October 03, 2003
Armchair Punditry

Lutz Kleveman, whose new blog I mentioned the other day, gives a mixed review to my mixed review of his blog:

Stefan writes:

“Lutz's blog tends to favor the side of the media over the U.S. administration in the "how bad are things in Iraq" debate. But that's to be expected, he's from the media and writes mainly for a European audience.”

What kind of crap is this?

What kind of crap? Factual crap! Lutz writes:
First of all, I am not “from THE MEDIA” (whatever that means).
From his own biography: "Kleveman has worked for the news channel CNN and German Television ZDF in Washington, USA, and has written for the Daily Telegraph, Newsweek, DIE ZEIT und Der Spiegel Online."
I am A writer. Free-lance, i.e. independent (-minded), with no corporate affiliations and with my own eyes and ears. Yes, I do need to pay my bills but that does not make me part of the “old media establishment” some bloggers are so desperate to rail against.
I didn't say anything about "old media establishment", but someone who works as a media professional can be expected to share sensibilities and be sympathetic to other media professionals
As for my writing for “a European audience”, explain to me how that would impair my judgment?
I didn't say anything about impairing judgment, but it's reasonable to assume that a person who writes for a particular audience will, more often than not, share that audience's worldview. In this case, it was a reasonable assumption, as Lutz's opposition to the war seems to be consistent with European public opinion.
What is this silly and spurious debate where one has to side either with “the media” or the Bush administration? How much more black and white does it get?
My mention of said debate was a simplification, but it was a direct reference to Lutz's earlier posting:
May this anecdote serve as an (entirely circumstantial) reflection on just who is doing a bad job in Iraq: the occupiers or the media?

The debate on whether the media’s reporting from Iraq is too negative is getting interesting, with people on the ground raising their voice, too.

Back to the current post:
So, by that logic instapundit and rantingprofs are government mouthpieces?
To the best of my knowledge, instapundit is not a government mouthpiece, but I think it's fair to argue that he believes that the administration is doing a better job fighting the war than the media is reporting it.
In his email (fair game, I suppose?) Stefan writes:

I don't quite buy the perspective that the Iraq war is an imperialist enterprise and a quagmire. Reconstructing Iraq and building a civil society there is an important undertaking for international security, just as was rebuilding the defeated fascist states after WWII and rebuilding the former Soviet Union after the Cold War. And just because we are motivated by oil interests, doesn't mean that it's not also both in our long-term security as well as consistent with our national values to help develop a saner society in Iraq.

It is fair game to quote my email, but it would have been even more fair to quote the rest of it, which among other things, would show that my perspective is even less, uh, black and white than it is being portrayed to be. The rest of my email read:
Obviously there are better and worse ways of doing this and the US administration is going to make its share of mistakes that deserve to be pointed out by the media so that they can be corrected.

Along these lines and regarding your comments on media coverage -- I think what frustrates many of the bloggers about the mainstream media's coverage of Iraq is not the criticism of the administration - constructive criticism is a good thing - but the sense that many in the media were against the war in the first place and would rather see the occupation fail than succeed. The tone of much of the reporting that I read seems more designed to undermine popular support for the occupation than to provide an appropriately balanced view on the progress. On the other hand, I have to respect that it's you and your friends who are over there doing the primary reporting, not me...

Back to Lutz:
Just two questions:

- how does turning a country that posed no credible immediate threat (where are the WMDs?) neither to the region nor to “the West” into a chaotic mess and a cause célèbre for Islamic terrorists improve “international security”? (remember this Bin Laden chap? he is still out there)

The issue is not one of "immediate" (or the other strawman "imminent") threat. The President dismissed that yardstick in his State of the Union last January. The issue is not whether WMD are found or not, because the assessment of every authority on the planet, including France and the Clinton administration was that Saddam had weapons. The more pressing issue was the near certainty that Saddam would have fully reconstituted his strategic threat once the inspections were relaxed -- which would have been inevitable. As far as being a cause célèbre for Islamic terrorists- why, yes! that's the flypaper strategy. Better to have the terrorists jump in front of soldiers who can shoot back than to blow up civilian targets. It seems to be working.

The other point being that the root causes of Islamist terrorism lie in the political, social and economic failures in the Arab world itself. Only by fundamental reform in these societies will terrorism burn itself out. Iraq under Saddam has been both a model basket case and an exporter of repression that has destabilized the region. Take away the Saddamist threat and develop a civil democracy in Iraq (not unlike what the Allies did in Germany and Japan after WWII) and there can be a model for prosperity and political reform in the rest of the region.

- if “we” (who is we? Americans? the Bush administration?) are motivated by oil interests, as you concede, how do you think that goes over with the people in the region? (try answering that one without using the “i-word”..)

We (being Americans) are motivated by oil interests, yes we are. But (a) we are motivated by a lot more than that, and (b) everybody else on the planet is also motivated by oil interests. Not least the French, the Russians, the Saudis, the Iraqis, the UN, etc. As far as imperialism goes, it is a strange empire indeed that liberates a country from tyranny, offers it $87 billion for reconstruction and develops a local governing authority so it can get out of the way within a small number of years.

Lutz then finishes with me and turns to Glenn Reynolds:

At least, Stefan does acknowledge that it is reporters who do the primary reporting in Iraq. So what?, Glenn would probably retort. In yet another pamphlet against biased, lazy, butt-covering, Baghdad media types, he writes "Imagine what we might hear if more reporters were willing to venture out [of Baghdad] in search of a story."

With all due respect, Glenn, that is what most of us reporters out there do, unlike some Starbucks-catered armchair pundits who confuse their wishful thinking with the reality in Iraq!

I drink Peet's, not Starbucks and nobody caters to me, I make my own coffee, thank you very much. And I actually write my blog from a deskchair that has wheels. But it also has arms, so I suppose that makes me an armchair pundit too!

Posted by Stefan Sharkansky at October 03, 2003 07:00 AM
Comments

The imperialist label might be made to stick, if the Senate does not fight off the cynical proposal to make the infrastructure repair (most of it required due to Saddam's diversion of UN sanctioned oil income to palaces instead of normal maintenance, or God forbid, food and medicines) a 'loan' to Iraq. That would be invading a country to extract resources from it.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive on October 3, 2003 09:54 AM

Bush may have dismissed the imminent or immediate threat yardstick in his state of the union address, but that doesn't mean anyone else has to. Lutz asks "how does turning a country that posed no credible immediate threat... into a chaotic mess and a cause célèbre for Islamic terrorists improve “international security”?" The fact that Bush agreed that Iraq was not an imminent threat makes Lutz's question more relevant, not less.

Your argument that we had to go to war because otherwise it would have been "inevitable" that UN inspections would be relaxed and Saddam would have then fully reconstituted his strategic threat flies in the face of the facts on the ground before, during, and after the US led war. Before, the US had successfully pushed for an *increased* level of UN inspections and was, by several accounts, also using Special Forces to clandestinely inspect other sites. The US war actually interrupted an ongoing and intense inspection process that, had it completed, would have shown what David Kay's report has just shown: that a decade of inspections and sanctions had pushed Hussein to either actually comply with the UN mandate and destroy his weapons or at least to bottle them up so tightly that it wasn't a danger that would emerge so fast we wouldn't have warning and time to respond.

There were many other ways to handle the situation other than going to war pre-emptively. Not only did Bush's "we'll invade whoever we feel like invading whenever we feel like it" policy create a whole new generation of anti-American terrorists, it also pushed North Korea and probably Iran to restart their nuclear weapons programs. Do you consider those developments as improvements in "international security"?

Oh, I almost forgot: the "flypaper strategy"? What a bunch of ex post facto rationalization. Setting aside the dubious merits and/or sincerity of such a strategy, there's still the fact that we had all of Afghanistan to use as flypaper. We still have lots of forces there, still have GI's getting killed there, and, if we hadn't invaded Iraq, would still be focused on finding and neutralizing the real terrorists there.

Posted by: Simon on October 3, 2003 09:57 AM

Perhaps some folks have slept through David Kay's reporting on the ongoing bioweapons programs, successfully hidden from the UN. Slumber in peace, while the rest of us thank the Administration for doing the right thing.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive on October 3, 2003 10:04 AM

Either they slept through the reporting, or judged what is in it from the headlines or what they think should be in it, or (I hope not) wish was in it. My reading of the Kay report is just the opposite of the summary given above. I think the report indicates that Saddams clandestine WMD weapons program, plans to acquire long-range (illegal) missile delivery systems and the weapons themselves were destroyed because of the war, and not through compliance with the UN mandate.

Posted by: Wilinsky on October 3, 2003 11:23 AM

Of course none of us have read the report, since it is classified. And since the stuff was destroyed, it is impossible to say what was destroyed or why and in many cases when. Here's a quote from what was released by the CIA about the report: "Despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material."

Sure, you might think, as an American, your world is safer now that you've gotten rid of some anti-American government. But for everyone outside of America, their world has gotten more dangerous, because America has shown it will not be restrained by its allies, by the UN, by world opinion, or even by facts. Suspicion alone can get you invaded. In the US, the NRA types want to keep lots of guns around just in case the US ever starts treating its own citizens like that. How would you expect the rest of the world to react?

Posted by: Simon on October 3, 2003 03:03 PM

David Kay's interim statement asserts that Saddam wanted to obtain nukes, intended to resume his nuke program as soon as possible, was far along in getting delivery systems with 1000km range (illegal according to ceasefire agreements), preserved at least some capability in his nuke research program, at a minimum preserved a secret R&D WMD program embedded in the Intelligence Services, had a technically trained cadre for development and or production of WMD, had made inquiries to technicians about how long it would take to rebuild a supply of mustard gas and sarin, and had for sure at one time stocks of WMD. He emphasizes the needle in the haystack difficulties inherent in finding WMD in Iraq. In no way does he claim they aren't there. Hell yes, I feel more secure that this has all been wiped out.

Posted by: wilinsky on October 3, 2003 03:23 PM

Can one rouse oneself from slumbers enough to read David Kay's statement? Those with sufficient enterprise can do so at

http://www.cia.gov/cia/public_affairs/speeches/2003/david_kay_10022003.html

Those who continue to follow the party line may indeed believe this morning's headlines, but will have to emulate ostriches in order to avoid the real world. However, that part of the real world outside America has gotten LESS dangerous, because America has shown it will not be restrained by its allies, by the UN, or by world opinion when it comes to facts about the programs of Saddam's twisted government. While the UN did its part to support Saddam and averted its attention while he diverted his oil payments to palaces and French weaponry (WHEN will that oil-for-food program get a transparent public audit?), all its fellow-travellers howled and sneered at US and UK measures to call the bluff. David Kay now provides us with evidence that Iraqi innocence was a bluff, their intentions were not honorable, and UN resolutions meant nothing to Saddam's weapons programs. So we should defer to UN propaganda and 'world opinion'? Please.

Posted by: Insufficiently Sensitive on October 3, 2003 03:53 PM

Yeah, Stefan!

Ride this bitch, until he drops like a rock.

(All you have really done is, catch another "thinker" in his/her lies.....) LOL

Posted by: Kevin on October 3, 2003 08:59 PM

Simon:

"Sure, you might think, as an American, your world is safer now that you've gotten rid of some anti-American government. But for everyone outside of America, their world has gotten more dangerous, because America has shown it will not be restrained by its allies, by the UN, by world opinion, or even by facts. Suspicion alone can get you invaded."

And to that I say: Good! Grand! Marvelous!

When somebody thinks that killing my fellow Americans serves their cause or just entertains them better than their local media can, they've painted the target on themselves. If that makes "their world" more dangerous, I call it "reaping what you sow."

The rest of the world has a choice in how they react to anything the US does. If they choose peaceful means, they'll get peace in return. If they choose violence, then they'll get violence in return.

What's so difficult to understand about that?

Posted by: tobacco road fogey on October 4, 2003 07:59 AM

> The imperialist label might be made to stick, if the Senate does not fight off the cynical proposal to make the infrastructure repair (most of it required due to Saddam's diversion of UN sanctioned oil income to palaces instead of normal maintenance, or God forbid, food and medicines) a 'loan' to Iraq. That would be invading a country to extract resources from it.


Umm, making a country pay for something it gets isn't extracting things from it.

That being said, I think that the US should repudiate Iraqs foreign debt, perhaps in return for a small payment, a payment that we might well spend on Iraq's infrastructure.

What - the US can't repudiate Iraq's debt? Of course it can. And, the USSR even provided the precedent when it announced that Austria would be neutral.

Of course, we might simply change the terms of the payback. Surely the Russians will be happy to receive their pre-soviet bonds as payment....

Posted by: Andy Freeman on October 4, 2003 01:17 PM

Stefan,
You are the modern Job.
But how good are you at math?
There are more quacks around one could
spend time on, at the expense of having
one's own life to live.

Posted by: Boris A.Kupershmidt on October 4, 2003 06:32 PM

Following Afghanistan 2001, were we to turn around and return home, declaring the war on terror over? When there were Al Qaeda terrorists still populating the globe, and when there were still regimes everywhere harboring them?

Next time you encounter an "expert" leftist, ask them about military strategy. Ask them if we should have invaded Iran, with Saddam Hussein's Iraq nextdoor, ready and willing to attack the US with the WMD they weren't shuffling around everywhere.

Same for Saudi Arabia, or Syria, or anything. Talk to them about strategy, or the concept of it. See if you can make them understand what strategy is. Think to yourself in your head "my god, a house plant makes better arguments".

When the only message their negative IQ can convey is "attacking anyone is not justified", shrug your shoulders and stop talking to them.

Posted by: Bob on October 5, 2003 01:35 AM

"The rest of the world has a choice in how they react to anything the US does. If they choose peaceful means, they'll get peace in return. If they choose violence, then they'll get violence in return."

Actually, Hussein had chosen peaceful means. After getting his ass kicked for invading Kuwait, Hussein has done nothing violent against the US or any other country. For TWELVE years. Still he got violence in return. The lesson North Korea and probably Iran took from this was that restraint doesn't work, the only thing that prevents the US from invading is Nukes. And those are just the two countries we know about.

Posted by: Simon on October 7, 2003 12:27 PM

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Posted by: Debt Consolidation on November 13, 2003 10:15 AM
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