Saturday, July 29, 2006

Toto, the curtain if you please

What do you do when you find Thomas Friedman of the NYTimes agreeing with you?

Friedman wrote in his column titled On the Eve of Madness – which is behind the TimesSelect wall but it appeared in syndication in my local newspaper – echoed much of what I’ve been writing lately in my two previous posts.

The Shiites, headquartered in Iran, have been using the anti-Israeli meme to whip up fervor so as to consolidate their power behind the scene just as the Neocons used the 9/11 meme to get us into Iraq where they were suppose to institute a new freedom and democracy that would change the Middle East. The Iranians can celebrate Mission Accomplished way much more so than the Neocons.

However, the Neocons’ overthrow of Saddam may very well have a lasting impact on the Middle East – albeit not the impact they had hoped. Saddam’s fears have become the Neocons’ fears as well ours. Prior to our takeover, Saddam’s greatest fears in order of priority were an insurgency, the threat from Iran, and an invasion by the U.S. Was our removal of Saddam that contributed greatly to Iran’s grand scheme just a coincidence?

The Neocons did not want to make the same mistakes in Iraq that their hated nemesis, Clinton, did in the Baltic. Well, they got their wish; they didn’t make the same mistakes. They made worse mistakes.

The coming war in the Middle East between the Shia and the Sunnis is going to be bloody, local, and as long lasting. We are talking age-old rivalries here the likes of which have only been seen in areas of ethnic cleansing. Friedman mentions in his column that Sunnis captured by Shiites in Iraq and their torture by drilling holes in their head with power tools. Don’t believe I’ve seen any of that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Don’t the Sunnis in Syria realize the displaced they’ve been harboring will come to dictate terms within their own country?

How long can the whipped up hatred of the Israelis divert the Arab world? Surly they will come to recognize a greater, closer, more insidious threat with in their midst. How long before they no longer heed the “pay no attention to the man working the controls behind the curtain” claim.

Where is Toto when you need him?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Great Israeli Sucker Punch

The current unpleasantness in the Middle East has little to do with the rivalry between the Arabs and the Jews, and everything to do with the political position of Hamas and Hezbollah. It has more to do with the ancient rivalry between the Arabs and Persians than the modern rivalry between Arabs and Jews. It has more to do with the rivalry between Shiites and Sunnis.

Compared to Europe, Jews always had it better in Arab countries than anywhere else. It was only after Israel became a state and Palestine cease to exit, that the hatred began. And it was the use of that hate when Hamas grabbed an Israeli soldier.

Palestinians were about to vote on Israel's right to exists. However, that is diametrically opposite to Hamas' reason for being. Hamas finally got position, finally became the majority party in government, finally could transfer from being a terrorist organization to a responsible political party as many had done before them, but it could not allow the Palestinians to vote on recognizing Israel. The strategists of Hamas must have known they would loose that election.

Had the Palestinians showed the rest of the world how democracy would work in the Middle East and recognize Israel, Israel would have to do the same for the Palestinians. You cannot argue Israel's right to exist without doing the same for the Palestinians. People as a group have a right to exist or they don't. You can't have it both ways. The world would have demanded sovereignty for Palestine from Israel. What would this new century be like if that vote had occurred? It was oh so close.

Using the excuse of fighting Israel, the Shiites have been making inroads to power in the Middle East. Once the step-child of Islam, the Shiites have become a power with which all must contend. A greater struggle has been going on in the Middle East right under our collective noses, and now that one side is becoming significantly stronger than they have ever been before, we must confront what will probably be the great war in the Middle East. Many in the Arab world already know this.

The U.S. contributed considerably to the Shiite cause by overthrowing Saddam and putting the Shiites in charge of Iraq. We just went in and handed it to them. Did the Iranians plan this or did it just fall in their lap? Ideology should have a very small office in U.S. foreign policy. Rather than introducing democracy and freedom in the Middle East, the Neocons may none the less have done something that will change everything.

Notice how little to no aide came from the Arab countries to the Palestinians after Hamas took over. Notice how the Israelis response to the latest kidnapping of their soldiers had little condemnation from Arab countries. In fact the major denunciation came from Iran, Shiite friendly nations, and guess where?…the new Iraqi government. Notice how we invaded Iraq and currently have control of it, and yet, the Iraqis hate each other more than they hate the Americans who dominate them.

Hezbollah was loosing power in Lebanon. The Lebanese were taking back their country. The Syrian army had been forced to leave. No matter how many Lebanese leaders they assassinated, they were loosing power and influence. Hezbollah was being marginalized as a power. A Lebanese phoenix was rising from the ashes, but Hezbollah had a strategy to get the Israelis to shoot it down.

They sucker punched Israel and Israel responded better than Hezbollah could ever hope. Sucker punched not in catching someone off guard and delivering a knock out blow, but in delivering a punch only to start a fight. Saddam had tried that trick during the First Gulf War, but Israel did not respond. What role did Washington plan in that, and where are they now? Is it leadership? Hezbollah may be knocked back but its position in Lebanon in no longer being marginalized. They cannot win this battle but will it truly reduce their overall effectiveness in the greater struggle.

For the Shiites' plan to work, they must keep all the focus on Israel. Shiites feel they have suffered greatly at the hands of Sunni Arabs and they can out maneuver the Sunnis by keeping up the campaign that Israelis is the primary enemy – and the Americans too. As soon as the Shiites have consolidated their position in Iraq, they will turn on the Americans so fast it will make our heads spin – literally.

Of all the peoples of the world the Arabs have most to fear from the Iranians getting atomic weapons. They will have to get nuc's of their own.

Of the conflicts among the Jews, Arabs, Christians, Europeans, and Americans we have not seen anything compared to what is coming within the Islam itself.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Take the Initiative

Chalk one up for the forces of Hamas and Hezbollah. Oh, and don’t forget the mullahs in Iran. The old saying that peace was the worse enemy of communism seems to also be true of cultures built on terrorism and hate*.

While the Neocons were trying to install their idealistic form of democracy in Iraq, its force was actually being felt in Palestine. The people with no country was showing the rest of the world how democracy could work in the Middle East. First, they freely elect a party built on terrorism and one that vowed not to recognize Israel.

Confrontation seemed inevitable but then from out of nowhere comes this idea by Palestinian prisoners in Israel whom I suddenly learn are a force among Palestinians by the sacrifice of their imprisonment. They call for a referendum on the matter of recognizing Israel right to exist. A call Hamas cannot resist. Here’s the democratic force the Neocons were vainly trying to implement. But wait, snatch an Israeli soldeir, all hell breaks loose and no more talk about elections or referendums.

Hezbollah was loosing ground in Lebanon. Syria was being force out. Lebanese were taking back their country. But Hey! Grab some Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah can take back Lebanon. Peace was killing them, they had to do something. Was Israel's response part of the their plan?

And with peace, the insurgency within Iran has a chance against the absolute rule of the mullahs. The communist seem to never realize that they could not maintain their domination with out a plausible threat to explain the economic sacrifice. However, violence gave birth to Hamas and Hezbollah, and violence will save their cause.

They can never let peace return or they are lost.

* I said it a long time ago.

Play it as it lays

Sometimes you can’t remake your world in a way in which you would like. At those times, you have to do the best you can with what you got.

Rory Stewart, a former British Foreign Service officer, has written an op-ed piece in the NYTimes titled All Politics is Local, applying an old Tip O’Neal saying to our foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan. I was directed to this wonderful little piece by Fred Kaplan over at Slate, whose praise for Stewart as someone with extensive experience with indigenous personnel made me check it out.

Don’t you just love a gem that you run across that confirms everything you thought on a subject by someone with all kinds of credentials whether titled, registered or de facto accomplished that makes you confident in your own opinions. I can understand why Fox News is such a hit; it feels so good to read what you all ready know to be true.

The Neocons saw way too many John Wayne movies when they were growing up. Compared to the results of the Neocon’s idealistic but none the less naïve strategy, what Mr. Stewart is offering up is a realistic approach to not only the Middle East but in other areas of the world.

We cannot impose our form of democracy – or even democracy in general – on other people. Democracy takes practice as we are proof.

Whoever gets elected in 2008, I hope they bring a realistic and professional level of foreign policy and NO idealists from the conservatives or the liberals. Don’t go thinking you got to compensate for our current appointed officials by replacing them with those who would put some liberal ideal before what is practical and what works.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Where’s the Wolf?

I read an entry by Jack Shafer over at Slate about who he trusts more: the administration or the editors of NYTimes and WaPo. He comes down on the side of the MSM. It seems a pot or fire choice to me. Within his story he hyperlinked a opinion piece by Robert G. Kaiser, who was WaPo’s managing editor from 1991 to 1998 and is now an associate editor, which listed and spun secrets that have been revealed up to, but not including, the latest about the SWIFT secret. Just how secret the SWIFT secret was is of course not known – that’s just the point.

Problem with the administration’s charge that here we go again the press is revealing secrets is that it is also the Republican strategy of working the press the way some baseball managers even when they know they are wrong jump up and protest a call excessively in close vicinity of the referees called “working the refs”.

The Republican strategy that has been building since Goldwater peaked in the Reagan years and was supposed to be reborn in second Bush’s administration. One aspect of that strategy has always been that the press was not our friend. And treating the press as the problem is easier and provides a more solid target than real problems.

The influence of this anti-press strategy has been a resounding success in red state America. The working class in red state America has been convinced that newspapers are elitists rags – except for the sports pages. One segment of broadcast industry has help convince the red staters that the MSM reports news with liberal bias.

If only that were the MSM’s problem, we would all be better served.

How long can the “working the refs” strategy work? What happens when all the referees and all the fans know some manager “works the refs”? It becomes a show. Like the chicken and the seventh inning stretch, it becomes part of the world of baseball. Everybody expects it and the game goes on.

But what happens when the same thing occurs in politics? How long before the red staters come to realize they too are being worked? Will it take as long as it took me to realize I had more to fear for my freedom from the anti-communist than I did from the communists? Long after almost everyone in the world recognized that planned economies did not perform as well as free markets and communism was doomed to the footnotes of history, the anti-communist still held sway in the U.S., and were deciding policy. Will it take that long? Only a few short years ago, "Pinko" had a hold other implication than it does today.

Besides, in my little analogy its not the wolf that the little boy is yelling about that finally got him. And Jack trusts the Herculean Pillars of MSM more than he trusts the administration. If I thought that the worse of the MSM’s problems was liberal biasness, I’d trust them more too.

As bad as the Pentagon Papers may have been for the Nixon Administration, no leaked sensitive information was as damaging to U.S. foreign policy than Walter Cronkite standing in the ruins of the 1968 Tet Offensive and saying there is no light at the end of the tunnel. When LBJ saw that, he knew he had lost the war. Contrite was wrong, but LBJ was right.

The Tet Offensive counter attack was a resounding success for the U.S. It was a bigger victory for the U.S. than the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. And the MSM totally missed it. They played to the anti-war movement and they committed a gross disservice to America. Perhaps if someone had leaked it to the MSM, the victory would have gotten better play.

That little bit of history and not the sensitivity of some leaked story or access to administration leakers is what journalists should be thinking about as they report Iraq and Afghanistan. Like I said Jack, sounds like you’re asking me to choose between the pot and the fire on this one. And of course you are right, that’s the choice I got.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Best Thing Since the First Amendment

Blogs are the best thing to happen to journalism since the First Amendment

The First Amendment set journalist free. It protected them. An early American journalist could write what they wished and didn’t have to worry about the king’s men coming and throwing them in the dungeon. It protected them from a powerful government or business interest that wanted to control information as well as everything else.

When the founding fathers stuck the free press clause in the first of amendments to the new constitution, they were thinking more of an individual or a small group working laboriously to produce a broadside that would be plastered on some wall – most likely the one outside the building in which they were printing because they didn’t have the means to publish it nationwide. They were thinking of pamphleteers like Thomas Paine.

They certainly had no notion of an organization large enough to christen itself the Fourth Estate. They weren’t thinking of a organization as large as any government or any business they could think of. And yet, the MSM is covered by the First Amendment just like the little guy for which it was intended. When the founding fathers moved to constitutionalize a free press, they meant it more for the spirit of the bloggers than some conglomerate now know as MSM.

A. J. Liebling said in 1960, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." This admonition is no longer true. With the internet and blogs, everyone has a free press. The owners of the old press and their employees, the MSM, have to deal with this news event in their own backyard.

The MSM is what most people think of when they think of freedom of the press, and they are the ones who have the high-powered lawyers to insure that the First Amendment applies to them. But if the government can't regulate the press, who or what can? The MSM has tried to regulate itself with ombudsmen, public or people's editors, media critics and courses in ethics in journalism in college. Members of the MSM have publications on policy and practice such as the AP Stylebook.

And there is the letters to the editor which has been around for some time. Blogs are like letters to the editor. Only, instead of sitting in some MSM mailroom and being read by a select few in which some will be published in the editorial page, these letters are all posted on the internet for all to read. It would seem they have more impact this way than stacking up back in some MSM mailroom.

Nothing has had the impact on MSM and journalism like the blogs. This reaction is a phenomenon. Remember these times, so you can tell it to your grandchildren. You were there. You saw it happen. Professional journalists don’t know what to think; they don’t know what to do. A paradigm shift has occurred on their watch. The MSM are starting blogs; the journalists are blogging; and the quality of journalism is improving as it has never improved since the First Amendment set it free.

Not since the rise of concept of objective reporting of news to push out yellow journalism or advocacy journalism during the early part of the previous century has journalism seen such an assault on it very foundations. This struggle over what is news and what gets readership and ratings continues even today as witnessed by the blogstorm over the MSM's fascination with missing white girls.

I saw an interesting comment about this year's annual meeting of the Daily Kos bloggers in Las Vegas at Slate. To paraphrase John Dickerson: Left wing bloggers want the MSM to do the job it is supposed to do; right wing bloggers want to do away with the MSM entirely or at least convert it to a conservative point of view like propaganda or Fox News. (The statement after the conjunction is mine.)

Dickerson wonders if the MSM will still be enthralled with bloggers if the liberal bloggers the likes of Daily Kos will are not able to deliver come November. While this argument has merit, it reinforces the liberal bloggers' complaint of the MSM's flavor of the month approach to reporting the news, whether the Kos nation may (or may not) be able to win a majority in either house of Congress misses the point. Bloggers are going to be in your face no matter what, or until the loss of net neutrality returns us to Liebling's world.

How quaint: that during this time of visualization, television, and see it now, the age-old practice of print is having a comeback. Stay tuned.