Category Archives: Media

D. Broder and the war fever in Washington

Just how serious the current, rising epidemic of war fever is in Washington DC is indicated by a column in today’s WaPo in which veteran pundit David Broder argues quite clearly that for Pres. Obama, “orchestrating a showdown” with the regime in Iran in 2011 and 2012 will be a successful policy at both the political level and that of the U.S. economy.
Broder, whom I hitherto long respected as a voice of relative (and relatively conservative) sanity on the Washington DC, seems to have lost his capacity for rational argument.
The last five paragraphs of his column need to examined in full:

    What else might affect the economy? The answer is obvious, but its implications are frightening. War and peace influence the economy.
    Look back at FDR and the Great Depression. What finally resolved that economic crisis? World War II.
    Here is where Obama is likely to prevail. With strong Republican support in Congress for challenging Iran’s ambition to become a nuclear power, he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.
    I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century. If he can confront this threat and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he will have made the world safer and may be regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.

The rhetorical thrust of that last paragraph is confused. “I am not suggesting… that the president incite a war to get reelected. But the nation will rally around Obama because Iran is the greatest threat to the world in the young century… ”
The claim that he is “not suggesting … that the president incite a war to get reelected” is perhaps true in some purely technical sense. But if he is not suggesting that Obama “incite a war”, he certainly is arguing outright that,

    he can spend much of 2011 and 2012 orchestrating a showdown with the mullahs. This will help him politically because the opposition party will be urging him on. And as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve.

I almost do not know where to start in explaining the intensity of the disappointment I feel in reading this piece from Broder.
Let me try:
1. David Broder has not traditionally been one of the war-mongers (like Jackson Diehl, Jim Hoagland, etc) on the WaPo’s opinion page. I think I remember him expressing some caution when writing back in 2002 about the possibility of an imminent war with Iraq. If the irrationalities of war fever have reached even into David Broder’s soul at this time, then the miasmas in Washington must be even worse than I thought.
2. No-one who has any idea of the effects warfare has on the lives and livelihoods of the residents of the war-zone should ever talk or write glibly at all about the possibility of yet another of humankind’s too-long history of wars being launched. Broder may write that the implications of the possibility of another war “are frightening”. But then, he goes to say that Obama can— and also, by very strong implication should— do this if he wants to be “regarded as one of the most successful presidents in history.”
David Broder, what has happened to your sense of humanity??
3. At the purely “technical” level, the argument that launching a war (sorry, “orchestrating a showdown”) with Tehran will ipso facto be good for the U.S. economy is just mind-boggling. David Broder, don’t you remember all the claims made in 2002 that invading Iraq would help the U.S. economy by “bringing down the cost of oil”– and that even if that did not occur, well anyway, the whole invasion and occupation would be largely self-financing because the Iraqis and others would end up paying for it, not the U.S. taxpayer. Why, I believe you even argued against some of those claims back in 2002.
But what effect did the invasion of Iraq actually end up having on the U.S economy? It has been– continues to be– a horrendous drain, having eaten up more than $1 trillion already, and still counting.
Where, David Broder, can you find even one shred of evidence that a war against Iran would be any better for the U.S. economy than that?
Your FDR/World War II argument is flawed, as well. It was true that World War II ended up, at some level, being “good” for the U.S. economy. But by no stretch of the imagination can it be said that Pres. Roosevelt entered the war with the goal of improving the U.S. economy. For him and other members of his generation, the searing economic privations that they had seen the previous World War inflicting on Europe was a powerful disincentive to go to war. When Washington did enter the war it was because the U.S. Navy had been attacked.
No-one has attacked the U.S. on this occasion.
Indeed, the almost certain effects that a U.S. “showdown with the mullahs” would have on the world economy, and therefore on our own, are staggeringly negative. World oil markets could be brought to a standstill. Most other major players in the world economy would not blame Iran for this. They would blame the country that unnecessarily escalated the tensions with Iran toward the “showdown”. The costs they might impose on the U.S.– economically and in other ways– could well be staggering. (Remember that the soundness of the dollar is, actually, dependent on the kindness of strangers.)
… You mention none of these probable economic consequences of a war. Indeed, you don’t even attempt to adduce any evidence as to why, in the 2010’s, the forcing of a “showdown with the mullahs” could be good for the U.S. economy at all. You just write, “as tensions rise and we accelerate preparations for war, the economy will improve;” and you use the facile comparison with FDR and World War II– which happened in an era when the world’s economy, as well as its political balance, were very different from today.
You are discussing an extremely serious issue here in a way that is intellectually lazy to the point of near-dishonesty, as well as mind-bogglingly belligerent.
David Broder, I am very disappointed.

Newsweek: ‘Everyone needs’ Hamas at the table

A really significant article by Babak Dehghanpisheh in this week’s Newsweek: The headline is: “A place for Mr. Meshaal: No one wants the leader of Hamas at the Mideast peace table. But everyone needs him there.”
Of course, it is not true that “No one wants him” there… But we can let that go.
Dehghanpisheh interviewed Meshaal for two hours for the article. He writes,

    Meshaal sounds more moderate these days than he once did. Although he still calls for bigger concessions than Israel is likely to grant, they’re at least within the realm of rational discussion.

Wow. There on the news pages in the heart of the U.S. MSM! (As opposed to, for example, the many pieces making this same argument that I and others have written in the op-ed pages of a few, relatively open publications like the Christian Science Monitor.)
Too bad Newsweek is kind of going down the tubes financially right now. I’d love to know the inside-the-mag politics behind Dehghanipisheh getting the piece published…
He does seem to attribute Hamas’s shift toward moderation almost wholly to the economic mess he claims that Hamas rule has led to in Gaza– though he gives no evidence of having actually been there. (Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas spokesman there can be interviewed over the phone from anywhere in the world.) People who have been in Gaza note firstly that the intense economic malaise there is due above all to the tight siege Israel maintains around it, and secondly that, given the conditions of the siege, the Strip is actually remarkably well organized.
Oh well, it is still, I think, a sign of changing attitudes towards Israel in many portions of the U.S. political elite that this piece even got published.

Richard Cohen’s ignorant, anti-Hamas rant

Shorter Richard Cohen, today: We have to starve Gaza’s 1.5 million people in order to save them (from Hamas).
Where does this guy get his ignorant opinions from, and why does the WaPo pay him huge gobs of money as a staff columnist to continue inflicting them on the reading public?
Cohen:

    It’s a pity that Israel, while substantially loosening its grip on Gaza, will continue to enforce a blockade when, with just a little imagination, it could insist on a deal with the activists once again steaming its way: You can proceed to Gaza if, once you get there, you demand that Hamas cease the persecution of women, institute freedom of religion, halt the continuing rocketing of Israel, release an Israeli hostage, ban torture and rescind an official charter that could have made soothing bedtime reading for Adolf Hitler. This may take some time.
    In fact, these demands would never be met…

His evidence for these claims? He adduces no direct evidence, at all! The whole “argument” he makes is one built on guilt by association– Hamas’s claimed close association with MB founder Hassan al-Banna, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and Sayyid Qutb… as traced by that wellknown “scholar” of such thinkers (not!), Paul Berman.
Yes, the very same Paul Berman who was one of the key, New York-based liberal hawks who helped crowbar large chunks of the “liberal” portion of the U.S. elite into supporting the idea of saving Iraq’s people by invading their country.
(How did that go, Paul?)
Well, now Berman has a new book out, this time an explicitly anti-Islamist screed. And stop the presses! Richard Cohen has read it!
That is the entire data-set on which Cohen bases his allegations against Hamas. Oh no, don’t bother him with such mundane things as mere facts! E.g., as against his claims about Hamas’s “persecution of women”– the fact that Hamas has a number of articulate and savvy female elected MPs. Do you think Cohen even knows that? Or cares about actual facts?
He completely ignores all other salient facts, too. Including the relevance of the international laws governing belligerent military occupation, and Israel’s responsibility under those laws for the wellbeing (and not just the bare physical survival) of Gaza’s people… The fact that Israel’s military control of Gaza has continued unbroken and brutal for 43 years now… Israel’s continued detention of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners including tens of elected MPs, with many of those civilian detainees held without trial for many years now…
Oh, but he makes sure to mention Gilad Shalit, the one serving Israeli soldier taken captive by Gazans during a firefight in 2006 and now held by Hamas, which sadly enough is a risk that soldiers take once they put on the uniform.
This screed is beyond one-sided. It’s pathetic. But the WaPo carries on giving him his real-estate on the opinion page there…

The ‘oddity’ of American mainstream discourse

The WaPo’s main house neocon, Jackson Diehl, had a typically arrogant op-ed today in which he huffed and puffed about Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in these terms:

    His transition from pro-American democrat to anti-Israeli zealot is sobering…

Matt Yglesias picked up on that and added this wise commentary:

    As best I can tell from Diehl’s column, Anwar hasn’t stopped being “pro-American” or a democrat, so it’s difficult to see what the nature of the “transition” is. Indeed, if I’m understanding Diehl correctly what he’s saying about Anwar (and also about Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan) is that he’s heated up his rhetoric on Israel precisely because as a democrat seeking political reform in Malaysia under difficult circumstances he needs to be responsive to public opinion.
    In terms of “pro-American,” it’s always difficult to know what people mean by this term. Clearly, though, Malaysia is very far away from Israel and not the kind of country that’s engaged in global power projection. I would think that we would therefore judge the pro-Americanness or not of a Malaysian politician primarily in terms of his attitude toward regional issues in Southeast Asia…

His bottom line was,

    certainly it would be odd to make Israel the… the main criterion by which we judge a politician.

I beg your pardon, Matt? In just about all of the U.S. mainstream political discourse this is still exactly the criterion by which politicians all around the world get judged. You should surely know that.
Indeed, the situation is ways beyond “odd.” It’s downright lunatic. Not to mention extremely destructive of the true interests of our country’s people.
Still and all, it’s good that Matt Yglesias called Diehl out on his rampant Israel-first-ism.

The dumbing down of (paper) ‘Foreign Policy’

I’ve long been a fan of ‘Foreign Policy’ magazine– back to the days when my dear (late) friend Bill Maynes was the editor. It got more zip and texture with the redesign introduced by Moises Naim when he became editor. Now, they have a new-ish editor, susan Glasser, and new ownership… yes, it’s gone from being owned by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to being owned by (gasp!) the WaPo.
And it shows.
The latest issue– the “Bad Guys Issue”– is almost completely sophomoric. reducing the complexity of international relations to a question of “bad guys” is really inane. And the whole of the piece by Ghanaian citizen George B.N. Ayittey titled, “The Worst of the Worst: Bad dude dictators and general coconut heads” follows along completely with the childish, content-less name-calling of the title.
U.S. citizens live in a large country that– along with China– is the only one that is big enough that even in today’s world a dream of autarky, isolationism, and provincialism can still seems plausible. And in the U.S. one big result of this has been that many otherwise involved citizens are deeply ignorant about the rest of the world. A publication like Foreign Policy should set out to help educate them (us)– at least, not simply to mindlessly perpetuate old myths to the effect that most of the world’s problems are due to “the bad guys”, the “coconut heads”, etc.
What a tragedy to see what the paper edition of the FP has become.
Luckily, several parts of the fairly independently run website are a whole lot better.
I’m just off to see what Steve Walt has been writing there recently… And then, on to see what’s new on the Middle East Channel. I think Bill Maynes (RIP) would enjoy the online version of the mag much more than this present dead-tree version.

NYT finds Jewish terrorism ‘romantic’??

Deborah Solomon, a longtime writer for the NYT Magazine, conducted the ‘Q&A’ piece published in today’s paper with Israel’s opposition leader, Kadima party head Tzipi Livni. The piece as edited and published carries this exchange:

    Q: Your parents were among the country’s founders.
    A: They were the first couple to marry in Israel, the very first. Both of them were in the Irgun. They were freedom fighters, and they met while boarding a British train. When the British Mandate was here, they robbed a train to get the money in order to buy weapons.
    Q: It was a more romantic era. Is your mom still alive?
    A: No. She died two years ago…

Let me stress the fact that– as is made very clear in the print version of this article, as of all of Solomon’s weekly interviews– this one was ‘edited’ before publication.
In other words, it is not only Deborah Solomon who finds it quite acceptable to describe the Jewish terrorism perpetrated by Livni’s Irgun-affiliated parents as straightforwardly ‘romantic’. It was also the people who edited her interview.
The word ‘romantic’ is not even placed in quotation marks in either the print or the online version of the interview, which would have conveyed a sense it was being used with some ironic distance.
As Matt Duss notes over at Think Progress,

    While Livni may prefer to think that the Irgun weren’t terrorists, and Solomon would like to help, it’s worth noting that both the New York Times and the World Zionist Congress saw things very differently at the time. On December 24, 1946, the Times reported “The World Zionist Congress in its final session here strongly condemned by a vote early today terrorist activities in Palestine and ‘the shedding of innocent blood as a means of political warfare‘” by the groups Irgun and the Stern Gang.
    I very much doubt that the civilians who were murdered by the Irgun at the King David Hotel, nor those massacred and ethnically cleansed at Deir Yassin and Jaffa, nor the hundreds killed in various other Irgun attacks look upon that era as particularly romantic. Their memories deserve far better.

Check out the rest of the great links Matt provides there, too.
But also– even more importantly– please join me in writing either a Letter to the Editor at the NYT, or a strong but politely worded protest to their “Public Editor” (Ombudsman), Arthur S. Brisbane to express your displeasure at the newspaper’s apparent whitewashing of the (decidedly un-‘romantic’) Jewish terrorism of the 1940s.
You can reach Mr. Brisbane by e-mail or by phone at (212) 556-7652. Letters to the Editor go here.
(Oops, sorry about the earlier HTML mistake on those email addresses, and thanks to the kind reader who pointed them out.)

IDF Hasbara does Keystone Cops

Yesterday, or was it Thursday, the IDF’s disinformation (hasbara) units released a Youtube clip with audio, allegedly recorded in the leadup to Monday’s murderous assault on the Mavi Marmara, in which someone from the Turkish ship was supposedly telling the Israeli assailants to “Go back to Auschwitz!” etc.
Turns out it was doctored.
Jared Malsin has the story here.
Today, in response to persistent questioning from the fearless Max Blumenthal, the IDF spokespeople issued a revised version of the audio. You can find both versions at Jared’s blog post there.
Jared is still not satisfied that the “new” version of the audio that the IDF issued today has not been doctored.
Why should anyone believe anything the IDF has to say about this matter??
In particular, it’s imperative that no-one in the so-called “international community” let the Israelis get away with doing their own “investigation” of the whole piracy incident.
Some aspects of this botched attempt at hasbara intrigue me, however. It used to be the case that people in the west had a lot of admiration for the deftness of the “information operations” (IO) with which Israel always accompanied its warfighting. But now it seems the people who run the IDF’s hasbara (IO) units don’t really give a damn about the “quality” or believability of their work. Have they become arrogant and lazy? Perhaps.
Of course, it is also important to see that nowadays these units are being actively challenged on the accuracy and credibility of their statements and other IO products by dedicated young journos like Blumenthal. But where have all the “great and good” of the MSM’s correspondents been all this time? Why were they not expending the energy and shoe-leather required to check up on these things?
Maybe they became arrogant and lazy, too. Or maybe they’ve been so busy guarding their sacred “access” to Israeli decisionmakers that they didn’t want to rock the boat by questioning the IO people. Or maybe they just have such deep gut sympathy for Israel that they wouldn’t even dream of rocking the boat.
Israel, of course, has been doing a whole lot more to boats in international waters than just rocking them.
Update 5:50 pm I just listened to the whole of the allegedly “unedited” tape released today by the IDF. It does not contain the Auschwitz remark anywhere. How did that get in??
There are also huge new questions about the authenticity of even this tape. Jared now has an update in which Huwaida Arraf, the American-accented woman whose voice is heard clearly on the tape communicating on behalf of the Freedom Flotilla, says she was by the radio the whole time on Monday and she never heard most of these exchanges, and never on this occasion made the remark recorded there about “Gaza Port”– though she says she may have said that on the radio during a previous Freedom Flotilla action…
Bottom line: No, absolutely no-one should trust the Israelis to “investigate” themselves over the flotilla murders.

Boston Review gets well-deserved recognition!

Big congratulations to Joshua Cohen and Deb Chasman, the joint managing editors of Boston Review, for having the magazine win the 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for “best writing.”
In announcing the award, the Utne folks wrote,

    Crack open Boston Review’s generously sized newsprint pages and plunge into a world where poems sit alongside political essays, where fiction coexists with cultural criticism, and where—this is key—every element in the intellectual fiesta is thought-provoking and expertly crafted. When the 35-year-old bimonthly added more investigative reporting to its repertoire last year, we nearly swooned. Let mainstream publications give in to the perceived demand for bite-sized news; Boston Review provides the exquisite main course.

This is fabulous news.
Great writing can only be achieved with great editing. These two and the staff they lead are the best!
(Just regarding “main course” versus “bite-size”, I’ll note that the second piece I published with them, back in 2002 or so, was 14,000 words long. You don’t find that in Newsweek!)

Too much to blog about, #1: Anat Kam

The ‘Anat Kam’ story has been developing a lot over the past week. It’s the story of two Haaretz journalists, Anat Kam and the older Uri Blau, who have been hounded and gagged by the Shin Bet for having leaked– about a year ago!– some serious stories about how the Israeli security forces developed a protocol for sending troops in on the ground to assassinate wanted Palestinians in cold blood and then cover it up.
The best coverage of this story, without a doubt, has come from West Coast U.S. blogger Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam. read his latest post, up today, and then read back from there. (Or, probably, forward as well, as the story develops.)
The case has so many angles it’s hard to know where to start.
One is the whole phenomenon of this ‘gagging’, which seems to operate very much like ‘banning’ in the old South Africa. Except in the old S.Africa, the ‘banning’ orders slapped onto Winnie Mandela and hundreds of other activists were at least public knowledge. Wheras in the case of Anat Kam, the gag order itself is subject to a security blackout and she has been rendered– far more than Winnie Mandela ever was– into a complete non-person.
(Blau escaped, with help from his bosses at Haaretz, by being sent to London. But the Shin Bet got ahold of his computer in Israel.)
Another strange aspect of this case is the bit-part played in it by Judith Miller, of all people. Yes, the same woman who played such a role in helping peddle the fabricated evidence that jerked the U.S. political elite into supporting the invasion of Iraq is now playing, in a small way, a bit of a good role in this story.
Richard has been writing about the story for more than a week now on his blog– and has done so despite much personal agonizing over whether this was the right thing to do, or whether it might jeopardize Ms. Kam’s situation even more. But then on Sunday, Judith Miller got a big piece about the Anat Kam affair published in Tina Brown’s ‘Daily Beast’, which is much more of a crossover journalistic operation, straddling the divide between personal blogs and the MSM.
What she wrote was, in general, pretty good. Sh went a bit overboard when she described Israel as “a nation that prides itself on its vibrant discourse and a free press”… I mean, it’s a country in which military censorship is omnipresent. (Which means, for example, that journos of all nationalities who’re based there aren’t allowed to report on any Palestinian projectiles that fall on Israeli military bases, as many do… leaving readers with the impression that they all fall on civilian areas.)
Until yesterday, the Israeli media referred to the whole Anat Kam affair only using elliptical references and by writing ‘hypothetical’ stories about “what would happen if there were a country that did something like this?” This, though it’s a small country and all the journos there (and just about everyone else, too) already knows what’s been going on.
Then yesterday, Yediot Aharonot reprinted the J. Miller story and left in the big black slugs imposed by the censorship. (You can see it here.)
But as Richard and others have noted, Israel has a very lively “Web 2.0” crowd; and on Facebook and Twitter etc there’s been a lot of commenting on Anat Kam’s gag order.
This far, just about all of the commentary in the media has been on the “freedom of the press” aspects of the whole affair. And there’s been precious little discussion of the underlying revelations that provoked the state’s actions against Blau and Kam. They are deeply shocking– much more shocking than the question of temporarily ‘gagging’ someone. Namely that the Israeli security forces– not sure if this was the IDF/IOF or the Border Police, or which units– had been systematically sending units into, I believe, the West Bank with orders to kill certain named suspects, and then make up a story that they’d been been shot “in the heat of combat” or shot “trying to escape”, or whatever.
Just like poor Steve Biko– or those hundreds of other South African freedom strugglers who were either targeted for assassination in the streets or were shot while in the custody of the security forces, or were shot shortly after leaving the formal custody of the security forces.
That is a story we cannot lose sight of.
Richard wrote about that a bit here.
Thanks for your great work, Richard.