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See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003),
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,
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
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
Not-so-fun fact: Qutb's brother,
who held similar views, taught theology to a young Osama bin
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
posted at 10:12 PM |
Death from above. A
conservative critic of Media Log who goes by the name of Yee Haw
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
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 |
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
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
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
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 |
Hazardous duty. Boston
Globe reporter Brian MacQuarrie, who's embedded with an Army
unit, almost bought the farm yesterday. His harrowing account is
posted at 2:25 PM |
Gitell on the Turks and the
Kurds. The Phoenix's Seth Gitell writes to Media
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
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
posted at 2:25 PM |
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
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
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
posted at 2:57 PM |
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.
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 |
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
Boston Globe columnist
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
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
posted at 8:11 AM |
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.
[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
posted at 8:00 AM |
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
Christopher Cooper and Mark
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 |
Hans Blix: Kicking ass and
taking names. Click here
for photo (link good today only).
posted at 7:32 AM |
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
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 |
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
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
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
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
posted at 7:27 PM |
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
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 |
Sorting out the truth.
Spinsanity.org 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
posted at 1:57 PM |
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
"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 |
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
Just one example: "Iraqi officers
and soldiers must ask themselves if they want to die fighting for a
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 |
Stuck on one channel. News
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
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
posted at 10:45 AM |
Onward, ever onward. The
quick and relatively painless victory we're all hoping for may have
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
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
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
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
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
posted at 9:46 AM |
Reporting for duty.
Slate warblogger William Saletan avoided court-martial, filing
first post-bombing dispatch
at 12:15 a.m. EST -- 44
minutes after Media Log!
posted at 9:32 AM |
Democracy through death.
Josh Marshall, who writes the Talking
Points Memo weblog and who
is normally the most sensible of centrists, has written
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.
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
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
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;
posted at 9:26 AM |
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
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.
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
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)
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
posted at 11:31 PM |
Into the darkness. My piece
for this week's Phoenix -- a mediacentric
reflection on the pending war
-- is now available on BostonPhoenix.com.
posted at 7:47 PM |
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
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
posted at 7:40 PM |
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
$456 minimum state tax for
2000, a year when money was still growing on trees. Read it and be
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 |
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
outrage in the Village
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.
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
Wise words, but too late. Seven
hours and 18 minutes to go.
posted at 12:41 PM |
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 Poynter.org. Crittenden also has a terrific dispatch in
today's Herald on three young soldiers who were caught
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
posted at 12:25 PM |
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
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,
posted at 12:10 PM |
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
posted at 6:33 PM |
A wacky new theory about Saddam
and 9/11. The archconservative Wall Street Journal
editorial page today argues in two pieces -- a column by
Mylroie and an unsigned
-- 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 |
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
posted at 10:55 AM |
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
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 |
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
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
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?)
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
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
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
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
The lefty website AlterNet.org 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
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 |
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
posted at 3:10 PM |
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
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
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
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 |
Sunday, March 16, 2003
A close-up look at Bulger's
office. The Globe's Patrick
Healy today answers some of
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
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
posted at 10:00 AM |
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
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 |
MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.