Archive for April, 2003

The Same Old Pacifist Tune

Sunday, April 27th, 2003

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke. [1,2] “There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.” — Edmund Burke. [3]

Not long ago, I drew the distinction between noble and “squishy” pacifists. The first group recognizes the existence, even prevalence, of evil in the world. Noble pacifists believe that nonviolent resistance should be used to oppose this evil. However, no delusions obscure their clear-eyed moral vision. They recognize that the call to nonviolence could very well endanger their personal safety and the safety of others. Noble pacifism does not relieve adherents from the challenge of confrontation. By contrast, the squishy pacifists try to claim the moral authority of noble pacifists, without shouldering the same responsibility. The squishy pacifists blur moral distinctions and dismiss potential dangers to avoid having to live up to their ethical responsibilities.

Before the war with Iraq, squishy pacifists spent more energy waving anti-war banners in US cities and criticizing American failings than protesting the gross human rights violations by the Iraqi government and the threat Iraq posed to stability and peace. How many anti-war protestors hoisted placards critical of Saddam Hussein’s Islamofacist regime?

In retrospect, we might have thought the US would have been immune from such doubts and muddy reasoning in the World War II era, when the contrast between the forces of good and evil, light and darkness were so very stark and so very clear. Given the aggressive brutality of the Nazi authoritarian regime, how could men of good will not see the need to resist the Nazis, either militarily or nonviolently? Unfortunately, while the Nazis where dragging Jews off to concentration camps where many were killed, many American pacifists and pacifist churches (though not all) in the US were not passively resisting the Nazis. Rather, they where lobbying President Franklin Roosevelt to recognize their conscientious objector status. Recently, Joseph Loconte writing in the Weekly Standard [4] documented that much of the religious pacifism prior to World War II took on the same flavor as criticism of America prior to the Iraq War.

The anti-war activists were happy to charge that President George Bush was not acting out of honorable motives, either to protect the US security or to liberate Iraqis from oppression. They suggested, instead, that Bush’s heart was contorted by the venial pursuit of oil or that perhaps the Bush Administration was trying to generate construction business for Vice-President Dick Cheney’s former company. Similar charges of ulterior motives were leveled prior to World War II. For example, Loconte cites the John Haynes Holmes, a prominent New York minister, as charging “If America goes into the war, it will not be for idealistic reasons but to serve her own imperialistic interests.”

The key tactic of squishy pacifism is to erect a facade of moral equivalency so as to undercut the moral authority of the US to act. As recently as last Fall, US Congressman Jim McDermott of Washington visited Iraq and suggested that George Bush was not much more trustworthy than Saddam Hussein and would lie to foment war with Iraq. By what moral authority could the US act if we too have moral failings?

This tactic had its earlier precedent. In the 1930s and 1940s, how could the US criticize the treatment of Jews in Germany if blacks in the United States were denied their full civil rights? Indeed, that critique of the US was apt, but it was certainly not sufficient to relieve us of moral responsibilities at home or abroad. Fortunately, there were clear-eyed “Christian Realists” at the time like theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who saw that “It is sheer moral perversity to equate the inconsistencies of a democratic civilization with the brutalities which modern tyrannical states practice.” Niebuhr concluded, “Failure to resist this tyranny, meant assisting in its triumph — and in a defeat for the cause of Christ … This form of pacifism is not only heretical when judged by the standards of the total gospel. It is equally heretical when judged by the facts of human existence.”

The War with Iraq like WWII is over. We largely know the immediate outcomes of these wars. We know that if the squishy pacifists had their way, Nazi Germany would have dominated Europe for at least a generation under authoritarian rule and Hitler’s “final solution” would have reached its conclusion with the complete genocide of the Jewish population. We know that if Iraq had not been defeated, oppression, rape and torture would have continued in Iraq while thousands more starved as Saddam’s regime diverted oil money to weapons and Saddam’s palaces. All the while squishy pacifists would have insufferably regaled us with self-congratulatory praise about their compassion for Iraqis and snobbery about their moral superiority over those urging war.

  2. The attribution of this quote to Edmund Burke has been questioned by Martin Portner.
  3. Observations on Late Publication on the Present State of the Nation, i., 273.
  4. “Onward, Christian pacifists,” Weekly Standard, April 7, 2003, 31-33.

Coverup News Network

Sunday, April 20th, 2003

The role of a President’s press secretary is not only to provide facts to the media, but also to cultivate friendly relationships and develop a level of trust and rapport with those covering the President. Such relationships can insure that the President has his policy positions presented in the best possible light. Trust and rapport can be established by being honest and open. Relationships can also be nurtured in other subtle and less open ways. A friendly journalist might find himself or herself given tidbits of news to scoop his or her colleagues. A journalist, who writes a critical article, might find that he or she has less access to the newsmakers.

Indeed, there is a constant tension for journalists between obtaining access and maintaining distance and objectivity. Some journalists are good at maintaining integrity by nurturing different and competing sources so as not to be beholden to any single source. Moreover, if a press secretary is too parsimonious with access and information, the President he represents will have fewer avenues available for propagating his message.

In the book Spin Cycle, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post documented how well Clinton Administration Press Secretary Bill McCurry played the game of trading access for sympathetic coverage. All press secretaries do this to some extent, but McCurry was particular adept. To give a current example, some believe that journalistic matriarch Helen Thomas has been deliberately snubbed at press conferences for her obnoxious questions. Others believe that White House Press Secretary Ari Fletcher cynically exploits Thomas. Her belligerent questions can make the rest of the White House Press Corps appear mean-spirited, painting Ari Fletcher as a beleaguered and sympathetic character.

Professional journalists learn how to play the access versus independence game well. The best manage to find sources and cover the news without being compromised. Loss of independence is a journalist’s occupational hazard and journalists are consequently sensitive to the problem.

This sensitivity makes the guilty admission by Eason Jordan, Chief News Executive at CNN, on the New York Times Op-Ed page so amazing. Now that Coalition forces have crushed Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime, it appears that the Iraqi people were not the only ones freed. Unfettered, Jordan now informs us of the “news we kept to ourselves,” about “the awful things that could not be reported” lest CNN loose its Baghdad Bureau and Iraqis working on the CNN staff be tortured or killed. Eason admits they CNN knew about and did not report on the intention of Hussein’s oldest son, Uday, “to assassinate two of his brothers-in-law who had defected.” CNN knew, but did not report to the public that some in the Iraqi leadership believed that Hussein was a “maniac who had to be removed.”

One can appreciate the concern for their personnel in Baghdad and the moral predicament faced by CNN. However, CNN did have a choice. They could have yielded the Iraqi Bureau and pulled all their personnel out. When circumstances make it difficult to maintain journalistic integrity, it is the professional duty of the media either to leave the situation or tell the entire truth and deal with the consequences as best as possible. It is almost never appropriate for a news service to deliberately conceal what it would otherwise reveal. Instead, CNN let its obsession for access, the ability to have foreign bureau in Baghdad, overwhelm its journalistic judgment.

Seasoned reporter Peter Collins revealed that while working at CNN, Baghdad, CNN was “virtually groveling” to persuade Saddam Hussein to grant CNN an exclusive interview. CNN promised the Iraqis the interview would run world-wide for an uninterrupted hour. Collins was further upset when forced to read an “item-by-item summary of points made by the [Iraqi] Information Minister” in what amounted to “Saddam Hussein’s propaganda.” Later, when Collins gave an on-air report critical of Hussein’s regime, CNN’s Baghdad Chief complained “you know we’re trying to get an interview with Saddam. That piece last night was not helpful.” Rather than continue to work under such constraints, Collins left Baghdad and CNN.

Even worse, until the New York Times piece, CNN even lied to its colleagues about compromises it was making in its Iraqi coverage. According to Franklin Foer:

“For a long time, CNN denied that its coverage skimped on truth. While I researched a story on CNN’s Iraq coverage for the New Republic last October, Mr. Jordan told me flatly that his network gave ‘a full picture of the regime.’ In our conversation, he challenged me to find instances of CNN neglecting stories about Saddam’s horrors. If only I’d had his [New York] Times op-ed.”

If other news organizations follow CNN’s example, totalitarian regimes will learn that they do not need to nurture rapport and trust with the press. All they need to do is threaten and intimidate and they can exchange modest regulated access for favorable coverage.

Once we know that a news organization will modify its coverage to maintain their bureaus, it looses credibility. CNN was the first US-based news service to establish a Bureau in Communist Cuba in 1997 What does CNN know about Cuba that it is not telling us? What compromises have CNN made to insure that Communist dictator Fidel Castro permits the CNN Havana Bureau to remain open? After Jordan admissions, CNN is obligated to answer these questions.

Democracy in Iraq

Sunday, April 13th, 2003

“The nation of Iraq — with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people — is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.” — President George Bush, February 26, 2003.

Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis has noted that democracies are difficult to create, but once created they are difficult to destroy. Now that the Coalition has liberated the Iraqi people from the grips of Saddam Hussein’s vicious police state apparatus, it remains to be seen whether it is possible to raise a stable democracy from the ashes of three decades of brutality. If Iraq is allowed to slip back to authoritarian rule, the US will not have completely filled the obligations assumed in taking control. However difficult this task might be, a democratic Iraq is likely to offer more stability in the long run. Any authoritarian rule will likely not truly respect the different minority populations, the Sunnis, the Shiites, or the Kurds that comprise Iraq. If a pluralistic democratic federation can be formed, it will stabilize the region, provide the opportunity for rapid economic development, and serve as a model for Islamic democracy.

Not all the French are like the current President Jacques Chirac who apparently believes that governance is merely the art of cynical exploitation for political and economic power. In the early nineteenth century, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States, at that time a rare democracy. He came with an intellectual desire to understand and document for his countrymen the underpinnings of such a political system. How had the United States managed to construct a democratic and free society?

The result of de Tocqueville’s explorations was the seminal book Democracy in America. In it, he attributed America’s democratic success to three factors: the availability of land and opportunity, the structure of laws, and the manners of the people. He ranked these three factors arguing, “The laws contribute more to the maintenance of the democratic republic in the United States than the physical circumstances of the country, and the manners more than the laws.”

Physical circumstances, in present terminology, are the economic opportunities that allow people to divert their energies to economic pursuits rather than political exploitation. However, such economic opportunities to De Tocqueville were not sufficient to explain American democratic success. De Tocqueville noted that lands colonized by the Spanish in Central and South America were blessed with natural resources as great as those of the United States, but none of these lands had nurtured democracies.

Similarly, appropriate laws and political structures may be necessary for democracies, but they are not sufficient. De Tocqueville pointed out that in 1824, Mexico had adopted a federal constitution consciously modeled after the United States Constitution. It provided for an executive, an independent judiciary, a bi-cameral legislature and a federation of states. However, in a few years the experiment collapsed. Clearly, the willingness of the people to respect democratically agreed upon laws, the readiness to acknowledge the rights of others, and the maturity to sublimate aggression into economic activity are keys to stable democratic societies.

Given such necessities, the challenge of nurturing a democratic Iraq appears daunting. It is difficult to be sanguine about current prospects. Iraq has not enjoyed democratic political culture. A brief experiment with a national parliament in the 1930s did not take root. Moreover, various factions and groups that occupy the diverse country will have to learn to respect each other. Can such tolerance be learned? The recent experience of Algeria is not heartening. In 1990, radical Islamists were elected with the goal of imposing an Islamic state. The military intervened and the country is now in political turmoil.

Nonetheless, perhaps de Tocqueville was too pessimistic in assuming that only a very narrow set of circumstances make democratic republics possible. Despite the experiences of Mexico, Algeria, and others, constructing a large-scale democracy with a number of factions could add to stability. Following the political model of James Madison, we can hope that different factions, as they compete for democratic political power, may prevent any single group, (e.g., the Shiites, the Sunnis, or the Kurds) from acquiring tyrannical control. Also on the positive side of the ledger, Iraq has a mercantile middle class and a relatively educated populace. The openness and transparency of a commercial society mitigate against authoritarianism.

In the two centuries since de Tocqueville, we have learned that given economic prosperity and models like the United States, people gravitate to and prosper in liberal democracies. As each new democracy emerges, we find different modalities for different cultures and people with different histories to embrace democratic institutions. The glue of commercial interest has often proved to be an adhesive keeping countries from flying apart. In addition, if democratic structures can be maintained, the culture and manners necessary for such a society are nurtured. The longer democracies exist, the more stable they become.

History is on the side of democracy. In 1790, there were only 3 democracies and even by 1900 there were only a dozen or so countries ruled by the assent of the governed. However, by the end of the last century the number of such countries exploded to over sixty led by the newly emerging democracies of South America. For years, political scientists had believed that the enormous wealth disparities in Latin America would condemn these countries to suffering under authoritarian regimes. While Latin America still struggles, most Latin American countries at least aspire to democracy.

Counting the number of democratic countries is a little misleading. With the break up of colonial empires, there is now a larger number of countries. Nonetheless, at the beginning of the century only 20 percent of the world lived in democracies, while by 2000 the fraction had grown to 60 percent. Save for perhaps Turkey, democratic institutions have had a difficult time establishing themselves in Islamic countries. If ways can be found to nurture such development in Iraq, it will serve as a model for the gradual political liberation of the rest of the Islamic world.

In one important respect, it may be difficult for the United States to provide an example for democracy in Islamic countries. Although democracy blossomed in the United States in a fecund ground fertilized Judeo-Christian values, there is no established religion in the United States. Ironically for Islamic countries, Israel may provide the most appropriate model on how to integrate democratic values, including respect for religious liberty, while having special state recognition of a particular religious faith.

Relapse of Vietnam Syndrome

Sunday, April 6th, 2003

According to the United States Census Department, approximately 60 percent of the population is under the age of 40. The majority of living Americans either were not born or less than 10 years old when US involvement in the War in Vietnam ended. They are thus resistant to what has been labeled as the “Vietnam Syndrome.” Those afflicted by this condition are marked by the conviction that the United States should always scrupulously avoid military intervention abroad. Those with the more benign form of the affliction have concluded from the inept military strategy in Vietnam that the US military is incapable of conducting successful and humane military operations. Why involve oneself in costly operations that will not succeed? The more virulent disorder is associated with the conviction that the United States is an inherently aggressive and evil country. Thus, any intervention must be in the service of imperialistic aims to dominate the world and must be opposed.

Those younger than 40 do not remember a world of American military losses, accompanied by angry divisiveness at home. They remember American power and leadership leading to the end of the Cold War and the liberation of Eastern Europe. They remember the liberation of Kuwait from Iraqi aggression in a remarkably efficient US military operation. They remember the liberation of Panama from dictatorship and the stability brought by American forces to Haiti. They remember that American air power effectively stopped ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Kosovo. They remember the US military, with less than 400 troops on the ground, toppled the regime in Afghanistan that harbored the terrorist organization that killed 3,000 people on US soil on September 11, 2001. The experience of the younger part of the electorate is definitively different from those who came of age in the 1960s.

Of course, knowledge and appreciation of history should extend beyond only our collective generational memories. But it appears that some in the media who came of age in the 1960s were so traumatized by the Vietnam War that they are incessantly haunted by it. They seek feverishly for another Vietnam around every corner.

In 2001, New York Times columnist R. W. Apple quintessentially represented those still afflicted by the Vietnam Syndrome. After several weeks of bombing Afghanistan, Apple was fretting about a potential “quagmire.” In many ways, the Afghan War was fundamentally different from Vietnam. It was not a guerilla war supported by a sympathetic populace and, unlike Vietnam, the US made a total commitment to victory. However, these important differences were dismissed. Most of the time one has to wait a long time to find out if one is in error. Apple learned more swiftly, when a few weeks after his column US troops were in Kabul.

Unchastened by this conspicuous failure, as the National Review pointed out, a week ago Apple already concluded “With every passing day, it is more evident that the allies made two gross military misjudgments in concluding that coalition forces could safely bypass Basra and Nasiriya and that Shitte Muslims in southern Iraq would rise up against Saddam Hussein.” Apple scorned the Administration for “over confidence.”

A week later Coalition forces are in Baghdad and “with every passing day, it is more evident” that US war plans were sufficiently flexible to deal with contingencies and as Shittes begin to feel free of Saddam’s retribution, they are becoming far more welcoming of Coalition forces. “With every passing day, it is more evident” that whatever the difficulties, the speed of the US advance preserved Iraqi civilian infrastructure by not allowing Hussein’s forces sufficient time to blow more oil wells and destroy the bridge approaches to Baghdad.

Perhaps Apple ought to be forgiven his errors given that he probably relied on the “news” portion of the New York Times for his information. Apple claimed that “a commander of American ground forces in the war zone conceded that the war they were fighting is not the one they and their officers had foreseen.” Apple was apparently relying on a front page New York Times article quoting Lt. Gen William Wallace, as saying, “The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we war-gamed against.” Later, the New York Times corrected the quote to “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit [emphasis added-FMM] different from the one we war-gamed against.” This latter corrected quotation conveys a significantly different perspective.

Drawing an analogy with optimistic exaggerations by US leaders during Vietnam, Apple criticized the Administration for raising expectations too high. According to Apple, after a week, Americans had “been conditioned by predictions of American officials (to quote one of them, Vice President Dick Cheney) that Mr. Hussein’s government would prove to be a `house of cards.”’ Actually, Administration leaders are on the record stating that the Iraq War could be very difficult and take some time. Later the New York Times correction column conceded that, another front page article was in error and Dick Cheney had never used the phrase “house of cards.”

It would be foolish to predict how the war will proceed. Wars are notoriously unpredictable and extrapolation after two weeks is hardly better than extrapolation after one week. However, we should all feel fortunate that so far the direst predictions have not born out. There have been, so far, no terrorist attacks on the US in the wake of the war; no ecological catastrophes from a large number of blown oil wells; no massive numbers of refugees; and no massive use of chemical and biological weapons.

Perhaps we should give credit where credit is due. Kenneth Pollack, a Clinton Administration hawk, articulated the case for going to war Iraq in the book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. There, he predicted that liberating Iraq would take four to eight weeks and between 500 and 1,000 American casualties. At this point, Pollack seems to have provided wise and conservative counsel.