Our media jihadis
Bret Stephens Oct. 4, 2003
So here's the question of the week, month, year: After Iraq, will the media ever again allow a democracy to topple a fascist dictatorship?
The question isn't mine but John Reid's. On March 31 at nine o'clock in the morning, the Labour Party Chairman was in 10 Downing Street watching the TV news. On screen were pictures of "distressed Iraqi civilians and dead allied soldiers." Reid became incensed. "The broadcasters are in Iraq not because they want to tell the truth, but because of commercial competition," the Glaswegian told Times Magazine writer Peter Stothard. "It's a disgrace."
As we know, within a few days the media that so irritated Reid got its comeuppance: The Marines entered Baghdad, Saddam's statues came down and, just as Dick Cheney had predicted, Iraqis cheered. But as we also know, that wasn't the end of the war, just the moment when Baathist unrepentants resorted to a death-by-one-thousand-cuts strategy. Ditto for the media unrepentants. They failed to stop the war and they failed to lose the war. But they haven't stopped trying to reverse the result, and it bids fair that they will yet do so.
WHO ARE these media jihadis? The charge sounds a bit McCarthyite, so I'll be specific.
"I have a confession," wrote Salon Executive Editor Gary Kamiya on April 10. "I have at times, as the war has unfolded, secretly wished for things to go wrong. Wished for the Iraqis to be more nationalistic, to resist longer. Wished for the Arab world to rise up in rage. Wished for all the things we feared would happen. I'm not alone: A number of serious, intelligent, morally sensitive people who oppose the war have told me they have identical feelings."
Or take Jonathan Schell, writing in the Sept. 22 issue of the Nation: "[Democratic Senator Joe] Biden says we must win the war. This is precisely wrong. The United States must learn to lose this war a harder task, in many ways, than winning, for it requires admitting mistakes and relinquishing attractive fantasies. This is the true moral mission of our time."
To their credit, Kamiya and Schell are candidly anti-American; there's no dissembling with them. Not so with other media jihadis. What, for instance, is one to make of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who recently described US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as "the man who trashed two countries"? Or of her colleague Paul Krugman who, as Iraqis were still celebrating their freedom on April 11, could only sniff: "I won't pretend to have any insights into what is going on in the minds of the Iraqi people.
But there is a pattern in the Bush administration's way of doing business that does not bode well for the future...."?
Elsewhere in the world, it's pretty much the same. In its report on the toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad, a Guardian reporter could say only: "There are no statues of Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq just yet, but it is probably only a matter of time." Out with the old anti-American megalomaniac; in with the new pro-American megalomaniac. On the second anniversary of September 11, a presenter on the BBC's World Service remarked: "At the one extreme you have George W. Bush, at the other Osama bin Laden...."
And in France, Mathieu Lindon, a journalist writing in Liberation, described the mood of his colleagues: "We are very interested in American deaths in Iraq .... We will never admit it, [but] every American soldier killed in Iraq causes, if not happiness, at least a certain satisfaction."
At least the French aren't wishing their own boys ill. Not so with the jihadis of the American and British press. For Dowd, Schell, Kamiya, Krugman and their colleagues in Britain, hatred of Bush is the premise, the first principle, the animating impulse shaping all arguments. It's not exactly that they want America to lose. On that score they are pretty much indifferent. But what is certain is that they want Bush to lose, and insofar as his political fortunes rise or fall on coalition success in Iraq, they are on the side of failure.
Hence the jihadi tactics. Let's see: We've had Blair's sexed-up dossier; uranium from Niger; British scientist David Kelly's (apparent) suicide; and the "outing" of Joe Wilson's third wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Each of these scandals has more or less amounted to nothing. So Bush, in his State of the Union address, noted that British intelligence believed Saddam was importing "yellow cake" uranium ore from Niger? Well, the British did make that claim. So Blair underscored that Iraq could deliver a WMD warhead within 45 minutes? Well, that's what his intelligence chiefs told him. So David Kelly killed himself as the glare of the public spotlight became unbearable? It turns out the BBC used him far worse than the government.
So Joe Wilson accuses the White House of blowing his wife's cover? Pretty rich, coming from a man who went on a secret CIA mission of his own and then wrote about it in a New York Times op-ed.
Of course, the hard fact upon which all these accusations are based is that so far weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq. From that the conclusion is drawn that "Bush lied." It might bear pointing out that it took the US Army five months to discover an ordnance cache in the open desert weighing about 650,000 tons, so maybe it'll take a bit longer to find the elusive WMD. It might also bear pointing out (I'm hardly the first to do so) that Bush's "lies" were pretty much identical to Clinton's statements on the matter.
But never mind. The issue is not WMD, or what the president or prime minister knew, and when, or whether the peace process is advancing or retreating, or whether Iraq is better or worse off than before. The issue is, how is the president to be defeated at the next election? By miring the White House in scandal.
By creating the perception that things aren't going well in Iraq. By creating momentum to bring the boys home. This is guerrilla warfare, and it is the task to which the media jihadis have dedicated themselves.
THE BEST that can be said about these people is that they believe, honestly, that George Bush is the world's greatest menace, against which the Saddam's of the world pale. Hence the Guardian can editorialize (as it did September 16) that "Iran's Fears Are Real," that the ayatollahs' intentions are peaceful and that the only nations engaged in a "dastardly plot" are "located in the West." Hence development guru Jeff Sachs can allege that the $20 billion Bush wants to earmark for Iraqi reconstruction is a racist plot because Africans are worthier recipients of US largesse. Hence Paul Krugman can opine, in our post-September 11 world, that "The real threat isn't some terrorists who can kill a few people now... but the internal challenge from very powerful domestic political forces who want to do away with America as I know it."
But assume for a moment that these people really are, as Kamiya puts it above, "serious, intelligent, morally sensitive people." If that's the case, one must discount their honesty. Do the editorial writers at the Guardian truly believe Iran threatens nobody, and that its leaders only want "to develop the nation's economy"?
Does that country's apparatus of repression even rate their notice? What about Iran's threat to annihilate Israel? Does Maureen Dowd have nothing to say about Afghanistan and Iraq except that Rumsfeld "trashed" them? Can she muster no joy that millions of Iraqis and Afghans no longer live under the Baathist or Taliban boot? Does Jonathan Schell think democracy in Iraq is an idea worth attempting? Great liberal that he is, does he believe Arabs are capable of democracy?
I don't really know if our media jihadis are honest fools or dissembling geniuses. In my experience, people who speak of themselves as "serious, intelligent and morally sensitive" tend to be frivolous, glib and morally callous. Above all, they are self-deceiving. They love to talk about how much they care for the indigent and oppressed, and they believe what they say. But when George W. Bush goes ahead and does something for the indigent and oppressed, that's a lie and an outrage and a sweetheart deal for the Halliburton and Bechtel Corporations.
And they really believe that, too.
One day, perhaps, we'll get a satisfactory explanation as to why a president whose chief sins seem to be that he was born to an influential family, isn't articulate, and piously believes in Christ should be treated as the Great Satan. In the meantime, we must bend every effort to prevent our media jihadis from doing to Western public perception what the Middle East's jihadis are trying to do to Iraqi infrastructure: Destroying the foundations upon which a more hopeful future may arise.