Democracy Arsenal

« Roiling Flush | Main | 100,000 stronger? »

May 17, 2005

Newsweek, Cont'd
Posted by Michael Signer

More on Newsweek... To paraphrase Chris Matthews from some years ago, talking about the Al-Gore-Is-Stiff meme that captivated most of the mainstream media, jokes work not because of their conclusion, but because of their premise.  It wasn't the specific formulation of Gore's bedevilments (he was Awkward, he was Condescending, he was Boring) that made all of those iterations so funny -- it was the premise behind them:  that the Prince of Tennessee didn't connect with folks.

If this applies to jokes, it also applies to outrages.  Which explains the outrage throughout the Middle East about the Koran-flushing episode. 

We cannot of course retroactively test history, but the reason that Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan rioted was not solely, simply, and exclusively because of the toilet episode.  For the Administration and their toadyish media friends to frame the riots this way attempts, ridiculously and disingenously, to unthread this episode from the tangle of preceding events -- from lies on WMD to abuses at Abu Ghraib -- that constitute the premise that drove the riots:  under the Bush Administration, GWOT policy has been one of bullying and condescension, disregard for local values, and a swaggering parade of ten-gallon hats obscuring a disproportionate focus on energy resources.

And it didn't have to be this way.

Just run the counterfactual.  The Middle East is an interconnected web.  Earthquakes in Aghanistan and Pakistan begin with tremors elsewhere.  Would the Koran episode have triggered riots if the Administration ran foreign policy more through professional diplomats at State than military planners at Defense; if the post-invasion regime in Afghanistan had been run more responsibly; if they had engaged in a subtler and less backfire-prone de-Baathification programme in Iraq; if they had worked directly with anti-war forces rather than brushed them aside, fanning the flames of opposition?

If, if, if.

Suzanne, as always, is on the money here, as is Kevin Drum:

As near as I can tell, the Pentagon has demonstrated more genuine outrage over this incident than they did over months and months of disclosures of similar (and worse) actions at Abu Ghraib. It's revolting.

Kevin gets it right.  What's most aggravating about the White House's approach to the Newsweek story so far is its hyper-political opportunism.  It's well-known in Washington that the Bush White House in general has been proud to the point of boasting about how obedient -- as a general matter -- the press corps has been. 

One exception was the Abu Ghraib coverage. 

We can see in the Administration's approach to Newsweek a chops-licking, sloppy wet kiss of the image of the newspaper's mistake (whether the mistake was actually made -- and it would certainly be grievous if it was -- is immaterial to the Administration's strategic use of the mistake). 

They see this as the signal moment to finally put the press, and, by extension, Congress, the U.N., the Hague, and, for that matter, any legacy-makers, on the defensive about Abu Ghraib and other missteps in the GWOT.

And, as far as casting stones goes, as CAP notes, the Administration itself relied on a single, anonymous source for the mobile biological weapons story.  So where's the outrage there?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Newsweek, Cont'd:


1."We cannot of course retroactively test history, but the reason that Arabs rioted was not solely, simply, and exclusively because of the toilet episode."

While there has been outrage over the alleged desecration of the Quran across the Muslim world, the riots have taken place in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The populations of Afghanistan and Pakistan are not Arab.

2.The counter-factual that you suggest is ridiculous, especially since all three changes that you sought related rather intimately towards US policy on Iraq.

a.The riots took place in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The populations in Pakistan and Afghanistan that were rioting, especially in Pakistan, were substantially radicalized by the US invasion of Afghanistan, which was widely cast at the time as the opening stage of a War or "Crusade" against Islam. This radicalization preceded the War in Iraq and the revelations from Abu Ghraib. I would probably concede the Iraq War and its attendant problems (Abu Ghraib, prisoner abuse) have furthered this radicalization, but it is ridiculous to suggest that such policy changes would have altered the outcome.

b. In particular, you link to a prior post contending that if the Administration had "run policy more through State than Defense" (note that you made no substantive policy criticism here - just a procedural bit), things might have turned out differently. In that previous linked-to post, you argued:

"Local understanding, based on patient, long-term knowledge of local politics and culture, and long-range thinking about trends and attitudes toward America -- does this sound like a job for (a) the military? Or (b) professional diplomats at the State Department?

If you answered (b), you win the prize."

Presumably both military officers and FSOs know that Pakistan and Afghanistan are not Arab countries. BTW - the argument that follows in that post is a complete non-sequitor - you conflate the relative superiority of DoD civilians in the policy-making process with superiority of the military in the policy-making process - in an attempt to contend that something is out of whack in civil-military relations. Yes - per Priest - the military is playing a greater role in policy formulation and execution, especially abroad through the combatant commands. This does not mean that the ascendacy of the DoD civilian policy-makers upsets some sort of sacred balance in civil-military relations. They are civilians serving at the pleasure of the President and exercising civilian control over the armed forces.

3. And by the way, had we tried to engage in a "subtler and less backfire-prone de-Baathification programme," we might be facing Shi'a crowds rioting in southern Iraq.

4. The whole post misses the point - Islam has a long tradition of venerating the Quran as a holy object and with the exception of the Wahabis (who ironically consider the Quran to be a special book but resist veneration of any objects), most sects, and additionally governments, in the Islamic world have laws against such desecration. This existed prior to the Bush Administration and will like continue past it.

5. I agree that the WH has been somewhat opportunistic with the story. No more so than Newsweek was when they ran the story. If it was wrong for the Administration to quote a single source (anonymous, unverified) on the mobile B-WMD lab (as you suggest), it was similiarly irresponsible of Newsweek to publish that article.

I'm running around now but wanted to note that Patrick was correct on my embarrassing and very bloggy "Arabs" typo -- this was a remainder of an edited passage, but inexcusably so, and has been replaced now with "Muslims." My apologies.

I'll try to respond to the other critiques later, but do appreciate such a lengthy and thoughtful (if tough) post.

Kevin gets it right. What's most aggravating about the White House's approach to the Newsweek story so far is its hyper-political opportunism.


I assume you're referring to the hyper-political opportunism of Newsweek, here? The event was a rumor that was not substantiated- merely not refuted by the two people they tried to verify it with.

What basis is there for printing such a rumor other than that it makes the Bush administration look bad?

I miss the GuildWars Gold because i like to meet it. I want to earn the Guild Wars Gold to make me strong. I want to give my friends a lot of GuildWars money, so i have to try my best to get more and more cheap gw gold to add my stock to have enough money to give my friends.

I hope i can get eve online isk in low price.

When I have Archlord gold, I feel very pleased with life no one can understand you, but here you will find fun. When I have Archlord money, I experienced that feeling, that very warm feeling.

I appriciate him. I prefer the
flyff gold in the game. In fact, the
buy flyff penya is expensive.

Do you like playing the game where you need to use priston tale Gold, when you do not have priston tale Money,

appriciate him. I prefer the
flyff gold in the game. In fact, the
buy flyff penya is expensive.

Thank you for your sharing.! seslichat seslisohbet

Thank you for your sharing! I like i very much!

en güzel rokettube videoları,
en muhteşem porn izleme sitesi
en kral rokettube yeri
kaliteli pornoların bulunduğu tek mekan
yabancı sitelerden özenle seçilmiş muhteşem ötesi porno izleme sitesi...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use