December 03, 2004

The NYT-NYRB Echo Chamber

We are losing the war in Iraq. There has been a steady increase in the assaults carried out by the insurgents against coalition forces. The attacks over the past year have risen from about twenty a day to approximately 120. We are an isolated and reviled nation. We are tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. We have lost sight of our democratic ideals. Thucydides wrote of Athens' expanding empire and how this empire led it to become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. The tyranny Athens imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. If we do not confront our hubris and the lies told to justify the killing and mask the destruction carried out in our name in Iraq, if we do not grasp the moral corrosiveness of empire and occupation, if we continue to allow force and violence to be our primary form of communication, we will not so much defeat dictators like Saddam Hussein as become them.

Chris Hedges, NYT reporter, writing in the NYRB.

Hey, what liberal media!?! And, of course, the fact that Hedges has concluded we are an "isolated and reviled nation" that uses "force and violence" as its "primary form of communication" so that we are in danger of becoming just like a leading genocidaire of the 20th Century (what a heady, hyperbolic brew! some evidentiary moorings, please!)--that won't impact his reporting a wit, of course. Cuz, you know, it's the newspaper of record and it serves up its fare de haut en bas. Humbly accept these pearls of wisdom, friends. For they come from wiser and mightier folk than you and me...

Here's another beaut from the NYRB worth checking out too:

In the end, the war in Iraq did not have the decisive impact on the election that many had expected. In the weeks before the vote there were the massacre of forty-nine Iraqi police trainees; a deadly attack inside the previously impenetrable Green Zone in Baghdad; the refusal by an army unit to carry out a supply mission on the grounds that it was too dangerous; the explosion of several car bombs at a ceremony where soldiers were handing out candy, killing dozens of children; the abduction of contractors, journalists, and aid workers, including the director of the CARE office in Baghdad; the release of a report holding the highest reaches of the Pentagon and the military responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib; a report by President Bush's hand-picked investigator confirming that Iraq had long ago lost its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction; and the spread of the insurgency to every corner of the country, bringing reconstruction to a virtual halt. All of this, in the end, counted for less to voters (if the exit polls are to be believed) than such issues as whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry and whether discarded embryos should be used for stem cell research.

How did this happen? In many ways, George Bush's victory seems to have confirmed the fact that large numbers of voters in America today are very conservative, dominated by strong attachments to God, country, and the traditional family. At the same time, it's not clear to what extent the public was aware of just how bad things had gotten in Iraq. For while there was much informative reporting on the war, a number of factors combined to shield Americans from its most brutal realities. A look at these factors can help to understand some neglected aspects of George Bush's victory. [emphasis added]

But wait, maybe it wasn't about gays after all (more here, from Glenn)! But that wouldn't fit the NYRB narrative of primitive red-staters all in a tizzy about the death of the nuclear family--and heading to a poll near you to pull the elephant lever. Woe that, you know, some people voted for Bush both a) knowing Iraq was tough as hell and b) thinking he would be better than Kerry at dealing with it and the GWOT (as their main issues).

Then there's this unintentionally hilarious part:

The biggest bombshell (ed. note: cute pun!), though, came on October 25, when the Times, in a two-column story on its front page, reported that nearly 380 tons of high-grade explosives had disappeared from a bunker south of Baghdad, and that this had likely occurred after the US invasion. The story was quickly seized on by John Kerry, who for the remaining days of the campaign cited it as further evidence of the administration's mishandling of Iraq. On the day before the election, CNN analyst William Schneider said that the missing-explosives story seemed to be an "important" factor in a last-minute turning of the polls away from Bush.

In the end, of course, the voters did not so turn. And leaving aside any possible problems with the polls themselves, it's clear that all those stories in the Times and the Post, and the discussion they generated, did not have the impact on the public that Schneider and many others had predicted.

For "predicted" subsitute "hoped" to cut to the chase so as to get to the real meaning of these two grafs. Indeed better to say, perhaps, that a huge percentage of assorted journalists, doubtless with fingers-crossed, were in deep wish-mode that al Qa Qaa would blow Bush out of the White House. It wasn't really about the Bill Schneider's of the world predictions going awry; it was about massive gaggles of journalists, mired in deep group-think, all but openly hoping Bush would get TKO'd because of stories like al Qa Qaa.

All this said, I do agree with the author about the truly imbecilic coverage one so often finds on channels like CNN and Fox.

This fear seems especially apparent on cable news. Given the sheer number of hours CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have to fill, it's remarkable how little of substance and imagination one sees here. CNN still bills itself as "the most trusted name in news," but one wonders among whom. Its breakfast-time show, American Morning, offers a truly vapid mix of bromides and forced bonhomie. In mid-October, with a grinding war and bruising electoral campaign underway, the show spent a week in Chicago, providing one long, breathless promo for the city. Every hour or so, correspondent Brent Sadler would produce an update from Baghdad. For the most part, he offered rip-and-read versions of US press releases, with constant references to "precision strikes" aimed at "terrorist targets" and "Zarqawi safehouses." Not once did I see Sadler make even a stab at an independent assessment.

Fox, often, is even worse in its rampant idiocy (though CNN, of late, has been giving it a real run for its money). And, in different fashion, BBC is tiresomely dreary in its almost uniform, anti-American slant (one female reporter from Baghdad's voice still haunts me now several months out of London on a temporary assignment--the constant doom, doom, doom relayed in such hyper-gloomy, self-consciously high-serious baritone). When in my London flat, I used to try to piece together the 'truth', so to speak, by taking in a bit of (from right to left) Fox, CNN Int'l, the Beeb, EuroNews (this last, specializing in such stories: Euro election monitors heading to U.S.! de Villepin in Teheran! Unemployment rising in, er, the U.S.!). The "real" story was somewhere in the middle of all the narratives these channels espoused (with varying degrees of self-consciousness). But, overall (and even throwing in the mix that CNN Intl is much better than the domestic version) it was grim, underwhelming fare indeed.

I mean, thank God for blogs! I got (and still get) more juice and real news from reading Sully, Glenn, Dan, Oxblog, War&Piece, TPM, and so on than from these tired, bloated networks (I'm not talking about the print media here, of which us bloggers rely on heavily, of course, as launching off points from which to analyze the passing show). More self-congratulatory blog triumphalism from the pajama and boxers set? Kinda. But it has the merit of being largely true, doesn't it? I mean, when is the last time you watched a cable or network newcast and felt you had really learned something (apart from simply breaking news or a policy pronunciamento from some politician on, say, Tim Russert's show)?

Posted by Gregory at December 3, 2004 05:05 AM | TrackBack (55)

its an interesting parallel that he makes with the athenian empire (though he makes it in a more superficial way) because that empire had its start as an athenian led defensive coalition against the threat presented by the persians. as history played out, the coalition eventually turned into empire as athens became more and more active in the affairs of its smaller neighbors in the interest of maintaining the alliance.

the parallels don't actually end there. in an eerie sort of coincidence, the way athens responded to political instability amongst its neighbors was by imposing democracy. unlike most other greek city states of the time, athens was a democracy, and had a keen awareness of the superiority of its system over all others. so when faced with trouble among the ruling elites in one of its subject cities, the preferred solution of the athenians was imposing democracy.

needless to say, the comparison is inexact, as athens was not a hegemon. the persians always presented a threat, and even in its own backyard, the might of the athenian navy was eventually outmatched by the spartan phalanx. and any kind of historical comparison across millenia is bound to be an imprecise, as the world does not look today as it did then.

i have not read the nyrb article, but i would guess hedges does not pursue this historically rich line of reasoning and instead wallows in his defeatism. i do not think america has an empire, and america's interests today are very different from athens' interests 2400 years ago.

but i think the historical comparison can be instructive, at least in terms of lessons for the US to be wary of going forward. america's image in the muslim world is more than just a function of american public diplomacy, but this diplomacy has been awful over the past four years, and the fact that america's image in the muslim world sinks ever lower will continue to hurt it in the war on terror.

to some extent, i think this has been unavoidable. much of that same muslim world stands up for fallujah, as no kind of evil is on par with the evil wrought by the occupier. it is of no consequence to much of the arab world that the fighters of fallujah take many more muslim lives and do incalculably more damage to islam than america ever will.

but as i said, the fact that america has not been able to close this perception gap in any way will continue to have negative consequences in the war on terror. in a symposium on al qaeda today held in washington, jessica stern, a researcher at Harvard, said that for the crucial intelligence cooperation america will require to ultimatly succeed, it will need the help of the muslim publics, for as long as osama bin laden continues to be more popular and more trusted by muslims than george bush, the ppl will not be willing to help america in its tasks. and surely, jordanian intelligence itself, with a public so hostile to its mission, will probably do less than it otherwise would, especially with an america that will grow ever more insistent on arab regimes taking into account the opinion of their public.

while violence and force are most certainly not our main form of communication, and while we will not any time soon come to resemble saddam hussein (mr hedges badly needs a dose of that perspective you have so desperately urged on our media in past postings), this is an area in which america has thus far failed, and an area in which a lot of work will need to be done if the war on terror is ever to be fought to its conclusion and won.

Posted by: roman at December 3, 2004 06:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


True enough, but what if that's not possible? Seems to me we try as best we can, but still press on, regardless.

Posted by: Tim at December 3, 2004 01:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Athenian democracy had a limited franchise, was built on a foundation of slavery and the war was lost in a couple of examples of bad generalship leading to disaster, at Syracuse and Aegospotami.

Analogies have been made before comparing the US and Athens. Henry Kissinger is quoted comparing the US to Athens and the Soviet Union to Sparta in the 1960s. He believed that we would lose the Cold War and advocated detente as a way to avoid defeat. It didn't turn out that way, did it ?

If one reads David Pryce-Jones and a few other sources on the Arab mind, the public opinion that the hand-wringers fear seems to be focused on joining the winning side. Bush has bet his presidency and his historical reputation on the concept that Arabs can rule themselves without tyrants. It may not be a perfect democracy but there has got to be a better model than Saddam and Arafat. The fact that the "insurgents" seem focused on killing Iraqi policemen suggests that they agree democracy has a chance in an Arab country and are determined to stop it.

Posted by: Mike K at December 3, 2004 01:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of all the truly cliched, truly tiresome, truly insufferable chatter one reads on blogs these days, nothing rankles quite as much as the old "thank god for blogs" routine.

I really don't get how otherwise intelligent people make these comments. I mean, just a little bit of thought should clarify that the evil MSM, feckless and ineffectual as ever, are the ones actually producing the news and reporting the events.

The grandads in pajamas sitting at home and taking potshots at the reporting are no doubt not useless: some of them even have valuable opinions to express and analyses to perform.

But to lose sight of the fact that blogs react, whereas the MSM - for all their incompetence (they really should be taking classes from Djerejian et al on good journalism, as the degrees from Columbia and Harvard etc are clearly not worth the paper they are printed on) - acts, is to be mind-numbingly dull.

Without the MSM, there will be no news, no nothing, for the pajama-clad army to take potshots at. Yes, each network may have a little bias either on the right or the left, and the majority of NYT’s op-ed page cannot be charged with giving a sympathetic hearing to cons just as the WSJ isn’t fair to the libs, but it is ridiculous to suggest that one can get more “real news”, whatever that is precisely, from reading blogs. You might get more opinions and (usually amateur) analyses from blogs, but whatever news content that is on them is completely and totally derivative.

A lot of bloggers seem to have serious inferiority complexes mixed in with fantasies of adroit journalist panache. This penis envy feeds the constant yammering about how evil the MSM is – Mr. Reynolds is a particularly severe case. But it’s a bit much, and completely disingenuous.

And I’m saying this as a blogger.

Posted by: Mark at December 3, 2004 01:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It must be a source of profound distress to our enemies to see the power of the mainstream media to mold opinion now experiencing such a rapid and apparently irreversible decline.

It suddenly occurred to me the other day that the influence of the MSM on public opinion is much greater in European countries than in the US, while the current influence of blogs there is far less developed. This has to mean that the biggest impact of the blog phenomenon still to come will in due course be seen in Europe.

Europe has the bigger 'popular democracy deficit', and is thus more exposed to this phenomenon even if it is going to take a while longer to mature, non?

Posted by: ZF at December 3, 2004 02:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We are losing the war in Iraq.

To whom? Who is capturing ground, denying it to their opponents, tearing apart their enemies logistical and command systems? Who is in a stronger position now than they were a month ago, six months ago?

Saddam is defeated and will never retake power - we aren't losing to him. The Iranian catspaw al Sadr's armed uprising is defeated and he is trying to participate in the elections, so the Shiite rebellion has been beaten down and coopted. All that's left is the Sunnis and their AQ allies, and they are losing ground, not gaining ground.

There has been a steady increase in the assaults carried out by the insurgents against coalition forces.

Merely tallying pinprick raids does not illuminate who is winning. The converse is also true. The difference is, our assaults have strategic consequences that are good for our side, and bad for theirs.

We are an isolated and reviled nation.

Isloated from who? France? Germany? Russia? I should care about the opinions of nations who have been shown to be on Saddam's payroll, who are actively courting the Iranian mullahs? I should care about being reviled by nations, when the price of their approval is our surrender?

We are tyrants to others weaker than ourselves.

Again, who are we tyrannizing? The Iraqis, by dragging them kicking and screaming into a pluralistic democracy/ The Afghans, by giving them their first democratic government?

We have lost sight of our democratic ideals.

How? By holding elections at home right on schedule that had a clear winner? By overthrowing barbaric dictatorships and democracies overseas and spending our blood and treasure to try to create dempocracies?

I can only conclude that Chris Hedges is a fool, blinded by hate, anti-American ideology, and partisanship. No other explanation accounts for the known facts.

Posted by: R C Dean at December 3, 2004 02:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Should be overthrowing barbaric dictatorships and theocracies overseas. Sorry.

Posted by: R C Dean at December 3, 2004 02:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I'm not sure what blogs you read, but none of the ones I read have forgotten that the MSM does most of the original reporting (but it is absolutely untrue that blogs are entirely reactive--you need to look around more) and blogs provide primarily analysis and fact checking.

Thank god for blogs because the MSM no longer has a monopoly on the news. Without blogs, which unleash an army of experts to examine every topic to expose the distortions of the MSM and help get at the truth beneath, Dan Rather would still be respected, many people would believe Bush stole the election yet again, nobody would know much of anything about Oil for Food or many other subjects.

Nobody denies we need the MSM, but to really understand what they report, you have to follow up with blogs. Your suggestion that blogs are superflous is silly.

Posted by: Ignatius Byrd at December 3, 2004 03:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Like many, I delved deeply into the history of Islam to try and figure out the "root causes" of Muslim hatred after 9/11. I've come to the conclusion that our conflict with Islam has essentially been going on for 1400 years, with the last two or three centuries of relative quiet an aberration that was bound to end sooner or later. I occasionally see this theory put forth in various fora, but it remains outside the conventional wisdom.

One of the big surprises for me concerned the Crusades. I'm a right of center type guy, but I had never questioned the assertion that the Crusades were acts of religious aggression for which the West should be ashamed. NOT TRUE! From Islam's inception it rapidly spread essentially through conquest of the infidel (Jihad). At the time the Christian West was in the depths of the Dark Ages, a fragmented semi-barbaric civilazation of petty kings mired in feudalism. Compared to Islam the West was hopelessly backward. As Islam spread west across North Africa and north through the Levant, it crossed the Strait of Gibralter and took over the entire Iberian Peninsula, crossed the Pyrrhenies and advanced as far as Tours in France. The Christian Byzantine Empire (present day Turkey) was under immediate threat along its southern and eastern borders. In short the West was literally being encircled by an Islam bent on conquest and we were losing badly. The Crusades, launched by Pope Urban as the sole unifying figure in all of Christendom, were an audacious counterattack by a weaker power against a much stronger Islam right in the heart of their empire. The Crusaders set up kingdoms that actually survived for a remarkably long time, and were considered a fact of life among the Muslims in the region at the time. They engaged in treaties with the Crusader Kings, traded with them, in short largely accepted them. Only when they overreached and entered the Hijaz region of Mecca and Medina to raid the caravans of pilgrims bound for Mecca did Saladin take sufficient offense to rally an army and oust the Crusaders. By the time that happened, the Crusaders had ruled uninterrupted for 88 years!

By the 1600's, Islam was making its second run at Vienna, having long since vanquished the Christian Byzantine Empire and renamed Constantinople Istanbul. The once Christian Balkans were now the frontier of Islam and Christendom, which it remains to this day. Following the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and the Protestant Reformation, the stage was set for the West to take off. It rapidly surpassed the stagnant Islamic world and has been outstripping them ever since.

Once Islam realized it had slipped it spent a long time trying to figure out how to emulate the West's success. Islam adopted (outwardly at least) western ways of war initially, but when it came to social and societal emulation they were highly reluctant. When it was an open question as to whether communism or democracy was the better path, Islam was happy to experiment with communism or even fascism. Now that it's clear that freedom and democracy are the foundations of our success fanatical elements of Islam would rather become martyrs than adopt the kind of freedom we enjoy. They see it as license, not freedom, and draw a straight line between the freedom we have and the rot of our culture.

They seek to recover Islam's greatness by tearing us down. They must not succeed.

Posted by: Browny at December 3, 2004 03:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Browny's sketch of the Crusades is pretty accurate. But there is some question about whether the Crusaders struck at the heart of the Muslim empirel, as the Crusader states were rather over on one edge. Some historians characterize the incursion as more of an annoyance on the fringe. The prize for striking at the heart should go to the Mongols, who sacked Baghdad, among other cities, slaughtering Muslims by the tens of thousands. I never seem to see any comments by the Islamists about taking historical revenge on the Mongols. Maybe they're next in line.

Posted by: Byron at December 3, 2004 04:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

We are an isolated and reviled nation.

Reviled by whom?

When there was trouble in Liberia I saw a piece on tv that showed people in the streets singing "The Americans are coming, the Americans are coming."
Sadly it was not to be.

Just recently with the sex trade scandal by UN peacekeepers in the Congo I saw a picture of a man holding a sign that said "Bush save us."

Every year millions of people from around the world are trying to come to the U.S. to start a new life.

It is not the people of the world that revile the U.S.,
it's their leaders. It is the smiling, nodding, approving faces of these communist, socialist, theocratic, dictatorial leaders of the world that the Chris Hedges of the planet long for. Why?
Because they are all intellectual and moral soul mates.

They see the self-interested, materialistic, for profit, wealth abundent, happy, smiling, unbeheaded faces of Americans as standing between them and moral purity. Therefore, America must go.

Once Americans understand this, they will know in what kind of esteem to hold the Chris Hedges of the world.

Posted by: Mike N at December 3, 2004 04:16 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You'll remember that Hedges was the guy who was booed off the stage at Rockford College when he used his gig as commencement speaker as an opportunity for an anti-war diatribe.

You'll note that this story is from May of 2003, just a few months after the war started. Hedges's view of the war springs from his ideas, not the other way around. From the commencement address: "War in the end is always about betrayal. Betrayal of the young by the old, of soldiers by politicians and idealists by cynics."

Mark, it's absolutely true that the MSM are the ones with the resources and the mission (seeing as that's how they make their money) to go out and dig up the stories bloggers comment on. I agree that a lot of bloggers seem to forget that. I don't think Gregory's one of them.

His examples here are analysis. Shortly after 9/11 (when I was living in Australia, and so a bit disconnected from events in the US) I started reading analysis that seemingly came from a completely different planet, analysis that ignored most facts and all common sense. The horrible thing about this was that I didn't know if the analysts were just idiots, or if everyone in government had lost their collective minds, and the analysts were simply noting the fact.

I was so relieved when I started to read bloggers, because much of their analysis made some kind of sense. And through them, I started to read MSM articles that (sometimes) made sense, too. Now as to why media analysts seem to be reporting in from Planet Koozbane, that, I don't know.

Posted by: Angie Schultz at December 3, 2004 04:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Roman talks about our PR image in Muslim countries, and the corresponding problem we will supposedly have in cultivating intelligence contacts there.

By contrast, the Soviet Union had a much bigger PR problem in the United States than we have in the Muslim world. Yet, somehow, the USSR seemed to have a knack for continually developing double agents, observers, etc. here.

And if the USSR had a problem in the USA, just imagine the USA's problem in the USSR. And yet we managed to do the same as well.

I think we need a little more evidence here before we can accept this notion that a lack of popularity automatically translates into a lack of intelligence capabilities, especially if such factors divert attention from the possibility of incompetence of our own intelligence agencies.

Posted by: Jeff Licquia at December 3, 2004 04:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"And I’m saying this as a blogger."

Hey "Mark," what's your URL?

Posted by: Old Grouch at December 3, 2004 04:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Perhaps the question is not whether our lack of popularity translates into an utter lack of intelligence capabilities, as much as it means that the process will be made more difficult and less reliable. There is little doubt that better standing would translate into a better flow of information.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 3, 2004 05:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for the Middle East, the numbers that Jessica Stern, and others at the very worthwhile conference entitled Al-Qaeda 2.0, they are not pretty, and getting worse. (Link to the conference page )

In Zogby's 2002 survey, 76 percent of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98 percent this year. In Morocco, 61 percent viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in June, and have since raised to 97 percent.

The latest survey results out of the Middle East show that America's favorability rating is now, essentially, zero. That's down from as high as 75 percent in some Muslim countries just four years ago.

In 2002, Zogby found that an appalling 35 percent of Jordanians and 12 percent of Saudis viewed us favorably. Now those figures are 15 percent and four percent respectively. Even in Egypt, only two percent of Egyptians responded positively. In a poll with a margin of error of about four points, that doesn't even move the needle.

As evidence of the nature of the lack of support for America, our "freedom" vs. our policies:

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: "What is the first thought when you hear 'America'?" respondents overwhelmingly said: "Unfair foreign policy."

And when asked what the United States could do to improve its image in the Arab world, the most frequently provided answers were "Stop supporting Israel" and "Change your Middle East policy." In the latest polls, however, Iraq has dominated the list of unpopular actions.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 3, 2004 05:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mike N,

I don't think that America's low standing in the world is the sole purview of leaders of various nations. On the contrary, polling data indicates that the vast majority of citizens of the world, whether in countries whose leaders support our actions or not, have an increasingly negative view of the United States - not as a country, but in terms of the policies it pursues internationally. Quite simply, we are at the nadir of our popularity.

Many would love to emigrate here, there is no doubt about it, but many more, including some who wish to become American, would like us to alter our foreign policy and object to our actions. The two ideas can co-exist.

Further, there is no doubt that many Liberians, Rwandans, Congolese and Sudanese would welcome American intervention, and they know to look to America for salvation because we are, in many cases, their only hope. Unfortunately, we did not aid any of those groups, but that is the subject for another debate.

Nevertheless, the fact that we are still looked to by the desparate as a source of assistance does not change the fact that we have greatly hurt our image in the world over the past two years. It is not black and white, either or, it is a question of degrees, and right now our image is moving in the wrong direction.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 3, 2004 05:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not entirely convinced that policy should be governed by polling, but then I'm no Bill Clinton.

It appears to me that we recently had a poll on how to run our policy for the next four years, and the whining from the losing side continues. Can't they read the polls. Why aren't they giving up? Oh. It's because, despite the polls and the Bush win, they still think they're right.

Gosh. Maybe we should continue to do what we think is right despite the "polls" in a bunch of autocratic, dictatorial countries in the Middle East.

(And, boy, what a suprprise that they think we should change our policy towards Israel. Imagine that! Who would have guessed they would be favoring the Palestinian side. By the way, did Zogby ask whether or not they believed the Jews should be pushed into the sea? [As an aside, doesn't ZOG mean Zionist Occupied Government? So are the Zogby brothers Israeli plants?])

Posted by: JorgXMcKie at December 3, 2004 05:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Why so extreme? We do not have to govern or act strictly according to polls, but they should be considered useful indicators of attitudes that matter in certain foreign policy contexts.

I'm not quite sure why you inserted the recent election into the conversation since it seems wholely unrelated to how best to improve America's image in such a vital region as the Middle East.

Remember, we are trying to win over the hearts and minds and initiate democratic change. Such delicate endeavors are more likely to succeed if more of the population is friendly to our cause.

This does not mean that we have to closely adhere to the polls when making foreign policy decisions, but the sentiment of the population should enter into the equation, especially if we are relying on those sentiments for success. In addition, we might want to invest in means to influence those opinions that do not involve abandoning this or that policy completely.

In the example of Israel, we should not abandon Israel, but engaging in some balanced programs to support Palestinian refugees and other approaches that Belgravia Dispatch has advocated would help. Not a magic bullet, but incremental efforts to turn the tide of public opinion.

I would also point out that polling data was also amassed from western democracies, not just autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 3, 2004 06:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Eric: "We do not have to govern or act strictly according to polls, but they should be considered useful indicators of attitudes that matter..."

Like the Nov. 2 exit polls? hehe

Posted by: gwm at December 3, 2004 06:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink



Posted by: Eric Martin at December 3, 2004 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For instance, an internal Pentagon report by the Defense Science Board Task Force came up with a series of recommendations, some of which involved analyzing public opinion data and formulating policy/message in a way to maximize widespread public support in the Muslim world and beyond. According to this Pentagon task force, that will make fighting the war on terror a more successful endeavor:

(1) The Task Force recommends that the President issue a directive to: (a) strengthen the U.S. Government’s ability to understand global public opinion, advise on the strategic implications of policymaking, and communicate with global audiences; (b) coordinate all components of strategic communication including public diplomacy, public affairs, international broadcasting, and military information operations; and (c) provide a foundation for new legislation on the planning, coordination, conduct, and funding of strategic communication.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 3, 2004 10:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I agree that our foreign policy has been inconsistent in the past and frustrating many people abroad. But I see mr. Bush's "forward democracy" as an attempt, however modest, to make it more consistent and I support that.

I also think that we are paying too much attention to whether people like us or not. It can be good to know of course but should not be the deciding factor for taking action.

When our founding fathers broke with the Crown they weren't liked by very many then, but they were right. For them it was not a matter of nuance or degree. They wanted total freedom from the crown and were willing to go to war for it.

When Lincoln decided to end slavery he knew he would have to go to war to do it. He was very absolutist about it, slavery was wrong, period. There were no degrees of freedom or slavery on which he was willing to compromise. He was right.

Sometimes you have to be very absolutist and do what is right regardless of how other people feel about it.

Has anybody taken a poll of Americans' favorable views of Muslims? Did anyone tell the Muslim world that our view of them was high until 1979 and the hostage incident? And how our veiw kept falling after things like embassy bombings and the USS Cole and how it hit zero on 9/11? Do Muslims even care what we think?

Bin Laden is very absolutist about his desire to make Islam the religion of the world under a single caliphate. He is very black and white about Islam being the good and everything and everyone else being evil infidels.

But it is not Bin Laden that's being condemned for being absolutist, uncompromising and black and whiteish, It is America. Do you see what is happening here? The values of the west-freedom, rights, rule of law etc.-are being reduced to the level of the approximate through such notions as no black and white, no right or wrong, no absolutes, and so on, while the values of the enemies of the West-radical Islam-are allowed to rise to the status of that which is absolute.

Philosopher Ayn Rand identified this principle long ago when she wrote: "When the good is reduced to the level of the approximate, evil aqquires the force of an absolute." Boy was she right. And it has never been more obvious than it is now.

I have to run for now but will check back later.

Posted by: Michael Neibel at December 3, 2004 11:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ignatius Byrd,

Your suggestion that blogs are superflous is silly.

That suggestion would be silly of course. That's why I never made it. I said that the MSM generates virtually all the news reporting today, and bloggers comment and offer opinions on them. There is some good analyses (and yes, Mr. Djerejian offers some good ones). Very occasionally, there is some original journalism.

What I took issue with is the implication that one can get the "real news" from blogs. To the extent that practically 100% of blogging is derivative, this is a disingenuous idea. The MSM which is a professional establishment whose job it is to report the news is what gets most of the news out in the first place. They are definitely flawed by those things that make all human enterprises flawed (eg. bias), but it's not very credible to imply that we can practically do without them.

Here, I will note that Mr. Djerejian has altered that part of his post that I was commenting on (without making the alterations as UPDATES or CLARIFICATIONS). The original last paragraph did not contain these caveats:

(I'm not talking about the print media here, of which us bloggers rely on heavily, of course, as launching off points from which to analyze the passing show)
I mean, when is the last time you watched a cable or network newcast and felt you had really learned something (apart from simply breaking news or a policy pronunciamento from some politician on, say, Tim Russert's show)?

His original last paragraph was not as, er, nuanced, and taken with the rest of the post suggested that “real news” may be had from bloggers alone. I have problems with this idea not only for the most obvious reason pointed out above (that the MSM originates and the blogs derive), but also because of the nature of blogs: the “news” on blogs is simply those items that interest bloggers. A blog may comment on say 1-5 items a day in a narrowly defined area of interest. If you read a few blogs, there might be a couple of other news items you’ll pick up, but little more. Seriously, just look at this blog. If you were restricted to only reading Djerejian last week (and say a few others, like instapundit and Josh Marshall), do you really think you’d have gotten a fair representation of the “real news”?

You’d have gotten snippets of news pieces that were important to these bloggers, and their commentary on them. That’s not a fair representation of “real news”.

Now, I do appreciate our “worth” as bloggers - I think a lot of interesting punditry is produced by many of us. But I can clearly see that the MSM and the blogosphere are two completely different machines, and the people who drive news reporting and generation are NOT, sorry to say, us. Somehow many of the bigger bloggers can’t seem to see this difference (Marshall is a notable exception), and make some pretty bloated claims about their roles. Maybe it’s because when they get 70,000 hits from computers, it blurs their sense of what the relevance of a New York Times that employs thousands of journalists and editors, whose work reaches 2 million people (who buy their paper).

What the internet has done for us is enable some of us to get online, look at this work, and comment on the one or two items that we think demand our opinions, and have this read by on average a few thousand people.

Now, that’s not unimportant. But let’s keep things in perspective.

Posted by: Mark at December 4, 2004 02:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As to Mr. Djerejian’s newly added caveat that it is the tv networks that may be done away with, I think the way he has phrased it is a bit disingenous.

Asking “what do you actually learn from networks apart from breaking news” is like asking “what do you actually gain from doctors, apart from regular medical checkups and having your life saved now and then?”

Sure, they may not be "useful" to you everyday, but it's a bit absurd to hold that against them. I'd like to know which blog, or even newspaper, you guys were closely following at 9.30 AM on 9/11/2001.

Posted by: Mark at December 4, 2004 02:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, I read some of your post on the echo chamber on my podcast this morning. If you are interested, listen to the MP3 on my blog, where all attributions are listed.

Ten minutes a day to hear what the blogosphere is talking about, on your MP3 player or iPod. Subscribe if you want.

Posted by: Charlie Quidnunc at December 4, 2004 03:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael N,

You raise several interesting points, each of them worthy of a discussion in their own right. Given the limited space here provided, I will do my best to give short answers to complex questions. First, let me address this portion of your comment:

"I also think that we are paying too much attention to whether people like us or not. It can be good to know of course but should not be the deciding factor for taking action.

When our founding fathers broke with the Crown they weren't liked by very many then, but they were right. For them it was not a matter of nuance or degree. They wanted total freedom from the crown and were willing to go to war for it.

When Lincoln decided to end slavery he knew he would have to go to war to do it. He was very absolutist about it, slavery was wrong, period. There were no degrees of freedom or slavery on which he was willing to compromise. He was right.

Sometimes you have to be very absolutist and do what is right regardless of how other people feel about it."

First of all, allow me to repeat, again, my position that we should not allow public opinion to be the deciding force in our decisions. In this sense we are in agreement.

However, if part of your mission is to try to convince people to adopt a form of government and society that is relatively new and foreign to them, and imposed in the form of an invasion and regime toppling, it is crucial to have their trust, goodwill and cooperation. For example, our mission in Iraq cannot succeed unless we engender the support of enough Iraqis. Similarly, if we want to trigger a domino effect of democratization in the Middle East, it will only be made possible if reformers are not undermined by their association with us - this resulting from the fact that our image has become so poisonous. If we want American ideals to spread in this region, and we should, we must take steps to make American ideals attractive, and not tarnished by association.

As for your historical examples, I don't quite think that the analogies follow. During the American revolution, we were not trying to invade Britain and change their regime, so concern for what the British thought was less important. In fact, we our independence required a position opposite to the British. In Iraq, we need to oppose certain elements, but we need the moderates there and throughout the Middle East. They should be the targets of our efforts.

Historically, we were trying to change the regime in America, so garnering the support of the colonists WAS very important, and much time was spent cultivating this support. To ignore the significance of the opinion of the colonists would have been tragic.

As for Lincoln, I think you misrepresent history when you argue that he would not have tolerated any degree of slavery. Quite the contrary, he would have tolerated slavery in the states where it then existed. However, he wanted the new territories to be designated "free" when they attained statehood. He was looking for a compromise to preserve the union and avoid war. The South saw their strategic power slipping and opted for secession. Historians point out that given the Constituional realities - requiring supermajority approval from federal and state legislatures - the South in many ways overreacted because they could have blocked any anti-slavery amendments anyway and preserved the institution indefinitely given Lincoln's tolerance.

As for the concept that Bush is seeking some notion of "absolute freedom" that doesn't seem to be the case. The policies thus far have been more closely resembling incremental freedom in certain countries that are strategically significant for other reasons. Iraq for the threat of Saddam, Afghanistan for the Taliban/al-Qaeda connection.

What many in the Middle East decry, in fact, is the apparent lack of commitment to absolute freedom because the Bush administration continues to support many despotic regimes, while targeting Iraq for regime change. Rather than absolute freedom, it looks like selective freedom localized in two strategic areas.

Of course, people are also not as likely to appreciate invasion as a means of change. Understandably, as even Bush noted, people don't like to be occupied and invaded.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 4, 2004 07:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Following up on this last point, I quote from the Pentagon report:

'Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies [the report says]. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.'

In terms of pursuing an absolutist doctrine of freedom, that report and others actually criticize the Bush administration for not doing enough to promote freedom and democracy in the region - outside of the invasion of Iraq. Rather than absolute, the Bush policy seems to have a one track mind, with regime change dominating, and excluding, all other avenues for progress.

Hopefully the strategy in Iran, as indicated by the Ledeen e-mail Belgravia Dispatch received, will take a more holistic approach.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 4, 2004 08:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Michael N,

Now allow me to attempt to respond to some portions of the second part of your comments.

"Has anybody taken a poll of Americans' favorable views of Muslims? Did anyone tell the Muslim world that our view of them was high until 1979 and the hostage incident? And how our veiw kept falling after things like embassy bombings and the USS Cole and how it hit zero on 9/11? Do Muslims even care what we think?

Bin Laden is very absolutist about his desire to make Islam the religion of the world under a single caliphate. He is very black and white about Islam being the good and everything and everyone else being evil infidels.

But it is not Bin Laden that's being condemned for being absolutist, uncompromising and black and whiteish, It is America."

First of all, Muslims do care what the US thinks about them, as it has certainly affected our policies in the region for the past century and beyond - which has had a direct impact on their lives. I think they perceive that we do not rank them too highly on our national concern, or at least have not over the past century. Some, though not enough, are introspective about the behavior of extremists and their role in forming our opinion, and are thus pushing for reform. Some are extremists themselves and are pushing for violent confrontation.

I don't see the level of regard for our image that we show, and their regard for theirs, as a zero sum endeavor. As an American, and as a resident of NYC, I care about our image since I know that world opinion can be dangerous if left unattended. I also want to help those in the Muslim world pushing for positive change, which will improve conditions there. An improved more democratic Muslim world will both help American perception of the Muslim world, and their impression of us, in a mutually beneficial way. But this must be approached using the correct strategies, or it could be counterproductive.

In terms of our opinions of Muslims, I would urge Americans to consider the reality that some Muslims are bent on our destruction, while others are not. Given that there are over 1 billion in the world, and growing, we need to find a way to strengthen the relationship with the cooperative, and marginalize the extreme.

As far as your statement about Bin Laden getting a free pass for his absolutism, I'm not sure who you are talking about. That seems like a straw man to me, because all but the most fringe voices in America roundly condemn Bin Laden for his evil perversion of theology and absolutism. I have never heard him praised for his moderation, or absolved of his extremist stances and tactics.

Personally, I have no problem with viewing good and evil, my problem is with the tactics Bush has employed, and those he has neglected. Ronald Reagan, for example, had an absolute commitment to the defeat of Communism - rightly so. I have no reason to doubt his commitment, yet he never invaded the USSR to achieve his ends. Some times you can be equally committed to a task and opt for different tactics. It is not clear that bellicose solutions are always the most effective.

In Afghanistan, I feel there was no choice, and that military action was the right course. In Iraq, I think there were other options that needed to be vetted. At the very least, if we embarked on two separate military campaigns in two separate Muslim countries within a matter of months to each other, we should have sought to address other areas to promote our image, be they policies or communication, since our image was bound to take a big hit considering our actions.

Since that is now moot, we should try to foster a positive image by improving communication and reassessing certain policies that might need some tweaking. It is in our strategic interest for many reasons to have a higher approval rating around the world. We should not slavishly devote ourselves to this, but there are some common sense steps we can take with little injury to us or our goals.

Sorry for the rambling nature of my responses. There was much I wanted to say, and I'm not sure I said it all in a coherent way.

Posted by: Eric Martin at December 4, 2004 09:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What's all this crap about American popularity in the world? Am I back in high school? Since when does America need the approval of corrupt autocrats and supercilious elitists? America does what it believes to be right and necessary, despite the braying of foreign donkeys. As for you puerile foreigners concerned about popularity, go to hell.

Posted by: PacRim Jim at December 5, 2004 04:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Perhaps the coming liberation of Iran and Syria will change Muslim minds.

After all if Iraq and Afghanistan are not enough democracy promotion for them I do think we ought to do more. One or two countries per year on average ought to get them on our side. :-) and if not we ought to keep trying until we are sure the tactic won't work. After another 16 or 20 countries say.


OTOH I do believe until a country is liberated there is no chance they will have anything good to say about us.

Take the Iraqis under Saddam fer instance.

The Iranian people are not too keen on the Pali cause. I wonder why?

Posted by: M. Simon at December 5, 2004 07:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

the leaders in computer disk retrieval

Posted by: computer disk retrieval at December 7, 2004 05:45 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes mark, let's keep things in perspective. Blogs did fact check the ass of a major MSM star (Rather) and that is were the effectiveness of blogs lie. Your tone seems to scent of blogs being just players at the corners. The function of blogs is to keep the MSM honest (every citizen an editor). Sure there are some nutjobs out there, just like the MSM but if you can reasonably think for yourself you can find the blogs that work and that give you some "perspective" on the work of the MSM.

Mark, the real question is if the MSM are the real players in news media why are guys in pajamas busting them all the time?

Posted by: Richard Cook at December 7, 2004 09:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's interesting that the Athenian Empire (The Delian League) keeps cropping up in disccusions of America's adventure in Iraq. The territories overlap, of course, and Athens was a maritime power threatened by a huge continental agglomeration (Persia) as well as by a smaller garrison state at home (Sparta). And it was "democratic", that is, the larger Demos, which prospered from employment as rowers in the fleet, could dominate the Assembly against the wealthier Hoplite (Infantry), Knights (Cavalry), and the landed gentry. There was little in the way of democratic theory at the time, but what there was proposed something closer to what we mean by democracy: Isonomy: equality under the law, an idea that found little following anywhere before the 18th century of the present era. Democracy meant, in contrast, one class of the people -- the Demos -- walking over all the other classes. And everyone knew it, just as they knew that aristocracy and oligarchy meant the same but with different feet on different necks.

Nor was the Delian League, the so-called alliance that turned into an empire, founded as a defensive alliance. The Athenians took over an existing defensive alliance when its Spartan commander grew corrupt and violent (hybristic); the resulting Delian League (named after the site of the league's treaury on Delos) was, as a recent scholar has put it, "born in a dispute over booty" seized from the retreating Persian forces. For the next quarter century, the League, when the Athenians were not hybristically taxing and disciplining recalcitrant members, pursued an agressive policy against Persia, but in 448 BPE concluded a detente with the enemy and became a truly imperial structure governed, with various degrees of wisdom or hybris at diffent times, by Athens.

The Athenian Demos, and perhaps the wealthier classes, too, could not resist the prospects of wealth and grandeur that unchecked power seemed to open before them. They never knew when to quit and consolidate their gains. The aggressors (hawks) among them -- Cleon, and Alcibiades are the most famous -- saw any opportunity not taken as a positive loss of all the putative opportunity seemd to promise. They could carry the Demos and thus the Assembly with their mirages (most famously against Sicily in 415 BPE), and stumble from one disaster to the next. Those neoconians who like to compare America's decade long posturing as the world's sole super power to the centuriies long predominance of Rome in the Mediterranean basin and the Levant inevitably recall those irresponisble and demagogic adventurers, but there is one difference. The Athenian Empire had no over arching ideal to blind men, or even women, to its lust for power and wealth. American neoconians, tolerant, as liberal youths, of such tyrannical figures as Doc Duvalier, Trujillo, Batista, Pinochet, Marcos, Suharto, and on and on, now favor "Democracy" -- though probably not of the liberal variety that their hero, Churchill celebrated in his war histories. Theirs is a blinding ideal, the 21st century refurbishing of the white man's burden, the mission civizilatrice, and manifest destiny, in a part of the world that has neither any tradition of democratic government nor any politically powerful movement withiin itself that fosters democratic values and institutions.

When the Athenians installed democratic governments on their allies, they were imposing a system of rule that provided jobs in the fleet for the lowest ranks in the subject cities. (In some cases, the Demos was actually a minority of the citizen population.) Jobs in the fleet, though poorly paid, also carried with them a likelihood that the common sailor or rower could gather some booty for himself. Born in a dispute over booty, the empire was sustained in large part by a quest for more of the same by the democratic elements in the subject cities.

There are some parallels here to the evolving American experience of that part of the world so many centuries later. The pernicious role of exiles in Athens in persuading the Assembly to vote to invated Sicily follows the course of events in Washington (no Athens, that place!) before the Bay of Pigs and the invasion of Iraq. Most of the parallels are hard to sort out. Reading a translation of Thucydides in a Great Books course, or even in a world history survey, cannot but prove suggestive to a thoughtful and querulous reader, but it will not get you the answers, nor even allow you to raise the questions in any serious way.

Posted by: Alexander MacDonald at December 13, 2004 01:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

4885 Well put!

Posted by: payday loans at December 20, 2004 03:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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