May. 28, 2004 11:38 | Updated May. 28, 2004 18:46
Eye on the Media: Just like Stalingrad
By BRET STEPHENS
According to Sidney Blumenthal, a one-time adviser to president Bill Clinton who now writes a column for Britain's Guardian newspaper, President George W. Bush today runs "what is in effect a gulag," stretching "from prisons in Afghanistan to Iraq, from Guantanamo to secret CIA prisons around the world." Blumenthal says "there has been nothing like this system since the fall of the Soviet Union."
In another column, Blumenthal compares the April death toll for American soldiers in Iraq to the Eastern Front in the Second World War. Bush's "splendid little war," he writes, "has entered a Stalingrad-like phase of urban siege and house-to-house combat."
The factual bases for these claims are, first, that the US holds some 10,000 "enemy combatants" prisoner; and second, that 122 US soldiers were killed in action in April.
As I write, I have before me a copy of "The Black Book of Communism," which relates that on "1 January 1940 some 1,670,000 prisoners were being held in the 53 groups of corrective work camps and 425 collective work colonies . In addition, the prisons held 200,000 people awaiting trial or a transfer to camp. Finally, the NKVD komandatury were in charge of approximately 1.2 million 'specially displaced people.'"
As for Stalingrad, German deaths between January 10 and February 2, 1943, numbered 100,000, according to British historian John Keegan. And those were just the final agonizing days of a battle that had raged since the previous August.
Blumenthal is not alone. Former vice president Al Gore this week accused Bush of creating "more anger and righteous indignation against us as Americans than any leader of our country in the 228 years of our existence as a nation." Every single column written by the New York Times's Paul Krugman is an anti-Bush screed; apparently, there isn't anything else worth writing about. A bumper sticker I saw the other day in Manhattan reads: "If you aren't outraged, you're not paying attention."
THERE ARE two explanations for all this. One is that Bush really is as bad as Sid, Al and Paul say: the dumbest, most feckless, most fanatical, most incompetent and most calamitous president the nation has ever known. A second is that Sid, Al and Paul are insane.
The best test of the first argument is the state of the nation Bush leads. In the first quarter of 2004, the US economy grew by an annualized 4.4%. By contrast, the 12-nation eurozone grew by 1.3% â€“ and that's their highest growth rate in three years. In the US, unemployment hovers around 5.6%. In the eurozone, it is 8.8%. In a recent column, Krugman wrote that the US economic figures aren't quite as good as they seem. But even granting that, the Bush economy is manifestly healthy by historical and current international standards.
There is the situation in Iraq, where the US has lost about 750 soldiers in action over the course of more than a year, as well as about 5,500 Iraqis. The fact that events have not gone well over the past two months is somehow taken as proof that they've gone disastrously. Yet in the run-up to the war, the German Foreign Ministry was issuing predictions of about two million Iraqi deaths, making the actual Iraqi death rate 3.6% of that anticipated total. As for the American rate, the US lost more than 6,000 soldiers in Vietnam in 1966, the year US troop strength there was comparable to what it is now in Iraq. That's about nine times as many fatalities as the US has so far sustained in Iraq.
There is the charge that, under Bush, the United States has qualified for most-hated nation status. Maybe so. But it is not entirely clear why this should be so decisive in measuring the accomplishments or failures of the administration. Reagan was also unpopular internationally back in his day. Nor is Israel an especially popular country. But that's no argument for Israel to measure itself according to what Jordanians or Egyptians think of it.