Iraq, media, US Politics

Civilisation? What’s going on at the Economist…?

I can’t read Economist premium content online these days, so I have to rely on Brad Delong’s quote from this week’s Lexington (US politics) column –

„Bush-hatred is now something that civilised people wear as a badge of honour…“

Who would have thought that the day would come where a common adversary would make the Economist write talking points for Michael Moore. Maybe unusual times do require unusual measures – I wonder if anyone from the Economist helped topple the W effigy on Trafalgar Square today…

Iraq, media, quicklink, US Politics

William Safire, once again.

I should really stop reading William Safire’s columns, I suppose. Yesterday, the Ny Times provided the world with another marvel. He’s writing about „The Age Of Liberty“, the new Bush foreign policy theme song, after ensuring the reader that he has indeed read, and re-read „the serious speech in its entirety.“

That’s good news, I suppose, as it implies that even the Republican spokesperson at the NYTimes (if only by accident) acknowledges that „seriousness“ is something worth mentioning when President Bush is speaking…

He’s also explaining that, apparently, a rethoric Europeanization is going on in the White House speechwriting offices, one that is, unfortunately, so subtle it has to be explained even to the readers of the NY Times… – „He chose „influential“ rather than „powerful“ to stress our democratic example.“

But he’s right about one thing: Instead of reading summaries, including his own, one should proceed to reading the real thing. Well, where he’s right, he’s right.

Iraq, media, US Politics

The Economist surrenders.

wielders of mass deception?Now look at that – The Economist is getting warier of supporting President Bush and Tony Blair. Given that the magazine was among the very few European outlets which decidedly supported the war on Iraq because of the dangers posed by the assumed proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a cover like this week’s must be considered a clear indicator of a shift in editorial policy. Now the interesting question would be – taking the headline quite literally – how could the Economist be deceived like it has?

Iraq, US Politics

900 million Dollars.

That’s 900 000 000 Dollars, or 2 465 753,42 Dollars a day, on an annual basis ignoring all kinds of interest. It’s also the amount the current American administration wants to spend to search the weapons of mass destruction it could not find so far. A third, roughly 300 million US Dollars, has been spent already with, to be honest, discouraging results. Tonight, David Kay, US special WMD investigator is reporting to the US Congress about the results of the hunt for the smoking gun in and around Baghdad. And apparently, he’s not too confident about finding anything even slightly reminiscent thereof.

So let’s ask the inevitable question: If Kay is right, and 600 more millions will not help uncover WMDs, will they be enough to buy back the stuff Hussein managed to secure outside the country or sold to terrorists? Hardly. But maybe the amount is sufficient to credibly wag the dog and help President Bush keep the White House… [more: NY Times]

Iraq, quicklink, USA

Deserting a professional army?

Apparently, the number of deserters in the US army has been increasing for some years now.. Not surprising, one might be tempted to say, given the rising number of foreign deployments. But then again – maybe I am not getting this – but why would anyone desert in a professional army? Isn’t serving in a professional army like any other employment? Why „desert“ when one could simply quit?


Weapons of mass distraction.

Verehrtes Publikum, jetzt kein Verdruß;
Wir wissen wohl, das ist kein rechter Schluß.
Vorschwebte uns: die goldene Legende.
Unter der Hand nahm sie ein bitteres Ende.

Wir stehen selbst enttäuscht und sehn betroffen

Den Vorhang zu und alle Fragen offen.

Thus ends Bertolt Brecht’s „Der gute Mensch von Sezuan“ (Engl. „The Good Woman of Setzuan“). It’s always hard to translate poetry, but as I haven’t found any English translation on the web, I’ll have to do it myself. Brecht’s words roughly translate as follows –

Gentle audience, don’t be appalled
We know as well, the end is stalled
Imagine we did the golden legend.
When in truth there was a bitter end.
Ourselves, dismayed we stand, concerned in vain,
the curtain’s drawn, all questions remain.“

I can’t think of a more fitting way to begin an entry about the WMD-related post-Iraq war hangover the US and British governments have to deal with these days.

Yesterday, Thomas Friedman tried to summarize this debate – „the war over the war“ – in the NY Times. He explained that there were strategic and other – possibly also humanitarian – reasons to oust Saddam Hussein, but those in charge did not want to make that case in public, because they very likely would have lost it. Just remember Donald Rumsfeld’s performance during Joschka Fischer’s speech at the Munich security conference in February. So they settled for a WMD based strategy of exaggeration (to avoid the nasty L-word for the moment).

But the story doesn’t end here in my opinion. If you think about it, all comes once again down to the question of „inability of willful wreckage“ by the current US administration. By now safely assuming that there weren’t too many imminently threatening WMDs in Iraq, one can’t avoid wondering how this argument can have led to a war. I see two fundamental possibilities.

First, intelligence was bad. They really did not know what Iraq had but decided that changing the geo-strategic map of the middle east was worth using this argument to go to war despite the possible embarrassment of not finding WMDs in the aftermath.

Second, intelligence was good enough so they knew Iraq did not have the propagated amount of WMDs but decided that changing the geo-strategic map of the middle east was worth using this argument to go to war despite the embarrassment of not finding WMDs in the aftermath.

The second scenario, of course, begs the question of why the American government and their British allies went through all the diplomatic haggling earlier this year lying straight to the world’s face – knowing they wouldn’t find anything presentable once they chased Saddam out of his palace – why stop lying now? Why not plant some buckets of poison in the desert. Does it take longer? Are they still digging right now? Or would that be too complicated, would too many people find out? I am not a weapons inspector, so I don’t know, but – I have doubts. If some villain dictator from Baghdad is supposed to be able to buy dangerous stuff from rogue laboratories all over the world, one would assume the CIA can do the same. And if exaggerating/lying about the reasons for war was a strategic necessity, why not going „all the way“ to placate a world who wants to see the American hand.

The reason for this is also the answer to the first scenario and in my understanding the same that led to the American intervention in first place: The American administration does not care about the world or even Americans demanding to see its hand because it has accomplished its mission and successfully established large-scale American presence in the Middle East. The Weapons of Mass Destruction worked largely the way they were supposed to – as Weapons of Mass Distraction from the real causes for the war (and, no, it’s not just Iraqi oil).

At the moment I can’t see important electoral consequences for the current administration. In fact they’re already planning their second term without even a facade of international cooperation – according to the Washington Post Colin Powell and Richard Armitage are going to leave the State Department.

Of course, the WMD-story is not finished yet, and not unlikely, some heads will roll. But not the important ones – remember when Michael J. Fox‘ character in „The American President“ says that he would not participate in anything illegal because it’s always the guy in his position who goes to jail for 18 months? I wonder if that is a dialogue people in such positions are remembering these days.

And I wonder if people in Washington believe Tony Blair belongs in that category ;-).

almost a diary, Iraq, media

Quality Journalism?

At least for the mo­ment, I am not real­ly com­men­ting the quar­rel bet­ween the Labour go­vern­ment and the BBC that very like­ly led to the tra­gic sui­cide of Dr. Da­vid Kel­ly, who was the ori­gi­nal sour­ce be­hind the BBC Radio 4’s de­fen­ce cor­res­pon­dent An­drew Gil­li­gan’s claim that the British go­vern­ment, most pro­mi­nent­ly Alas­tair Camp­bell, Tony Blair’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions ad­vi­sor, ’sexed up‘ the Bri­tish Iraq dos­sier to make a more con­vin­cing case for war.

But wha­tever you think of the go­vern­ment’s, or the BBC’s, or Dr. Kelly’s, or any indi­vidual jour­na­list’s res­ponsi­bili­ty for the tra­gedy, some peop­le in go­vern­ment ob­vious­ly for­got some ba­sic rules of po­li­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. When some­one says „liar“, you don’t fuel that dis­cus­sion by sul­king­ly re­ply­ing „no, you are“ when the only result will be that bad situ­ation be­comes an even wor­se one.

I just don’t un­der­stand why Mr Camp­bell felt the need to re­live Shell’s 1995 Brent Spar com­mu­ni­ca­tions disaster when there was no need what­so­ever?

Whatever the truth to his or An­drew Gil­ligan’s po­si­tion, tal­king about it cer­tain­ly made things worse at a time when the pub­lic dis­cour­se was „shame on you if you fool me once, shame on me if you fool me twice“. What­ever the truth to either side’s alligations, with­out fi­nal­ly fin­ding some buckets of poi­son some­where in the Iraqi de­sert, the only way for the British go­vern­ment to deal with the si­tu­ation would have been to shut up, not to hunt down an al­le­ged trai­tor or char­ging the BBC with jour­na­lis­tic mis­con­duct to ma­ke every­one be­lieve that there must be really some­thing to the story.

That’s all I’m going to say.

My for­mer em­plo­yer Ben Brad­shaw on the other hand, for­mer BBC jour­nalist and now Par­lia­men­tary Se­cre­tary in the Bri­tish Depart­ment for Envi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Affairs, is very invol­ved in this row.

And, again, what­ever your opinion of all this: his re­cent de­plo­ring the lack of qua­lity jour­na­lism and sour­ce veri­fi­ca­tion seems to have some point when even „The Guar­dian„, even in a time­line of the affair publi­shed on July 19th, makes him a „For­eign Of­fice Mini­ster“, a po­si­tion he left in June 2002 when he was appoin­ted „De­puty Lea­der of the Hou­se of Com­mons“.


A New Atlantic Charter?

Tony Blair just addressed a joint session of the US congress and I suppose he will have convinced many in Congress that the right way for America is to fill out an application to the Commonwealth right now – or at least to again change the US constitution to allow Blair to run for President should NewLabour ever want to dispose of him.

While I won’t analyse the speech in detail until/unless I’ve seen a transcript, it was clearly Tony Blair at his best. A powerful speech that – while obviously not going into detail – addressed even problematic issues like the middle east conflict, one of the issues where the former mandate power UK usually is much more critical of Israel than the US.

Blair has not given up seeing Britain’s role at the centre of a Europe of nation states (he even mentioned the superstate to please the UK’s conservative papers) as mentor and mediator between the continents. At some points he tried to uplift the „special relationship“ to one between Europe, not just Britain, and the US.

Obviously, his speech was intented to distract from the political mess at home following the military victory abroad – for both him and George W. Bush, and to extend his clout in Washington. But it also became a leadership matters speech invoking history and not intelligence agencies. There was a lot of multilateralism in his speech, including the advice to the American administration to „lead through persuasion, not command.“

Now it’s up to us, to the beholders, to decide wether Blair was building the base for a new Atlantic Charter, or whether he just gave the „we lied to you because we had to in order to do what we wanted to do“-speech.

compulsory reading, Iraq, oddly enough, US Politics

The Psychology Of WMDs’s Louise Witt is wondering why America is in collective denial that [someone in] the Bush administration knowingly „sexed up“ the WMD charges against Saddam Hussein, as the administration is now admitting itself –

„[f]inally, on Monday, the White House admitted the president relied on inaccurate, incomplete information for that crucial passage of his State of the Union address.“ [this is referring to the President’s claim that Iraq was about to aquire radioactive material from Niger]

She asks why lying is perceived as bad in some cases – and she uses the obvious Clinton impeachment example – while most people will accept it without problems in other cases. She chooses an interesting and helpful angle to analyse this question: behavioral psychology, a scientific discipline that is predominantly occupied with exploring the limits of human information processing and decision making abilities. Obviously, she can only allude to some of the insights such a perspective has to offer for the problem at hand. But these allusions are well worth reading.

Here’s a part of Ms Witt’s article I found particularly interesting –

„When Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who interviewed the Nuremberg prisoners, talked to Hermann Goering, the former leader of the Third Reich’s Luftwaffe, Goering volunteered that it was relatively easy to persuade a populace to go to war.

As quoted in Gilbert’s book „Nuremberg Diary,“ Goering said: „It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Gilbert disagreed with Goering’s analysis. „There is one difference,“ he answered. „In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.“

But Goering held his ground: „Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.“

Of course, such a statement has to be read as carefully as possible. It certainly does not add any truth to the recently rather popular, strange comparison of George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.

But it does indicate that even liberal democracies could be heading in a dangerous direction. Especially when fear is calling the shots in most people’s brains.