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See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003),
Saturday, March 29, 2003
Has Seymour Hersh landed the big
one? The veteran investigative reporter's recent New
Yorker piece on Richard Perle began a chain of events that led to
resignation as chairman of
the Defense Policy Board. (Slate's Jack Shafer has
good summary, including
Perle's sleazy labeling of Hersh as a "terrorist.")
is linking to a Reuters report that next week's New Yorker
will include a Hersh
bombshell: that Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld consistently rejected requests for more
troops in Iraq. One of Hersh's sources is quoted as saying, "They've
got no resources. He [Rumsfeld] was so intent on proving his
point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart."
Rumsfeld seems like so much a part
of the post-9/11 landscape that it's easy to forget that, before the
terrorist attacks, his demise was so widely assumed that Slate
actually ran a regular feature called the "Rummy Death Watch." (Here's
one from September 7, 2001, just before everything changed.)
As is clear from Bob Woodward's
book, Bush at War, Rumsfeld has absolutely infuriated the
generals with his insistence on smaller, lighter, and more flexible
fighting forces -- something that sounds good in theory, but in
practice has put our fighting men and women at unnecessary
We shouldn't have gone in there in
the first place -- not without the sort of real international support
that would have come by setting disarmament milestones for Iraq that
it would have had to meet. But having gone in, it is reprehensible to
risk American lives unnecessarily.
Sometime after this war has been
won, and everyone -- Americans, Brits, and Iraqis -- starts to
recover from this misbegotten adventure, I'm sure we can look forward
to Rumsfeld's finally deciding to spend more time with his family.
And Paul Wolfowitz makes three.
posted at 7:26 PM |
Shades of Kurt Vonnegut and
sunscreen. SB tells me that John Cleese didn't really write that
great riff on the Axis
of Evil. She sends along
link, which explains that
it is written by someone named Andrew Marlatt. He does a great John
Cleese imitation. Manuel!
posted at 3:41 PM |
Demonizing a critic. Helen
Thomas has never been a giant of her trade. However, she is
dogged and dedicated, and deserves a lot of respect for being one of
the first women to rise to the top of Washington political reportage.
She is also absolutely fearless in asking questions -- a quality in
short supply these days.
But here's how it works. A few
months ago she called George W. Bush "the
worst president ever." She
immediately became a target of the right-wing attack machine,
although its insults were hampered by the fact that Thomas, now with
the Hearst newspapers, no longer works for a national media
Then, at Bush's March 6 news
was not called on, even
though the 82-year-old columnist, as the dean of the White House
press corps, traditionally gets the first question. Few complained;
many cackled. The Fox News Channel's Brit Hume tarnished his
reputation as one of that operation's few real pros by calling Thomas
nutty aunt in the attic of
the Washington press corps."
Now every time Thomas asks a
question, she gets hammered. The latest entry: a column by right-wing
columnist Michelle Malkin, who calls Thomas a "crusty
ex-journalist-turned-White House heckler" for having the audacity to
press smarmy White House spokesman Ari Fleischer about the conditions
at Guantánamo Bay. (The column is in today's Boston
Herald, but it's not online on the paper's website. Click
instead; or if it has been replaced with something new, try clicking
According to Malkin, Thomas has no
right even to ask such a thing at a time when American and British
soldiers are being treated brutally by Iraqi forces. (And yes, they
are being treated brutally, but that doesn't negate our obligation to treat prisoners humanely, or a journalist's right to ask about it.) Malkin writes:
I admire Fleischer's
super-human restraint in the face of this disgusting display of
moral equivalence masquerading as journalism. Thomas sees pictures
of dead American soldiers being molested by cackling Iraqi
assassins, she sees video of dazed and wounded young American
soldiers in captivity, and all she can do is harangue the Bush
administration for not giving Guantanamo Bay terror detainees
Let there be no doubt about
where Helen Thomas's heart lies.
Let there be no doubt about where
Michelle Malkin's heart lies -- in advancing her career by acting as
a toady for the White House, attacking and denigrating anyone who has
the temerity even to ask a tough question.
This is really vile, because the
effect is not just to hold Helen Thomas up to undeserved mockery, but
to intimidate anyone who dares follow in her footsteps.
posted at 11:33 AM |
Silent scream. The Boston
Globe today didn't run The Boondocks. It didn't replace it
with another cartoon, either -- just a lame quote of the day or some
such thing. And yes, today's Boondocks is a pointed antiwar
cartoon, expessing "outrage and disappointment at the situation in
the Middle East." Click
here to see it. And
an AP story on some of the
controversies that Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder has found
himself in since 9/11.
No such controversy over the stupid
right-wing comic strip Mallard Fillmore, which the
Globe runs every day without protest (except the occasional
letter to the editor) and, I'm sure, without readers.
a nice one from March 3
(select date when you get there), which refers to "the ungrateful,
hypocritical Franch pansies who call themselves our
Thinking I might have missed some
quantum leap in linguistic evolution, I decided to look
up pansy in the American Heritage
Dictionary, which defines
it as "a disparaging term for a man or boy who is considered
effeminate" or "a disparaging term for a homosexual man." Yup, it
still means what it did in the seventh grade.
So did the dog eat today's
Boondocks or did the Globe chicken out? An explanation
awaits. (Thanks to AQ for pointing this one out.)
posted at 11:28 AM |
Secretary of Sanity John
Cleese. JB sends along the link to a hilarious John Cleese essay
on the "Axis of Evil." If you want to learn more about the "Axis of
Not So Much Evil Really as Just Generally Disagreeable" and the "Axis
of Countries That Aren't the Worst But Certainly Won't Be Asked to
Host the Olympics," then click
posted at 11:27 AM |
Sometimes violence is the only
answer. My laptop is working much better since I discovered that
I can usually unfreeze it when I rap it hard on the case, just on top
of the battery.
posted at 11:27 AM |
Friday, March 28, 2003
Maybe Bush will try to blame it
on Clinton. A friend sent
me a headline from the editorial page of the local daily yesterday:
"No One Said War Would Be Easy." We laughed ruefully, if it's
possible to do such a thing by e-mail. A more accurate headline would
have read: "Everyone Said War Would Be Easy."
Now the prowar folks are trying to
rewrite history as fast as they can. Yesterday, a conservative
correspondent took me to task for writing that "some of the war's
most ardent supporters" were promoting the idea of "a 72-hour, casualty-free victory." As evidence, he cited the transcript of a
recent program on the Fox News Channel in which Bill Clinton said a
rapid victory was virtually assured, while guest commentator William
Kristol, a leading advocate of the war against Iraq, criticized
Clinton for being irresponsible. Gee, it always comes down to
Clinton, doesn't it?
Well, score one for Kristol. Would
that his fellow-travelers on the prowar side be as responsible as he
is. In fact, they have been just the opposite.
Globe reporter Fred Kaplan
observes that quick victory was "the premise underlying the whole war
plan," and he's got the
evidence to prove it: on-the-record quotes from top military
officials that the US attack would be so overwhelming (I'm trying not
to say "shock and awe" ... whoops, I just did) that a ground battle
might not even be necessary.
In today's Boston Globe, John Donnelly notes that on March 16, Vice-President
Dick Cheney, on NBC's Meet
the Press, predicted the
war would last "weeks rather than months" (still a possibility, obviously), and added: "I think
things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the
Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as
In today's Boston Herald, Thomas Caywood reports that the small US
force in Iraq is entirely consistent with the notion of a quick,
relatively painless victory. He quotes Matthew Baker, a private
military analyst, as saying, "The US is in a real pickle here. We don't have enough forces for Plan B, and
Plan A didn't work."
And these stories merely amplify
scores of similar pieces in the national press in recent days.
Want more? Here's a synopsis of a
Newsweek article, published before the war,
reporting that "US commanders believe a war against Iraq could be
virtually won in just 48 hours." And here's a Q&A with Rear Admiral
Stephen Baker (retired), a senior fellow at the Center for Defense
Information, that was published on Newsweek's
website on March 19 in which he says: "I'm not sure people realize
the size of the hammer we have lowered on Iraq. We want to decapitate
Saddam's ability to function whatsoever. Within 72 hours, we will try to neutralize and isolate Saddam and the
Incredibly, but not surprisingly,
the president blames the media. According to Dan Balz and Mike Allen,
writing in today's Washington Post: "One adviser said Bush is irritated at the media for
setting 'phony expectations' about how quickly the US-led forces
would be able to subdue the Iraqi military and drive President Saddam
Hussein from power." The phony expectations, of course, are entirely
the White House's doing.
If this were a just war, it
wouldn't matter. President Bush could use some "pay any price, bear
any burden" rhetoric and rally the American people, as he
inarticulately attempted to do yesterday, coming off more Edward G. Robinson than John F.
Kennedy. ("It isn't a
matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people
have got to know that, see?")
But the truth is that this is a war
of dubious legality being waged for ever-shifting reasons, with
shallow support at home and almost universal condemnation abroad.
Bush attempted to thread the needle, hoping that rapid victory and
the grateful thanks of a liberated Iraqi nation would silence his
critics and buy him after-the-fact legitimacy. He gambled and
Of course we're going to win --
relatively quickly as these things go. But now it's clear that we're
going to win ugly, and that though the Kurds and possibly some Shia
elements will greet us as liberators, at least as many Iraqis will
meet our presence with sullen resentment, or worse.
posted at 8:00 AM |
Thursday, March 27, 2003
Who the hell are the Fedayeen
Saddam? Let's see. We knew
about the Iraqi army. Those guys
won't fight, we were assured. We knew about the Republican Guard.
Those guys might fight,
we were told. But did we know about the Fedayeen Saddam -- between
maybe 25,000 to 40,000 stone-cold killers, fanatical supporters of
Saddam Hussein? Well, uh, no, not really. It might have been helpful
if we did.
I did a quick Nexis search this
morning and found that, during the past two years, there have been
423 references to the Fedayeen Saddam in the past two years. But
wait! Exactly 310 of those references are from the past week. We just didn't know about these guys. And judging
from the way the US and British troops appear to have been caught off
guard, it seems that our overconfident leaders didn't know much about
Not that they were completely
unknown. Here's a 1998 story from CNN.com, which describes a crackdown on internal
dissidents led by the fedayeen -- "a 40,000-strong paramilitary force
run by Odai Hussein," more commonly spelled "Uday," Saddam's sadistic
But I think it's safe to say that
for most of us, this week is the first time we've heard of them, as
in this piece in today's Washington Post headlined "Analysts Say Threat Warnings Toned
Down." It appears that the
White House didn't want to hear the bad news before the war, since it
would interfere with the spin of a 72-hour, casualty-free victory
being promoted by some of the war's most ardent supporters.
Well, the Bushies are certainly
hearing the bad news now.
posted at 7:47 AM |
Dean dodges. So Mr. Straight Shooter, Howard Dean, doesn't want to be pinned
down on whether we should
pull out of Iraq. Of course not. Dean got a lot of early buzz for his
staunch antiwar stand, but he knows as well as anyone that we can't
pull out now that we're in. The best that can be hoped for is a quick
victory with minimal loss of life -- a vision that, sadly, is already
fading. But Dean doesn't want to give up his standing as the most
antiwar of the Democratic presidential candidates.
While John Kerry has been ripped
apart for his complicated stance on the war, Dean has gotten a free
pass for his supposed candor. Maybe now people will begin to see that
he, too, is hustling for votes. That's what these people do, you
know. I love the description of Dean by Ryan Lizza in the current
New Republic: "He doesn't just speak off-the-cuff; he
reminds you that he's the guy who speaks off-the-cuff and explains
that his off-the-cuffness is the reason people like him."
posted at 7:47 AM |
The face of evil.
Here's a horrifying story from today's New York Times. It seems that Iraqi army soldiers are facing fire
from two directions: from US and British troops in front of them and
from fanatical Saddam supporters behind them. One Iraqi soldier is
described as dying from a head wound inflicted by a Saddam loyalist.
Another wounded soldier says, "I have four children at home, and they
threatened to hurt them if I did not fight. I had no choice."
posted at 7:47 AM |
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
hypocrisy. A somber,
downbeat day. Even though I opposed the US invasion of Iraq, I
nevertheless thought I might be wrong. Now it's clear that even if
this is wrapped up quickly, it's going to be some time before we can
extricate ourselves from the muck of hypocrisy and moralism that has
infected our ruling circles.
Donald Rumsfeld prattles on that
Iraq's decision to videotape American prisoners-of-war was a
violation of the Geneva Conventions -- that they're not supposed to
be publicly shown because that would be "humiliating." Well,
here is a Reuters photo of Iraqi
prisoners. (Scroll down and
select "An Iraqi boy tosses a cigarette ...") About a half-dozen of
them are clearly identifiable, and you'll also find it reproduced on
page B7 of today's New York
The US rightly condemns the Iraqis
for videotaping the bodies of dead American soldiers, and evidence is
mounting that at least some of those soldiers tried to surrender and were executed. That is savage, horrifying behavior if
true. Yet in a front-page story in the Times, we
learn that in the battle for Basra yesterday, "British commandos
seized the 'most senior' official of the governing Baath Party in
Basra and killed 20 of his aides and security
guards." Killed? Were they
fighting, or were they merely inconvenient? The story doesn't say. I
hope this was just unfortunate wording, but as we all know, terrible
things can happen in a war.
As for putting dead bodies on
television, the Boston
Globe today quotes an
official of ABC News explaining why it was different to broadcast
footage of the bodies of dead Iraqi soldiers: the video was shot "at a distance, so you
couldn't identify their faces." Perhaps the Geneva Conventions can be
updated to specify how far away you have to be in order to shoot
video of dead soldiers, complete with a handy metric-conversion
chart. And by the way, the Globe story
documents some other things
you're not seeing on American television that is regular fare for
Arab viewers: "bloodied bodies of young children ... trips to the
hospital, grieving parents ... the scalp of a child that reporters
said had been blown off in a bombing."
At this point, we can't pull out.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly backing way from the tepid peace plan it proposed yesterday. In any case, to leave Saddam
in place now would be the worst of all possible scenarios. The
Times story on the battle for Basra also reports
that a "woman who waved to British forces on the outskirts of the
city was later found hanged." Multiply that by a thousand times if we
But American and British moralizing
is sickening to listen to right now. You can't fight a war without
entering hell. We entered this hell voluntarily. There will be much
accounting to do later.
posted at 12:57 PM |
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
"War and Peace" on
Boston Phoenix has begun a warblog. Check it out
posted at 5:04 PM |
Not just wrong, but against our
best interests. The
New York Review of
Books has published the
resignation letter of career diplomat John Brady Kiesling. It is
powerful stuff. Kiesling writes:
The policies we are now
asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but
also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is
driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been
America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the
days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and
most effective web of international relationships the world has ever
known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not
posted at 1:13 PM |
Images of death. The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott today has a piece on the media
dilemma of whether to publish photos or run video of dead American soldiers. Among those interviewed is Boston Phoenix editor Peter Kadzis, who discusses the
Phoenix's decision to put up a link on its website to the video of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's last, horrifying
Kadzis tells Kennicott: "I think
that war is and of itself full of brutal acts, but that nevertheless
there are levels of brutality and callousness. Anything that helps
those of us who are far removed from a conflict to understand the
degree of force applied, or the degree of brutality enacted, anything
that seriously contributes to that understanding, is valid."
posted at 11:36 AM |
Media Log suspends daily
e-mails. Because of a
serious computer problem, I'm going to have to suspend daily e-mails
of Media Log for the time being. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can
even get an e-mail out to subscribers, since my list is on the
computer that's giving me trouble. But if you're an e-mail reader
who's visiting, please check in for regular updates.
posted at 9:35 AM |
War and truth. Who can make sense of all this? Who can
possibly sift through the torrent of information and come away with
any hope of knowing what's going on?
Last night, CNN was reporting that
Saddam Hussein, in his televised address, heaped praise upon an Iraqi
unit that was among the first to surrender, lending credence to the
notion that he'd taped it before the war actually began. On Fox News,
Bill O'Reilly, kept referring to 57 edits to the videotape, which
means it could have been just a cut-and-paste job from an old
Yet in this morning's
Times, John Burns plays it straight, writing:
After some American
officials had suggested Mr. Hussein might have been seriously injured
or killed in the airstrikes that began the war, his appearance had
the effect of steadying the government, at least for now. After the
speech, officials who had worried privately about a possible collapse
of authority began talking as if the capture of the city could be
held off for weeks or even months.
The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid doesn't question the authenticity of Saddam's speech, either. But the Post's
Walter Pincus and Dana Priest analyze it here.
Today's Times also
had a media roundup, showing how the press shifted from unrealistic optimism on Saturday to (probably)
unrealistic pessimism on Monday. But before you start whining about
the feckless press, keep in mind that the Washington Post this morning reports that Gulf War generals -- led by
Barry McCaffrey -- are complaining that the US invaded Iraq with insufficient
force to get the job
So what's going on? Is this a
debacle? A quagmire, to use that old Vietnam phrase? Of course not.
The US and Britain are going to win quickly and easily. But that's
not the issue.
This was sold -- and that is
exactly the right word (Remember White House chief-of-staff Andrew
Card's comment about not rolling out a new product until after Labor
Day?) -- as a quick campaign of liberation. Saddam would fall in days
and Iraqi citizens would be dancing in the streets. This vision was
intended to warm the hearts of George W. Bush's pro-war supporters
and stifle the fears of antiwar critics.
That's not happening. Instead, we
are seeing images of protracted fighting, dead and wounded civilians,
terrified American POWs, a looming humanitarian catastrophe, and
Iraqi citizens who, no matter how much they may hate Saddam, do not
appreciate being invaded by a foreign power.
The war will succeed. But in a
larger sense, it may have already failed.
posted at 9:35 AM |
Monday, March 24, 2003
A historian's verdict.
Schlesinger Jr. is filled with "deep
gloom" over the war in
Iraq, arguing that a preventive war is essentially what the Japanese
thought they were waging when they attacked Pearl Harbor.
In a Q&A with Newsweek
(online only), Schlesinger analyzes George W. Bush's "fatal mistake,"
and criticizes the Bush administration's lack of historical
knowledge, Donald Rumsfeld's insulting demeanor toward US allies, and
Bush's grandiose sense of mission. Say Schlesinger:
They're ideologues. Bush
seems to feel that he's been appointed by the almighty to go to
war with Iraq. But Iraq is far less of a clear and present danger
than North Korea. North Korea has nuclear weapons. The difference
in our treatment between Iraq and North Korea is strong incentive
for other countries, other rogue states, to develop their own
posted at 12:51 PM |
On second thought, Saddam is
probably still dead. Blogger Ken Layne makes a good point:
Saddam's speech were current,
and not taped prior to last Wednesday's bombing raid, he certainly
would have mentioned the captured American troops. Good point. (Via
posted at 10:31 AM |
Spectral leadership. Check
out this exchange yesterday between Tim Russert, host of NBC's
Meet the Press, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Full
RUSSERT: Let me show you
the latest pictures from Iraqi TV of Saddam Hussein. They show him
there in a rather jovial -- that's Tariq Aziz, the deputy foreign
minister, enjoying a laugh, sitting around a table. The Iraqis are
saying that these pictures were taken yesterday, more released
today. What can you tell us about Saddam Hussein?
RUMSFELD: There are reports
in Baghdad and in Iraq that he may be dead. There are reports
that he may have been injured. There are clearly reports that the
leadership is in some disarray, if he's alive. And until time
passes and ground truth is learned, we'll just have to assume that
he's alive and well. Those photographs, video pictures, appear to
some people who watch them to have been prerecorded, and we do
have intelligence saying that they prerecorded a number of events
like that so that they would have them available in case they were
either killed or were not in a position where they could be
accessible to the kinds of cameras and communication devices that
would enable them to do that.
RUSSERT: If you knew Saddam
Hussein was dead, is it something that you would make public
or try to prevent from being made public in order to make sure
Iraq did not break down in disarray?
RUMSFELD: It wouldn't matter
what we tried to do. We have so many press people, hundreds,
hundreds of people that are right there. There are people on the
ground in Baghdad. My personal view is if someone asked me that
question, which no one ever has, I would say the truth is the
truth. Just tell the truth, and if he's dead, he's dead.
But we can't say that.
RUSSERT: Is Saddam Hussein
directing the Iraqi military at this time?
RUMSFELD: It's not
Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, is
Saddam dead or alive? A: We don't know. Q: Okay, what did he have for
dinner last night?
Not knowable? I should say
By the way, it now appears that
is probably alive.
posted at 8:11 AM |
They like us, they really like
us. Don't they? No, they don't. Two stories today call into
question the very underlying principles of this operation. On the
front page of the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid -- formerly
of the Boston Globe -- reports on a
formerly middle-class Bagdhad family under
siege. (The story was also
carried on the front of the Globe's special war section.)
They're anti-Saddam, they bravely talk about how glad they'll be to
see him go, but they have no use for the Americans. Shadid
When it came to the cause
of Iraq's predicament, family members pointed to Hussein,
describing him as rash. He invaded Iran, trapping them in an
eight-year war. He seized Kuwait, bringing on the Persian Gulf War
and the devastation of sanctions that largely wiped out Iraq's
middle class. After that war, they were ready to overthrow him
But they bitterly denounced the
war the United States has launched. Iraq, perhaps more than any
other Arab country, dwells on traditions -- of pride, honor and
dignity. To this family, the assault is an insult. It is not
Hussein under attack, but Iraq, they said. It is hard to gauge if
this is a common sentiment, although it is one heard more often as
the war progresses.
"We complain about things, but
complaining doesn't mean cooperating with foreign governments,"
the father said. "When somebody comes to attack Iraq, we stand up
for Iraq. That doesn't mean we love Saddam Hussein, but there are
A friend of the family
interrupted. "Bombing for peace?" he asked, shaking his
On the front page of the
Globe, Charles Radin reports that Saddam
is an increasingly popular icon on the West
Bank, just as he was during
the first Gulf War, and that he is certainly more popular than
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The comments of the uninformed are
frightening enough, but even the well-educated and reasonable -- such
as Dr. Randa Nabulsi -- find Saddam preferable to an invasion by US
forces. Radin writes:
''My children asked me,
'Why are you weeping?' and I said it was because we are all
Iraqis,'' Nabulsi said. ''My 12-year-old daughter asked me, 'Do
you like Saddam Hussein?' and I didn't know how to answer.
''I told her he was a disaster,
he killed all those people in Halabja, and my daughter said, 'Are
you with Saddam Hussein or not?' and I said I am with
Even though she tries to level
with her children, this was not quite the whole truth, she said
''I am against Saddam Hussein.
He is terrible, not a human being,'' Nabulsi said. ''But in this
moment, I am with Saddam Hussein.''
The problem with this war is not
that it is immoral but, rather, excessively moralistic and naive,
driven by a view that we can make Iraq -- and, eventually, the rest
of the Arab world -- just like Middle America. So how does stirring
up such hatred serve our national interest? It would be a good
question to ask Rumsfeld at his next briefing.
At this point, of course, there's
no retreating. We have to win this as quickly, and with as little
loss of life on both sides, as possible. But making this look like
anything other than a mistake during the postwar aftermath is
obviously going to be a monumental task.
posted at 8:11 AM |
"The right war at the wrong
time." Kennedy School of Government dean Joseph
Nye gets every nuance right
in an op-ed piece for today's Globe.
posted at 8:10 AM |
MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.