. The air patrols in the northern and southern no-fly zones could be gradually enlarged until all of Iraq was blanketed with overhead surveillance that could spot and, when necessary, knock out clearly identified weapons installations. Economic sanctions could be tightened as well, with stiffer penalties against those selling contraband to Saddam Hussein.

True, this would not bring about a change of regime as swiftly as a blitzkrieg, but over time it would loosen Hussein's grip on power and make change possible.

Wise words, but too late. Seven hours and 18 minutes to go.

posted at 12:41 PM | link

The Herald's man on the scene. While Boston Globe (and New York Times) reporters will be appearing on CNN, the Boston Herald's Jules Crittenden has been writing an on-the-scene diary from Kuwait for the media website Crittenden also has a terrific dispatch in today's Herald on three young soldiers who were caught drunk in the desert -- a far more serious situation than they could have imagined back home, where the most pressing issue would have been finding a designated driver.

posted at 12:25 PM | link

Truth is the second casualty of war. The first is dissent. Senate minority leader Tom Daschle has been taking a pounding for his mild comments criticizing George W. Bush's failure to put together a broadbased international coalition to invade Iraq. Naturally, he's being called unpatriotic and worse by everyone from Ari Fleischer to the editorial page of the Sioux City Argus Leader, a leading daily in his home state of South Dakota.

Here is what Daschle actually said on Monday: "I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort so critical for our country." It's hard to believe such a common-sense utterance could even be considered controversial.

By far the nuttiest attack on Daschle I've run across is this short piece by Hugh Hewitt, a radio talk-show host who contributes little screeds to the Weekly Standard's website. Hewitt compares Daschle -- who voted in favor of the war resolution last fall and who hasn't changed his mind about that -- to the Hitler-appeasing Charles Lindbergh. The Lindy quote that Hewitt cites: "I do not want to see American bombers dropping bombs which will kill and mutilate European children, even if they are not flown by American pilots."

Thus does Hewitt conflate Daschle's sadness over having to go it alone in Iraq because of Bush's arrogance and Lindbergh's out-and-out support for Hitler, support that was so deep that he opposed Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to put weapons in the hands of our allies in the years before 1941. Ugly, ugly stuff.

posted at 12:10 PM | link

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

More on the WSJ's crackpot theories. David Appell's Quark Soup weblog has another (similar) take on the "spasmodic knot" into which the Wall Street Journal editorial page ties itself in attempting to link Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. I'm willing to give the Bushies the chance to prove this isn't about oil, but Appell makes some excellent points.

posted at 6:33 PM | link

A wacky new theory about Saddam and 9/11. The archconservative Wall Street Journal editorial page today argues in two pieces -- a column by Laurie Mylroie and an unsigned editorial -- that there is ample evidence tying Saddam Hussein's regime with the terrorists of Al Qaeda. Mylroie goes so far as to say that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed may have ties to Iraq, and may have even assumed the identity of someone killed in Kuwait during Iraq's brutal occupation 12 years ago.

This is hot stuff, obviously, but it smacks of sloppy piling-on. Ask yourself this: What is the one thing that George W. Bush could have done during the past year to win near-unanimous domestic support for a US invasion of Iraq? Answer: Show that Saddam had a direct (or even an indirect) link to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Bush never did it, although that didn't stop him from simply asserting it on numerous occasions despite an utter lack of evidence. Yet now we are to believe that the wingnuts of the Journal -- not even the paper's first-rate news reporters, but its alternate-universe opinion-mongers -- have, at long last, got the goods.

Of course, in the unlikely event that the Journal is right, then US intelligence is obviously too incompetent to be allowed to handle sharp objects, never mind plan the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

posted at 2:59 PM | link

Saddam in exile? It looks like I'm not the only person who thinks Saddam Hussein might take up George W. Bush's offer and go into exile. William Ury, director of the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard, writes in today's Christian Science Monitor that Saddam might actually screw -- particularly if he can delude himself into thinking his very survival constitutes a great "victory," and that he can spend days plotting his return. Let's hope. That is, let's hope he'll leave, not that he'll return. (Link via Jay Fitzgerald.)

posted at 10:55 AM | link

Stay tuned to Media Log. Over the next few days, as war draws closer and, in all likelihood, begins, I plan to post somewhat more frequently than usual. I'll still send out one e-mail every morning to those of you who've subscribed. But if you want to stay more up-to-the-minute, please check the Media Log website.

Adding value at a moment when every pundit and commentator in the world is weighing in on the same topic is a challenge. Although I'll certainly be pointing to some mainstream links, I'll try to pay special attention to worthwhile pieces you might have missed.

posted at 10:19 AM | link

Bush reconvinces the already-convinced. Boston University historian Robert Dallek got it just right in the post-speech analysis last night. "It was an effective speech, I thought, but of course it's not going to convert opponents who see lots and lots of questions that are going to come up in future days about this war," Dallek said on The NewsHour.

In other words, President Bush spoke with some eloquence to those who already support his pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, but offered nothing to those of us who can't understand why we need to thumb our nose at the international community -- especially at a moment when Saddam Hussein is (or was, until yesterday) thoroughly contained by inspectors, sanctions, and no-fly zones.

And kudos to The NewsHour for including in its scrum radical historian Howard Zinn, also of BU. Calling Bush's ultimatum "a shameful moment in American history," Zinn observed, "We are going to kill the victims of Saddam Hussein" in order to feed the White House's "grandiose ambitions for American power in the world."

Host Jim Lehrer also included two prowar voices, the Council on Foreign Relations' Walter Russell Mead (who wrote a truly compelling argument in favor of military action for the Washington Post last week) and diplomatic historian Diane Kunz.

This is a weird time of waiting. As I write this, Saddam has about 35 hours to get out of the country or face a US invasion. I may be alone in thinking he might actually leave. (Doesn't he know that he's about to die?)

The lead New York Times editorial today makes an excellent point: how difficult it's going to be for war critics to speak out once the invasion begins. At that point, support for our troops will be paramount, and anyone who dissents from the official line will be seen as unpatriotic, or worse. The Times says:

Once the fighting begins, every American will be thinking primarily of the safety of our troops, the success of their mission and the minimization of Iraqi civilian casualties. It will not feel like the right time for complaints about how America got to this point.

Today is the right time. This war crowns a period of terrible diplomatic failure, Washington's worst in at least a generation. The Bush administration now presides over unprecedented American military might. What it risks squandering is not America's power, but an essential part of its glory.

The Boston Globe's Robert Schlesinger and Bryan Bender today offer an optimistic spin on "Shock and Awe," the Pentagon's plan to bombard Bagdhad with a mind-bogglig assortment of missiles during the first several days of the war:

By using an unprecedented number of guided bombs, perhaps nine out of every 10 dropped in urban areas, the US military hopes to leave Iraqi civilians unharmed as Hussein's palaces and other military targets are eradicated.

The proof, of course, will be in its execution. Let's not forget that one of the plan's authors -- in an on-the-record interview -- openly compared "Shock and Awe" to Hiroshima.

The lefty website has an interesting article from Mark LeVine, a staunchly antiwar Middle East researcher, who articulates a possible dilemma for the antiwar movement: what are activists going to do if "the war is over quickly with relatively low U.S. casualties, some sort of mechanism for transitional rule is put in place, and President Bush and his policies gain unprecedented power and prestige"?

LeVine appears to think this would be bad. I think it would be the best of all possible outcomes, even though I shudder at the notion that Bush's arrogance would be reinforced and his re-election chances would be boosted. I also think the scenario that LeVine lays out is a likely one.

The danger to Bush's go-it-alone approach is not short-term. I have little doubt that in the next few weeks, Bush and his supporters will be claiming vindication. Long-term, though, he has damaged American moral authority in ways that we can't even begin to perceive.

posted at 10:18 AM | link

Monday, March 17, 2003

Media Log prepares for war! I have just upgraded to Blogger Pro, the Mother of All Blogging Software, in anticipation of the US invasion of Iraq. It is vital to maintain a technological edge over other bloggers at this dangerous moment in our history.

While those who use regular Blogger wait in line for their competitors to post their puny thoughts on the war, Media Log will be able to take advantage of Blogger Pro's "priority server access." I will now be able to upload pictures, too, a capability I plan to experiment with in the days and months ahead, the wishes of the Security Council be damned.

Just thought you'd want to know.

posted at 3:10 PM | link

Declaration of war. This is not the wrong thing to do. But it is the wrong way to do it. If George W. Bush and Tony Blair had been able to muster genuine international support to overthrow Saddam Hussein, liberate his long-suffering people, and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, then who, really, could object?

Instead, as we all know, Bush has managed to alienate a broad cross-section of world opinion -- not just the disingenuous French, but many other countries whose leaders could probably have been persuaded to lend their support if Bush had not been so eager to keep grinding the heel of his cowboy boot into their faces.

And let's not forget "Shock and Awe," the White House war plan, which, according to some accounts, involves destroying Bagdhad and everyone in it before American soldiers march in. We can only hope that's not what Bush really intends to do. If he does, he's guaranteed at least another generation of Arab and Muslim terrorism against the US.

We may well be on the eve of war this morning. Three reports worth pondering:

1. This morning's New York Times contains a long, front-page piece on the US's failed, halting efforts to prevent war through diplomacy. The article, by Steven Weisman, doesn't really have an "ah, ha!" moment. But it is depressing nevertheless to see how White House officials invariably opted for war-talk over diplomacy, even to the point of moving chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to soft-pedal Iraqi violations so that he wouldn't play into Bush's hands.

2. Liberal war hawk Peter Beinart, the editor of the New Republic, is nevertheless pissed off at the Bush administration's repeated lies over Iraq's weapons and intentions -- from the falsified uranium documents from Niger to the aluminum tubes, as well as a number of smaller lies. Can you say "Gulf of Tonkin"?

3. The cover of the current Newsweek portrays a cruise missle falling from the sky; the headline is "Why America Scares the World." Inside, Fareed Zakaria, who, like Beinart, is prowar, weighs in with a long essay titled "The Arrogant Empire." Zakaria offers a sweeping historical and cultural overview, and it's worth reading in full. But his account of how the Bushies blew it is horrifying -- the president's constant invocations of what he "expects" other countries to do, the humiliation that has been meted out to recalcitrant foreign diplomats, and the seething resentment that Bush's unilateralism has created. Zakaria writes:

Donald Rumsfeld often quotes a line from Al Capone: "You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone."

But should the guiding philosophy of the world's leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? In terms of effectiveness, this strategy has been a disaster.

posted at 8:09 AM | link

Sunday, March 16, 2003

A close-up look at Bulger's office. The Globe's Patrick Healy today answers some of Media Log's questions about the cost of UMass president Bill Bulger's operation. As has been the case with Bulger's entire career, it is a mixed bag. Essentially Bulger's done good, while at the same time doing very, very well, both for himself and his friends.

One thing that's clear is that Governor Mitt Romney can't save anywhere near the $14 million he claims he'll save by getting rid of Bulger's office. Sure, he can save a few hundred thousand dollars if the positions of some of Bulger's less-qualified underlings are eliminated (and they should be). But most of the so-called savings will simply be pushed down to the campus level.

Nor is Bulger's $309,000 salary wildly out of line with those of the presidents of other major state university systems, according to a chart that accompanies Healy's piece but that does not appear to be on the Globe's website. The head of the University of California makes $361,000, and the head of the University of North Carolina makes $300,485. On the other hand, their systems have triple the number of students that UMass has.

One thing remains clear. As long as this is portrayed as a personal fight between Bulger and Romney, no one is going to focus on what's best for the state's higher-education system.

posted at 10:00 AM | link

Pension logic. The Globe today editorializes against Governor Mitt Romney's proposal to shift state pensions from guaranteed income to 401(k) contributory plans like most people in the private sector have.

There's a kernel of logic here, as when the Globe argues that good pension benefits can be a lure that helps to offset the low salaries that teachers (to name one example) make.

But essentially, the Globe is calling on taxpayers to keep funding an extraordinarily sweet benefit for public employees that they themselves do not enjoy. "A Risky Pension Plan" is the headline on the editorial. I think most people's response will be, "Welcome to our world."

posted at 9:59 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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