Deborah Amos’s ‘Eclipse of the Sunnis’

Yesterday I went to a book talk that National Public Radio’s Deborah Amos gave about her new book Eclipse of the Sunnis; Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East. She’s an engaging person and a smart reporter who’s been working in the Middle East for many years now.
The talk was ways too short for my taste! In the course of of it, she explained that when she started the book, she had intended for it to be about Iraqi exiles, in general; but then it transmuted itself into a book that’s more about “the eclipse of the Sunnis.” She also noted that the title arouses very different reactions from western and Arabic audiences, with the latter being quite shocked by it while most westerners see nothing shocking in it at all.
Well, I’ve read a couple of chapters now, and I don’t really think the title is perfect. Not least because there is– as she had told us at the talk– one whole chapter there about the Christian Iraqis who make up roughly 15% of the exiles, though only 3 % of the national population.
The book seems to have been reported mainly from Syria and Jordan.
In her talk yesterday, Amos stressed that the exile from Iraq has been particularly harsh for many or most Iraqi exiles because back home they had mostly been people with good educations, and a fair or high degree of financial and professional standing. So the loss of that sense of security– and the fact that, for many of these families, they now find the children are getting far worse educations than their parents, or no education at all, and that so little help has been given them– has in any cases made the come-down particularly hard to bear.
These refugees do not, she said, fit most people’s stereotypical idea of what a ‘refugee’ looks like. And she added that this was really the first time this had ever happened to such a huge swathe of the middle- and upper-middle class of a country.
Actually, I’m not so sure about that latter point… It was also, after all, what happened to just about the whole of the middle- and upper-middle-class of Palestine during the nakba of 1947-49.
There’s another parallel in these two situations, too– though she gives this fact no acknowledgment. In the Introduction she writes,

    Iraqis are tied to their homeland through technology… There is no model for this middle-class exodus in the Arab world. In chat rooms and on cellphones, web cameras, and blogs, a larger Iraq exists. The community of exiles is in daily contact waiting for word from home that it is time to come back. The rest of the region is waiting, too.

Well, I’m not sure how many Palestinian homes Amos has been into recently. But the Palestinian diaspora is significantly more far-flung (and more populous) than the Iraqi diaspora… Moreover, at this point, every single Palestinian family, except for a few families that all have citizenship in Israel, has close family members distributed among five or six different countries or jurisdictions. And they all try to keep in good touch with each other, and with relatives back “home”, using Skype and blogs and every other electronic means at their disposal. Indeed, the distribution of this new(-ish) technology among Palestinian refugees has done more than just keep the sense of national belonging intact; I think it has also been working to create an entirely new kind of sense of national belonging. Maybe, even of a “virtual Palestine”, that is in no way removed from the concerns of the terrestrial one.
Just like the Iraqi refugees.
But I think that’s a quibble. As far as I can see, Amos has written a book that sensitively portrays the deep sadness of the exiles and the very many challenges they face. She also seems honest about the degree of responsibility our country must bear for their fate.
On p. xv she writes:

    This new exodus was not the narrative that the Bush administration wanted to project, or acknowledge, and remained invisible for much of the world. The U.S. security plan known as the surge was an American success story, but it was a sideshow for those forced out of hoes and neighborhoods in a power struggle that used displacement and exile as a weapon. More Iraqis left the country in 2007 than in 2006, the year that the surge got underway. The international Organization for Migration… was tracking widespread displacements in 2007; the movement inside the country had increased by a factor of 20. Thirty thousand additional U.S. troops, spread out across Baghdad, brought no return of the exiles… on the ground the Sunni-Shiite divide was still steeped in blood.

In her talk yesterday, which was hosted by the Women’s Foreign Policy Group here in DC, Amos said that her understanding is that most Iraqi exiles are watching the results of the recent elections carefully, and that if Allawi does well they will have more reason to consider returning home than if anyone else wins. His Iraqiyya bloc is the only one with any significant Sunni members in it.
She noted that candidates who’d earlier risen to prominence with the (U.S.-funded) Sunni “Awakening” groups were doing really badly.
(Also doing badly, according to Visser, has been Ali Faisal al-Lami, the executive director of the Debaathification commission. That should make many of the exiles happy!)
Anyway, though I disagree a little with some of the judgments Amos makes in her book, all-in-all I think it’s a really excellent and important volume. Everyone here in the U.S. who might want (and perhaps understandably so) to forget as much as they can about the Bush years and all the really terrible decisions Pres. Bush made– including the decision to invade Iraq– needs to remember that those decisions had far greater, and graver, consequences on the people of Iraq than they have had on our people. Deborah Amos does a great job of taking us into the lives, concerns, and essential humanity of some of the millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes as a result of our country’s invasion.

Continue reading “Deborah Amos’s ‘Eclipse of the Sunnis’”

Sloggers slogged?

Back in December 2006, when a strange new quasi-news outfit called “IraqSlogger” emerged, I blogged my concerns about the organization here and here.
Now it turns out that Eason Jordan and Robert Young Pelton the two ethically challenged adventurers behind that short-lived project moved on from there to the world of intelligence gathering on contract to the U.S military in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Back in December ’06, I wrote,

    basically, this company is mixing up the job of making available a free news-reporting service with that of hiring themselves out as private intel consultants/providers, offering themselves to the highest bidders. Very disquieting. In my experience, there is quite enough suspicion out there in the world about the role of journalists and the media without a company coming along that explicitly seeks to mix the role of journalists with that of intelligence collectors and analysts.

Boy, did I call that one. (It wasn’t hard. Those guys were pathetic amateurs.)

More on Petraeus

Paul Woodward of ‘War in Context’ has a good post, “Israel is putting American lives at risk”, that expands on the info that Mark Perry blogged Saturday, about the briefers whom Gen. Petraeus despatched recently to go tell JCS chair Mike Mullen that the administration’s Israel-Palestine policy is putting American lives at risk.
Woodward got Perry to discuss the circumstances behind his post a little more, and to give his assessment of what Petraeus is up to.
Perry told Woodward:

    My sense is that General Petraeus neither likes nor dislikes Israel: but he loves his country and he wants to protect our soldiers. The current crisis in American relations with Israel is not a litmus test of General Petraeus’s loyalty to Israel, but of his, and our, concern for those Americans in uniform in the Middle East.
    It is, perhaps, a sign of the depth of “the Biden crisis” that every controversy of this type seems to get translated into whether or not America and its leaders are committed to Israel’s security. This isn’t about Israel’s security, it’s about our security.

Very well said.
This is, of course, another sign of how the discussion over the nature and value of our country’s currently joined-at-the-hip relationship with Israel is fermenting in different sections of the U.S. political elite.
As a serving military officer, Petraeus is of course not allowed to take a “political” stand on anything. But he is also the man who as head of Centcom is charged with ensuring that the hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops serving in combat zones in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other portions of the Greater Middle East are not exposed to any unnecessary dangers. And where he sees that Washington’s policies do indeed place U.S. troops in unnecessary danger, he has a duty to speak out through the appropriate channels.
Though in the past I have accused Petraeus of being a grandstander, I think in the present circumstances there is no evidence at all that he did anything to leak the news of his briefings to Mullen (or about his reported request that Israel, currently handled out of EUCOM, nt Centecom, be transferred to his command. That one, Perry wrote, got shot down immediately.)
… Anyway, readers here at JWN might like to note that when I read interesting and significant things I am now trying once again to tag them and get them onto the “Delicious” zone on the right sidebar of the Main Page here for your edification, with a few comments from myself. I realize the Delicious zone is quite far down on the sidebar, but do try to check it from time to time…. In my current redesign, I’ll try to bring it up a lot higher and more accessible.
For now, note that I put the Woodward piece on there yesterday. And today, there is this good roundup of pieces on the current “tipping point”, by Ali Gharib.

More ferment in the liberal establishment: Friedman!!

I’m late getting round to reading the NYT today. But credit where credit is due. Tom Friedman:

    I am a big Joe Biden fan… So it pains me to say that on his recent trip to Israel, when Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s government rubbed his nose in some new housing plans for contested East Jerusalem, the vice president missed a chance to send a powerful public signal: He should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: “Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country.”

Sullivan, Goldberg, and new ferment among U.S. liberals

There is some new and very real ferment on the Palestine Question these days, in the heart of the United States’ chronically very strongly pro-Zionist “liberal” political-cultural establishment.
Witness, the the increasingly sharply expressed series of arguments between the two bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg, both of whom have their blogs published by the liberal-establishment magazine The Atlantic.*
Last Thursday, Sullivan published this hard-hitting post about what he described as the “kick in the balls” that Benjamin Netanyahu and his government delivered two days earlier to Vice-President Joe Biden, then on a key fence-mending visit to Israel.
Sullivan wrote,

    Joe Biden was kicked in the balls as he came to Israel with a simultaneous “fuck you” by the Israeli government announcing new settlements – 1600 houses – in East Jerusalem.

He then explored the question of whether Netanyahu had or had not known about the construction decision before it was announced. He concluded:

    I cannot read Netanyahu’s mind. But I can observe Israel’s actions. They intend to occupy and colonize the entire West Bank for ever. They may allow some parceled enclaves for Palestinians, but they will maintain a big military presence on the Eastern border of West Bank, and they will sustain this with raw military power and force. I certainly cannot see any other rationale for their actions these past few years that makes any sense at all. Many Israeli politicians now use the term “apartheid” for this future.

He also prefaced the post with the now rightly famous “postcard” set of maps showing the growth in Jewish control over the area of pre-1948 Mandate Palestine.
(Postcard map series)
Sllivan’s fellow Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg immediately had conniptions, expressed in this blog post, Friday.
Goldberg, who has written proudly about his service in the IDF back in the 1970s, has increasingly been emerging as one of the most persistent of Israel’s attack-dogs/ defenders within the American political discourse.
Sullivan’s use of the postcard map series seemed to arouse Goldberg’s particular ire. He wrote:

    Andrew is free to publish malicious nonsense, such as the series of map[s] he published yesterday, maps which purport to show how Jews stole Palestinian land. Andrew does not tell us the source of these maps (in a magazine with standards, the source would be identified), but they were drawn to cast Jews in the most terrible light possible.
    The first map in the series of four is most egregious. It suggests that, in 1946, nearly all of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean was “Palestinian.” Land designated as “Jewish” in this map constitutes maybe five percent of the total. This map is ridiculous, not only because the term “Palestinian” in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs, but because there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… The intent of this propaganda map is to suggest that an Arab country called “Palestine” existed in 1946 and was driven from existence by Jewish imperialists. Not only was there no such country as “Palestine” in 1946, there has never been a country called Palestine. Before the British conquered Jerusalem, Palestine was a sub-province of the Ottoman Empire. (And after the British left, of course, Jordan and Egypt moved in to occupy Gaza and the West Bank.)

On the first point, re attribution of the map series, Sullivan pointed out in a post he blogged yesterday that he had indeed provided a source for it, at the bottom of the original post. (Sullivan also, evidently, took great pleasure in reproducing the map series in this second post, too, to make his point even more forcefully.)
But the series of allegedly historical arguments Goldberg adduced in his conniption-post are also a fascinating example of the hasbaristas’ malicious manipulations of the historical record.
First of all, his claim that “the term ‘Palestinian’ in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs.” This is simply ill-informed and wrong. The Term ‘Palestinian’, as used by everyone involved as residents or administrators in the British Mandate for Palestine, referred to all those then resident in the area of the mandate, and subjects of the Mandatory government. As anyone who has ever done even a cursory reading of the history of the Mandate era, the Palestinian Arabs used the term just as much as the Palestinian Jews (and there were a lot more of them.)
Where on earth did Goldberg get the idea that the term ‘Palestinian’ “generally” referred to the Jews, not the Arabs? Maybe from his many readings of Israeli/Zionist history, in which, it is true, the Jewish residents of pre-1948 were often referred to as “Palestinian Jews” or– when referring to them in the all-Jewish context in which many of these histories were cast– simply as “the Palestinians.” Those histories often didn’t even really refer to the local “Palestinian Arabs” very much, at all.
We can note, too, for example, that in pre-1948 years, the Israeli newspaper now known as the “Jerusalem Post” was called the “Palestine Post”.
So what we have here from Goldberg are two remarkable feats of rhetorical legerdemain. He is trying to tell us that the area’s “Arabs” didn’t use the term ‘Palestinian’. And he is trying to tell us that the Jews of the area, a large proportion of whom were recent immigrants, had almost exclusive use of it.
The first of those rhetorical tricks is all of a piece with the whole bundle of quite unsubstantiable claims to the effect that there never was anything resembling a stable Arab population in the area of British Mandate Palestine, but that any Arabs who by chance turned up there in the early 20th century had come from elsewhere, attracted, indeed, by the many “economic opportunities” the Zionist immigration offered to them (the argument of the dreadful disinformer Joan Peters), and that there had never actually been a “Palestinian people”, at all (Golda Meir’s argument.)
And the second of those rhetorical tricks is– yet again!– an act of Zionist-colonial cultural appropriation of the boldest possible kind. Here we have the arch-Zionist Jeffrey Goldber telling us that even the name “Palestinian” that the Palestinians use to identify themselves and their own people should really (for the pre-1948 period, and perhaps also for today) be used exclusively for the country’s Jews!
But let’s move on to Goldberg’s claim that,

    there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… ”

This, too, is arrant nonsense. There was a British Mandate for Palestine, just as there was a British Mandate for Iraq, a French Mandate for Syria, etc. “Palestine” was not a name made up from nowhere”, and the name of the Mandatory administration was quite specific. The coins, postage stamps, passports and ID cards issued by the Mandatory authority all quite clearly said “Palestine”.
Anyway, I’m sure you get my drift.
Fascinating that Goldberg got so riled up by the postcard map-series, eh?
But the big story here is not Goldberg and his mouth-frothing excesses. It is Sullivan, and the degree to which this important figure in the liberal-establishment elite is now willing to take Goldberg on head-on.
In his March 13 post (yesterday), Sullivan wrote:

    I will respond merely to the criticism… First, the map was not discussed except as an historical illustrative context for the way in which the Netanyahu government is intent on aggressively expanding Israeli settlement even further in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This matters because as that famous anti-Semite [btw, irony alert there ~HC], Joe Biden, said yesterday

      “This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

    … [T]here was a place called Palestine (among other things) under mostly Ottoman or British rule for a very long time before Israel came into existence. Wikipedia tells us that in 1850, for example, the population of the area comprised roughly 85% Muslims, 11% Christians and 4% Jews. In 1920, the League of Nations reported that
    Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000.
    By the end of the British mandate, and an influx of Jewish refugees and Zionists, the proportions were roughly 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Jews. Jews were concentrated in urban areas along the coast but, as the first map shows, some were indeed in the West Bank, although as a tiny minority.
    This isn’t propaganda; it’s fact.
    The maps show what has happened since – in sixty years in terms of growing sovereignty and accelerating Israeli control…

This is great. To have these matters now being openly discussed within the heart of the US political-cultural establishment is new and important.

* Some people may claim that Andrew Sullivan is not a member of the U.S. liberal establishment. It is true that he is far from being a committed, knee-jerk liberal. He writes thoughtfully and thought-provokingly on a number of different subjects and is, I gather, a fairly devoted Catholic in his belief. He is also, fwiw, an out gay. But the fact that he was previously editor of The New Republic and is now a fixture at the Atlantic qualifies him, I believe, as a leading figure in the liberal establishment.

Fareed Zakaria calls it right on Iran, Israel

Thank goodness for Fareed Zakaria’s voice of sanity on Iran, at the WaPo today!
Zakaria strongly criticizes Sarah Palin and those many other influential voices in the US who are now baying louder than ever for a U.S. (or Israeli) military strike on Iran.
A military strike, he writes,

    would most likely delay the Iranian program by only a few years. And then there are the political consequences. The regime would gain support as ordinary Iranians rally around the flag… The regime would foment and fund violence from Afghanistan to Iraq and across the Persian Gulf. The price of oil would skyrocket — which, ironically, would help Tehran pay for all these operations.
    It is important to recognize the magnitude of what people like Palin are advocating. The United States is being asked to launch a military invasion of a state that poses no imminent threat to America, without sanction from any international body and with few governments willing to publicly endorse such an action. Al-Qaeda and its ilk would present it as the third American invasion of a Muslim nation in a decade, proof positive that the United States is engaged in a war of civilizations. Moderate Arab states and Muslim governments everywhere would be on the defensive. And as Washington has surely come to realize, wars unleash forces that cannot be predicted or controlled…

Actually, I think Zakaria doesn’t make the case as strongly as he could. He makes no mention at all of international law or Just War theory, for example. Both those extremely weighty bodies of thinking– along with common sense– proclaim a strong injunction against the launching of wars that are not “justified” by rock-solid bodies of evidence. Just War theory also requires an extensive calculation of the expected costs and benefits of any war, as well as a determination that all non-violent options have been exhausted.
Indeed, by not clearly naming the launching of a military strike as an act of war, Zakaria muddies the waters considerably.
A military attack against another state is indeed an act of war. And any such an act thereby provides every justification needed under international law for the state that is attacked to counter-attack. An Iranian counter-attack against the numerous U.S. military facilities, and their supply lines, that are currently strung out in very vulnerable ways along Iran’s eastern, western, and southern (sea) boundaries would not just be “the fomenting of violence”, as Zakaria describes it. They would also be acts of war.
So the U.S. would indeed find itself enmeshed in a third war in distant Asia. And this time, unlike in Afghanistan in 2001 or in Iraq in 2003, it would be at war against a capable, intact state that has significant networks of allies and trading partners amongst the other states in the United Nations.
So it is not just that “Al-Qaeda and its ilk would present it as the third American invasion of a Muslim nation in a decade”… This would actually be the third war the U.S. has launched against a Muslim country in a decade.
So Zakaria is significantly down-pedaling the enormity of what an unprovoked and unjustified “military strike” against Iran would actually be, and would be seen as, by the vast preponderance of the international community.
Nonetheless, his column redeems itself if only for the calm, matter-of-fact way he refers to the long-existing reality of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
He writes,

    An Iran with nuclear weapons would be dangerous and destabilizing, though I am not as convinced as some that it would automatically force Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to go nuclear as well. If Israel’s large nuclear arsenal has not made Egypt seek its own nukes — even though that country has fought and lost three wars with Israel — it is unclear to me why an Iranian bomb would.

Brilliant! He gives us a helpful reminder that, indeed, Israel really is the only state in the region that has any nuclear weapons– but he inserts that reminder as a sub-clause into his counter to the oft-cited “argument” about the expected proliferatory effects of Iran acquiring any kind of nuclear-weapons capability.
Israel’s large, existing, and very powerful nuclear arsenal is always the elephant in the room of any discussion in the U.S. about nuclear weapons in the Middle East. In just about every area of discourse in the U.S. power elite– both inside and outside government– there is nearly always a complete taboo on mentioning it, or taking it into any account at all.
So huge kudos to Zakaria for mentioning it. (And yes, the argument he made there about the prospects for onward proliferation is a good one.)
He also makes a very solid argument that– contra all those who say there is something uniquely disturbing about the prospect of the ‘mad mullahs of Tehran’ getting a nuclear weapon– in fact, Iran’s clerical elite is “canny (and ruthlessly pragmatic)” … and therefore, subject to the same calculi of deterrence as any other state power.
So how long will it be till the war-mongers start baying for Zakaria’s blood, as well, I wonder?

WaPo’s hate propaganda against Syria

Today, the WaPo had an editorial filled with inaccuracies about Syria’s record and just oozing pure venom for the Syrian government.
The title is, “Don’t expect progress from talking to Syria.”
I’m still trying to figure out why editorial page editor Fred Hiatt feels obliged to publish such hate-filled, inaccurate, and incendiary garbage.
Here are just a few of the notable inaccuracies in this screed:

    “Having carried out a campaign of political murder in Lebanon, including the killing of a prime minister for which he has yet to be held accountable, Mr. Assad continues to insist on a veto over the Lebanese government… “

The truth here:
(1) No-one has yet been able to substantiate the many accusations that hostile forces have made against Pres. Bashar al-Asad regarding the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri. This, despite the involvement of scores of highly-paid international investigators in the commission that was jointly established by the UN and the Lebanese government to investigate the affair and the Hague-based Special tribunal that was the successor to the commission. Last April, in fact, the Hague tribunal ordered that four pro-Syrian figures who had been high-ranking officers in the Lebanese security forces pup until the assassination should be freed from jail, given the paucity of evidence against them.
(2) Meanwhile, in response to the demands that rose loudly in Lebanon after the Hariri killing that Syria should withdraw the security forces it had kept in Lebanon since 1976 (when they went in at the behest of Washington), Asad did indeed withdraw all Syria’s troops from Lebanon within the couple of months right after the killing. Then, in October 2008, Syria formally recognized Lebanon’s independence for the first time ever. (All previous Syrian governments, including the most pro-western of them, had always, ever since Syria was established as a separate country in the 1920s, claimed that Lebanon was a part of it.) After Syria’s recognition of Lebanon’s independence, the two countries exchanged ambassadors.
(3) Last December, Lebanese PM Saad al-Hariri made a state visit to Damascus, where he held talks with Asad. Hariri is a very pro-western politician, and the son of the slain former premier. Haaretz reported that Hariri told a press conference held in the Lebanese embassy in Damascus that,

    I saw all positive signals from President Assad in all issues and we agreed on opening a new phase in our relations… The talks were excellent and frank… It all depends on the future….We want to build a future that serves the interests of the two countries.

Ah, but Fred Hiatt claims he “knows better” about the state of Syrian-Lebanese relations than Hariri does??
… More Hiatt:

    “[Asad] continues to facilitate massive illegal shipments of Iranian arms to Hezbollah, dangerously setting the stage for another war with Israel, and to host the most hard-line elements of the Hamas leadership. He continues to harbor exiled leaders of Saddam Hussein’s regime and to allow suicide bombers to flow into Iraq for use by al-Qaeda… He has promised to check suicide bombers bound for Iraq but has never done so… “

Where to begin with all this nonsense?
(1) Lebanon is a sovereign country that has the right to defend itself against Israel’s daily continuing incursions and provocations in the way it judges best. Thus far, its government has decided to do so in conjunction with Hizbullah’s paramilitary capabilities. If someone wants to prevent another war between Israel and Lebanon, wouldn’t they be advised to call on Israel to stop its incessant violations of the border between the two countries? Ah, but not Hiatt…
(2) Hamas’s over-all leadership is indeed headquartered in Damascus. But all who study the organization carefully (though not Fred Hiatt) recognize that the Damascus-based leaders range from the middle to the more flexible end of the (anyway narrow) spectrum of opinion in the organization’s leading ranks. They are a moderating influence within Hamas– and very, very far from being “the most hard-line elements.”
(3) On the accusations about Damascus’s policies with respect to Iraq– where is the evidence for the claims Hiatt makes?? In the talks I had with officials in Damascus last year, it was clear that cooperation with Washington against the threat they judged that they both jointly faced from any renewed descent into chaos in Iraq was the single greatest motivator the Syrian government had for improving its relations with Washington. What evidence does Hiatt have that might outweigh the evidence I and numerous others have gathered on this question?
… So why do I even both spending time trying to correct the many gross inaccuracies included in this text? Because despite its many, many shortcomings, the WaPo is still a very influential newspaper in Washington DC, and in political circles throughout this country. Most people in the U.S. political elite don’t have the time to study carefully the actions and record of this or that foreign country… So they might well be inclined to “take the word” of a WaPo editorial regarding whether engagement with the current Syrian government is a worthwhile venture or not.
But why has the WaPo departed so hugely from the standards of accuracy and truth-telling that it once used to uphold?
That, I don’t feel qualified to answer. But the paper should certainly be held to account for these inaccuracies– and for the escalatory, war-mongering kind of atmosphere that they tend to feed.

BBC’s embarrassing ethnocentrism

The BBC’s nightly, half-hour TV newscast here in the US (“and elsewhere around the world”) still has much to commend it. Tonight’s footage of Elizabeth Wilmshurst at the Chilcott Enquiry, lambasting the (il-)legal basis of the Blair government’s decision to back the invasion of Iraq was wonderful for us here in America to behold.
However… The Beeb does still bring a breathtakingly provincial and ethnocentric sensibility to its coverage of various “foreign” disasters. I just watched their footage of the after-effects of the massive floods in the Peruvian Andes. The reporter led off with the fairly minor trials and tribulations of the (let’s face it, mostly somewhat wealthy) western tourists in the region… and only some minutes into the report did he note that “local people” (i.e., the people formerly known as “natives”) “have also been affected.”
Who knew?
Who knew that Peruvian citizens, who have lost homes, businesses, livelihoods, and even lives due to the floods, should “also” be mentioned, as an afterthought, in a news bulletin that claims to be “international”???
This was an echo of the Beeb’s shockingly ethnocentric, or perhaps we should say whitefolks-centric, early coverage of the earthquake in Haiti two weeks ago.
Where on earth does the BBC find all these white-centric reporters and editors?
Time to retire or re-educate the lot of them, I think.

Registan, Bloggingheads (redux), etc

I’ve gotten into a little argument with Joshua Foust over at Registan, over the chronic problem of the gross under-representation of women at ‘Bloggingheads TV’.
This is not a new problem.
First of all, I understand that that under-representation is not Foust’s fault. But all the guys who participate in those forums without also raising their concern about gender issues are, imho, compounding the problem. Women and other under-represented groups need allies.
Foust claimed that there are “lots” of women at BHTV. I just went, randomly, to the ‘M’ page on their list of contributors and counted six women out of 36 names. That is definitely under-representation!
… Anyway, I feel a bit bad about singling Foust out on this… for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t know him personally at all– unlike some of the other guys who do things there, who is who I should really persist in talking to.
Secondly, and most importantly, the substance of the work that Foust does on Registan is truly first-class. Today he has two other excellent posts up– this one, about the “Meta-war in Georgia one year on,” and this one that asks the really important question about why anyone thinks this week’s election in Afghanistan is important.