September 26, 2004

MoDo is the Marionette

I used to respect MoDo's keen wit and fierce independent streak. But sadly, over the past couple of years, she's wholly swallowed a far-too-easy, breezy quasi-Mooreian narrative that has transformed her into a willing and increasingly shrill mouthpiece for anyone with a bone to pick with the Bush Administration. In this so-simple, dumbed-down world--Rummy and Cheney baby-sit kid Georgie, the neo-cons hijacked U.S. foreign policy and imposed a loony doctrine of pre-emption that has grossly unsettled a heretofore peaceful and idyllic international system, and the Administration is full of moronic Panglossians who think all is going smashingly swell in Mesopotamia.

Today, in the most widely read and prestigious opinion page in American print media (the Sunday New York Times), she simply parrots Joe Lockart's 'Allawi-as-Bush-parrot' slur--unwittingly showcasing that she is much more of a marionette and puppet than the Iraqi PM--given how slavishly she goes about doing Joe Lockhart's bidding without even a hint of judiciousness or fair play. It's worth quoting at some length:

President Bush has his own Mini-Me now, someone to echo his every word and mimic his every action.

For so long, Mr. Bush has put up with caricatures of a wee W. sitting in the vice president's lap, Charlie McCarthy style, as big Dick Cheney calls the shots. But now the president has his own puppet to play with.

All last week in New York and Washington, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq parroted Mr. Bush's absurd claims that the fighting in Iraq was an essential part of the U.S. battle against terrorists that started on 9/11, that the neocons' utopian dream of turning Iraq into a modern democracy was going swimmingly, and that the worse things got over there, the better they really were.

It's the media's fault, the two men warble in a duet so perfectly harmonized you wonder if Karen Hughes wrote Mr. Allawi's speech, for not showing the millions of people in Iraq who are not being beheaded, kidnapped, suicide-bombed or caught in the cross-fire every day; and it's John Kerry's fault for abetting the Iraqi insurgents by expressing his doubts about our plan there, as he once did about Vietnam....

Just as Mr. Cheney, Rummy and the neocons turned W. into a host body for their old schemes to knock off Saddam, transform the military and set up a pre-emption doctrine to strike at allies and foes that threatened American hyperpower supremacy, so now W. has turned Mr. Allawi into a host body for the Panglossian palaver that he believes will get him re-elected. Every time the administration takes a step it says will reduce the violence, the violence increases.

Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet - which is the only way he can gain any credibility to stabilize his devastated country and be elected himself.

Actually, being the president's marionette is a step up from Mr. Allawi's old jobs as henchman for Saddam Hussein and stoolie for the C.I.A.

It's hilarious that the Republicans have trotted out Mr. Allawi as an objective analyst of the state of conditions in Iraq when he's the administration's handpicked guy and has as much riding on putting the chaos in a sunny light as they do. Though Mr. Allawi presents himself as representing all Iraqis, his actions have been devised to put more of the country in the grip of this latest strongman - giving himself the power to declare martial law, bringing back the death penalty and kicking out Al Jazeera. [my emphasis throughout]

I don't think I've ever read a more cretinous screed in the New York Times--which I've been reading for about 15 years virtually daily. Let's pause and take in a bit of Dowd's intellectually lazy and (even) morally defunct Sunday musings.

1) First, let me explain what I mean about the morally defunct part. MoDo castigates Iyad Allawi for "bringing back the death penalty." Bringing it back? Herein Dowd's absurd adoption of the moronic Moore-like narrative that depicts Saddam-era Iraq as a rosy socialist playground full of kite-flying, cheery weddings, equal wages for all(!)--a Titoist Yugo-paradise of sorts. Maureen Dowd should take time out of her busy schedule and read Samantha Power's excellent "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"--focusing, in particular, on what Power calls the "Kurdish Hiroshima"--the horrors of Halabja. She should read over such accounts of Saddam's massacres of Kurds and (relatedly) Shi'a Marsh Arabs. Power puts Saddam's actions in a narrative of 20th Century genocides that begins with the Armenians, proceeds to the Jews, and continues on with the Cambodians, Iraqis, Rwandans, and Bosnian Muslims. Saddam's crimes rank among the greatest of the 20th Century. Dowd's fevered insinuations that Iyad Allawi is a thug on par with Saddam are, truly, morally corrupt allegations--and wholly divorced from reason and fact. But her (and Dave Shipley) don't appear to give a shit. Well, too bad, I guess.

2) Related to 1 above, this grossly hyperbolic relativizing of Saddam with Allawi, she describes the new Iraq PM as formerly a Saddam "henchman." Of course, anyone with any ambitions in 70's era Iraq would (much like joining the Communist Party in the Soviet Union) have had brief flirtations with the Baathist Party. From Nasser's Egypt, to Asad's Syria, to Iraq--the prevalent political philosophy of the day in the region was a Baathist-like fusion of Arab nationalism and socialism.

So was Allawi some noble Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov-type? No, of course not. But was he simply a Saddam henchman? Equally forcefully, one must conclude no. Which is why he was forced into exile in the U.K. in the 70s. And why he was almost axed to death by, yes, Saddam's real henchmen--and had to endure a lengthy period of convalescence. Isn't it revolting that MoDo would describe a man who almost died at the hands of this brutish tyrant as one of his very own henchmen?

3) Finally, this whole puppet thing--that MoDo tries to turn around on Bush ("Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet"). Dowd appears to charge Allawi with being a Bush mouthpiece because a) he indicates all is rosy in Iraq, b) appears so appreciative of Bush action's in unseating Saddam, and c) conflates the fight against terrorists and insurgents with the global war on terror.

Let's take each allegation in turn. Re: (a) above, and as anyone who read Allawi's speech is well aware--it wasn't all rosy, sunshine ("I know, too, that there will be many more setbacks and obstacles to overcome.") And, re: (b) above, frankly, why can't Allawi show some gratitude to the American government and people for unseating a bloody tyrant responsible for the death of hundred of thousands of his country-men? Really, why?

And, finally, yes--Allawi's speech placed the counter-insurgency effort in Iraq within the larger context of the post-9/11 global war on terror. But these comments weren't meant to reinforce wild Myloriean-style claims that Saddam personally planned 9/11 and dispatched Iraqi intelligence agents to Prague to hobnob with Mohammed Atta. Allawi's comments were meant differently, of course. After all, he is hardly alone in describing his government's goals as part of the larger war on terror. So does Vladimir Putin and Arik Sharon. So does New Delhi and Islamabad. So does Karzai. And so will other countries going forward. Everyone and their mother are now using the war on terror as a kind of rationale for facing down domestic opponents and varied geopolitical threats. Each case must be viewed on its merits (for instance, Putin's conduct of the Chechen war has been extremely brutish--to wholly accept the placing of his efforts there within the rubric of the GWOT sullies the moral integrity of the struggle).

But the point here is that, yes of course, Allawi is going to place his difficult counter-insurgency efforts as part of the larger struggle between barbaric fanaticism and civilization. And, while you can disagree, he is doing this because he is faced with mammoth challenges and wants to succeed and garner as much international support as possible--not because he is some Bush stooge, parrot, marionette. No, the real puppet here is an increasingly lazy Maureen Dowd--who is simply rounding out the next inning of Lockhart's puppet slur to give it greater exposure and willingly play campaign flak for Kerry. It's the type of rank partisanship more nuanced and serious op-ed writers like Jim Hoagland, Dave Ignatius or Anne Applebaum would never stoop too--but that has become the increasingly routine, tiresome, and twice-weekly gruel she dishes up for all her cheerleaders in precincts Upper West Side and Berkeley. It's a pity--because she's better than that. But, like so many others, irrational Bush-hatred has gotten the better of her so that she is now simply embarassing herself.

MORE: Yes, I know the CPA abolished the death penalty--but such a hugely disingenuous technical reading would make a Bill Clinton blush and, of course, doesn't change the above analysis a whit.

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