I’m referring, of course, to Victor Davis Hanson’s two hour appearance on C-Span’s Book TV Sunday evening. After reading his essays in National Review for some time, I was paying close attention to the corners of his mouth for rivulets of foam. All in vain, since Hanson the interviewee exudes as much cool and rationality as Hanson the essayist drips callousness and bile. Well, the interviewee’s thoughts on war ran the gamut from callous (casual references to the crimes of Uncle Joe Stalin) to bilious (“‘neoconservative’=Jew”), but they all sounded so … so … so thoughtful.
He did make one brief but valuable point about the philosophical distinction between neoconservatives and the foreign policy “realists” who came before. Among the latter are many heavies from the Nixon, Reagan, and Bush I administrations–think of Scowcroft, Eagleburger, and other realpolitik wonks who sometimes criticize Boy Bush. These guys are hardly foreign policy icons in my eyes, but they have their merits. As Joseph Stromberg once put it,
Realists contend that, in a manner analogous to the laws of physics, states in the state-system must behave in certain predictable ways. Reckoning with a mob of geographical and other structural factors, they say that a rising state which seems bent on becoming a hegemonic or dominant state tends to call into being an opposing coalition of the threatened, who will seek to thwart that aspiration by diplomatic means and, finally, war, if it comes to that. This isn’t the worst way to look at things, and in a rough and ready way such insights can be useful.
Contrast this with what Hanson (rightly) called his “idealism”: disdain for “narrow” conceptions of American interests, ie, self-defense; gunboat therapy for the nondemocratic/fundamentalist world; a kinder, gentler white man’s burden whose costs can never be questioned.
As a quadrennial supporter of hopeless presidential candidates, I often hear the lesser-of-two-evils argument. I’ll go along with it this year, on one condition: the Democrats put George H.W. Bush on the ballot.
Top Iraqi scientists, led by Jafar Dhia Jafar, who is known as the father of Iraq’s nuclear programme, said that UN inspectors had “reached total conviction” that Iraq was free of nuclear weapons before the US invasion of Iraq, yet failed to convey that information “frankly” to the Security Council because of pressure from the United States.
“Saddam Hussein issued orders in July 1991 for the destruction of all banned weapons, in addition to the systems to produce them. It was carried out by the Special Republican Guard forces,” they wrote.
“We can confirm with absolute certainty that Iraq no longer possessed any weapons of mass destruction after its unilateral destruction of all its components in the summer of 1991, and did not resume any such activity because it no longer had the foundations to resume such activity.”
In their paper, the scientists wrote: “The United States and Britain were not content with the United Nations’ reluctance to tell the truth … so they fabricated lies about Iraq resuming its nuclear activity.”
Jafar and al-Noaimi also accused U.N. weapons inspectors of stalling and getting hung up on “marginal issues” on the weapons of mass destruction programs.
Inspectors, they wrote, “researched in detail and realized that there was no presence of any banned armament activity in Iraq. They did not declare that frankly for reasons they know, and most probably the special (weapons) commission and the (International Atomic Energy) Agency were under strong pressure from the United States not to declare Iraq free of these weapons or activities related to it.”
“It was clear that reports of the United Nations to the Security Council should have been clear and courageous,” Jafar said. “I believe the United Nations should also investigate the facts that were known before the war and why they (nuclear inspectors) did not declare them to the security council.”
The spiritual guide of Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called the country’s new transitional law an obstacle to a permanent constitution.
AP reports Al Sistani has issued a fatwa :
“Any law prepared for the transitional period will not gain legitimacy except after it is endorsed by an elected national assembly,” al-Sistani said in a fatwa, or religious ruling, released on his Web site.
“Additionally, this law places obstacles in the path of reaching a permanent constitution for the country that maintains its unity, the rights of its sons of all sects and ethnic backgrounds,” he said.
14 dead, 80 wounded on one side, no casualties on the other side. By any definition that’s a massacre. Well, by any definition except when it’s the world’s press talking about Israeli atrocities against Palestinians. Please note that while the Israelis may be correct that 10 of the dead were “militants,” being a “militant” is not a crime.
The Arab people are notorious for disagreeing about everything, the recent botched “constitution” signing in Baghdad, for example. Or the Arab Summit in Egypt where Libyan leader Moamer al-Kadhafi asked Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, “Who exactly brought you to power? … You are a liar and your grave awaits you,” at which point the entire thing dissolved into chaos and Abdullah stomped out.
The US has produced a satellite channel aimed at Arabs so crappy that they are absolutely united in hating and mocking it. Let Riverbend, blogging from Baghdad, tell you about it:
I wish everyone could see Al-Hurra- the new ‘unbiased’ news network started by the Pentagon and currently being broadcast all over the Arab world. It is the visual equivalent of Sawa- the American radio station which was previously the Voice of America. The news and reports are so completely biased, they only lack George Bush and Condi Rice as anchors. We watch the reports and news briefs and snicker… it is far from subtle. Interestingly enough, Asa’ad Abu Khalil said that Sawa and Al-Hurra are banned inside of America due to some sort of law that doesn’t allow the broadcast of blatant political propaganda or something to that effect. I’d love to know more about that.
A channel like Al-Hurra may be able to convince Egyptians, for example, that everything is going great inside of Iraq, but how are you supposed to convince Iraqis of that? Just because they broadcast it hourly, it doesn’t make it true. I sometimes wonder how Americans would feel if the Saudi government, for example, suddenly decided to start broadcasting an English channel with Islamic propaganda to Americans.
And Riverbend isn’t alone. Here’s a sampling of Arab comments from all over:
“….what struck me the most is the name and logo of the new station. If the US was pumping in $62 million (great to see our tax dollars doing good things once more) on a slick propaganda project like this, you’d think they’d at least think long and hard about the project’s brand and logo.
With the addition of one little dot (see above), the Arabic letter “ha” become a “kha,” thus changing the word al-hurra, ‘the free one,’ into al-khara, ‘the piece of shit.’
Hopefully, Al Hurra is not planning a billboard and poster campaign on the streets of Cairo any time soon.
Arabs on Monday, February 16, dismissed as slanted, arrogant and condescending the new U.S.-funded Arabic-language television network Alhurra, which was launched to polish the image of the United States in the region.
“The channel and its presenters insist on the fact they are free, as if they were telling the Arab viewer he is not, that he is oppressed and the United States will teach him freedom,” Egyptian pundit Salama Ahmed Salama said according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“It’s quite a stupid way of proceeding,” said Salama, the editorialist for the government newspaper Al-Ahram who is often critical of the Egyptian political process.
The basic problem is that the American penchant for clarity and neat, explicit, black-and-white classification of people’s identities and intentions clashes badly with the Middle East’s traditions of multiple identities and sometimes hidden aims, as well as the frequent imprecision in stated intentions. I do not claim that either tradition is better or worse, just that each offers very different ways of dealing with the world. Arabs and Americans are like ships passing in the night, sounding their horns, firing their guns, making known their views, but having no impact on the other.
The epitome of this is the widening gap between Arabs’ perceptions of the US and many Americans’ flawed interpretations of those Arab perceptions.
This reflects the lingering childishness of President George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, when he suggested that those who attacked the US, and their many supporters, were motivated by hatred for American freedom, democracy, tolerance and other such fine values. The American president’s intellectual gangsterism (“they hate our freedom”) is simplistic, wrong and dangerous, and an inappropriate and ineffective retort to the worldviews of the criminals who have terrorized and killed thousands of Americans and other nationals. By arguing that our region is troubled and violent because Arabs and Muslims hate American values, and then attempting to correct this by launching television, radio and magazine efforts in Arabic, the US government perpetuates a fatal combination of political blindness and cultural misperception that is only going to exacerbate the gap between Americans and Arabs, rather than close it.
In public diplomacy as in its Iraq intelligence analysis, Washington suffers from occasional technical incompetence that is then magnified grievously by the distortions of extreme political ideology, woefully inadequate cultural understanding of Middle Eastern societies and a rigid refusal to examine how American foreign policy impacts on Middle Eastern perceptions of the US. I predict that if Al-Hurra television does offer Arabs and Muslims a better understanding of American society and values, its main impact will be to heighten Arab anger and irritation with US policy in the Middle East because the gap between American values and American foreign policy conduct will become even more obvious to newly enlightened Middle Easterners.
Al-Hurra, like the US government’s Radio Sawa and Hi magazine before it, will be an entertaining, expensive, and irrelevant hoax. Where do they get this stuff from? Why do they keep insulting us like this?
JEDDAH, 6 March 2004 — Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, the imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, yesterday urged the Iraqis to end the bloodshed and work for unity.
The imam also blasted the newly established US-run Al-Hurra television channel for causing “intellectual chaos and confusion” among Muslims.
Sheikh Sudais denounced a “war of ideas” being waged by parts of the Western media with the aim of imposing particular cultural and intellectual patterns and dictating specific reforms in the name of globalization, openness and freedom.
The US government-funded Al-Hurra Arabic channel was aimed at sowing doubt among Muslims, especially women, about Islamic teachings and discrediting Islamic principles. “It spreads intellectual chaos and destroys the correct thinking of the Ummah and its cultural heritage,” he said.
The new US ME propaganda TV, Al-Hurra. A sample of its tough and very objective reporting. Here is a question that its director, Mouafac Harb, asked George W. Bush: “Q You may be the only world leader today, and maybe the first American President, to pay a lot of attention to freedom and democracy in the Middle East. Why is that? Are you so committed to that?” This may have been the toughest questioning that Bush has ever been subjected to.
Clerics in Saudi Arabia are venting their anger at a new US-funded television channel for Arab viewers, saying it was founded to fight Islam and Muslims are religiously forbidden to watch it. Sheikh Ibrahim al-Khudairi, a cleric and judge in Riyadh, and Sheikh Mansour bin Ahmed al-Hussein, another government-appointed cleric in the Saudi capital, both slammed Al-Hurra, saying no one should work for the station, watch it, or support it with advertising.
During his Friday sermon before thousands of worshippers Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, prayer leader of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, said that Western satellite channels directed at Arab viewers were part of a “war of ideas,” against the Muslim world. Al-Hurra, or the free one, made its broadcast debut on Feb 14 with footage of windows being opened, symbolizing freedom, and comments by US President George W. Bush praising Iraq’s determination for democracy.
Al-Hurra is the latest US government effort to reach out to Arabs. The others include the Arabic-language Radio Sawa, also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors that runs Al-Hurra, and “Hi,” a slick Arabic-English cultural and lifestyle magazine for youth. Al-Khudairi, a cleric and judge in a Riyadh court, was asked by a viewer about al-Hurra. In a written fatwa, or religious edict, he said last week that Muslims were religiously forbidden to watch the station or have anything to do with it.
So, while the War Party is casting desperately around for proof of accomplishments and successes in their remake of the Middle East, they can proudly point out that they contributed substantially to Arab Unity.