Monthly Archives: June 2003

James Bennet a Nice Guy

Still in LA, although the conference has come to a close, so please continue to excuse my grammar and spelling.
I was speaking to an Israeli government employee who knows James Bennet from the New York Times personally, and who vouched for his being “a good guy.” Fine, I trust this person, and maybe Bennet is a nice guy over all, but today’s article on the Refrigerator Bomber is absurd (sorry, no link at this time). Sorry, but choosing to do a profile on an unrepentant individual and making him out to be a hero is just above the call of duty if you ask me. It not only validates his actions, it also glorifies him as a person, and you would not see such an article about an American mass murder, especially with so many other things going on in the region at the same time.
More when I return to the East coast.

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Anti-Semitism on the Wings of the Saudis

It has begun. Islam Online is reporting that the Sunni establishment in Iraq has begun preaching of an Israeli/Jewish attempted take-over of the cradle of civilization–which, by the way, was one of the centers of ancient Jewish history. Moreover, there has recently been a revival of Jewish art and music among Iraq’s Arab citizens, and relations between Jews and Muslims in the country are very warm–so much so that Muslim’s protect the rights of Jews to pray in Synagogue.
Taking into account the historic affinity between the people of Iraq and the Jews, and also keeping in mind that Saddam ran his propaganda apparatus like all of the other dictators in the region–blaiming the Jews for everything–The article itself is rather shocking for what it implies about the future actions of the Sunni elements in Iraq. Here are the most serious quotes:

The incident coincided with the circulation of an anonymous leaflet in Baghdad this week urging Iraqis to shun that hotel, because it was used by Jews and Israeli intelligence elements.
Signed by “a sincere Iraqi Muslim,” the leaflet sounded the alarms that some people were buying houses from Iraqis at sky-high prices for the interest of Jews.
The warning found credit among mosque preachers and Iraqi citizens, with reports that Israelis were seeking to lay their hands on key buildings in sensitive areas of the capital.
“Jews will try to lure Iraqis into selling their homes at whatever prices, and control the media in order to spread corruption and immorality,” asserted Muhanad Abdullah, Imam of Omar Ibn Al-Khatab mosque.
“But we will fight them, and will never allow a rerun of the Palestine episode,” said Sheikh Muhanad, in reference to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
On Friday, a Sunni Muslim prayer leader charged that U.S. forces occupying Iraq were opening up the country to “Jews” and chided Iraqis he said were working as “brokers” for the Jewish infiltrators, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
“The Jews, civilian and military people, are now entering Iraq … buying property, factories and companies while Iraqis work for them as brokers and guides,” Sheikh Mahmud Khalaf told the faithful during weekly Muslim prayers in Baghdad’s Sheikh Abdul Kader al-Kilani mosque.
“It is a sin for Iraq’s people to sell their lands to the Jews and to deal with the Jews in this way,” he said.

I do not think there is a doubt that Israel does have agents in Iraq, but I also cannot imagine them wanting to do anything more than gather intelligence. That said, one should immediately notice that the imam’s preaching these rumors are Sunni, most definetely Saudi sponsored, and another reason why ‘Hatred’s Kingdom’ needs to be taken to task for its incitement.

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Moral Clarity When Dismantling Outposts

First, I must forwarn that I’m blogging from LA, where I am serving as the student representative for the executive committee of the American Jewish Press Association. This gives me little time to write, and a basic inability to hyperlink or spellcheck, so please excuse the sloppy nature of the next few posts.
The topic of outpost dismantling came up in a conversation I had with a senior Israeli official, and I felt I should relate it here.
This official, who will not be named, made a very simple point: he himself, one would assume, is right of center, and yet the question of outpost dismantling to him is a no-brainer, as it should be to any law-abiding citizen of a democratic state. In his words, “if Shalom Achsav [Peace Now] would be putting up fences, the government of Israel would act in exactly the same way: no unauthorized actions may be taken by Israeli citizens when they conflict with the rule of law.”
That is the crux of the matter, and why the protests last week had so little popular support in Israel. Illegal Outposts are illegal, ’nuff said, and a government by rule of law must first and foremost protect and enforce the law, and not selectively enforce it based on politics. Those who would oppose the rule of law should be treated as criminals, all politics aside. Yes, peaceful protest and dissent should be allowed, but the clashes that erupted last week are unacceptable means of protests in my book.
In the end, I hope the leaders of the settler movement will come to accept this and take responsibility over their activists. While I in no way believe that a comparison can be made between the Palestinian terrorist groups’ activities and those of the settlers, on a basic level Israelis cannot expect the Palestinians to rein in their factions while not doing so themselves.

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Press Freedom in Iraq

Another quick reference to events in Iraq and a plug for my paper: in an article for The New Republic (needs subscription to access), Hassan Fattah argues against L. Paul Bremer’s censorship of the Iraqi press, saying that while the press is much freer than under Saddam, recent actions by Bremer to limit incitement in the press have allowed back in the ghost of self-censorship, Saddam style.
While I agree with Fattah that the American administration in Iraq has to make much clearer the red-lines for incitement, I do not agree with him that censorship, at this point, is a bad idea. Seems hypocritical? Here is the passage from my policy paper on Iraq that makes the arguement:

This brings up the rather controversial point of the need to, at the moment, limit the freedom of the press within Iraq. While conventional wisdom would have that a free press is the hallmark of a liberal society, Dr. Jack Snyder has shown that the press can be bridled and used by elites to fan the flames of ethnic conflict to allow those elites to guide the collective action of their ethnic group. Previous examples include Weimar Germany and Rwanda, where elites used the press as a vehicle of propaganda and incitement to whip up nationalist sentiment in order to gain popular support. This cannot be allowed at the current juncture, where the new Iraqi state is on shaky institutional grounds. Before the press is liberalized, the interim government, under the watchful eyes of the US and UK, will need to build norms of reporting not unlike those willingly accepted by the English-language Indian journalists at that countries birth: ethnic issues must be dealt with sensitively, ethnic riots should be reported factually if at all, and journalists should be held to a higher standard of ethics in regards to the unity of the Iraqi state. Given Saddam’s history of press centralization and repression, the body set up should be independent from the government, and maintain a monopoly on the media until the governing institutions are firmly in place.

Unfortunately, reseach has shown that a free press in the beginning stages of democratization has led to increased violence and nationalism. At this critical juncture, Bremer would be wise to set up a professional press review board with clear guidelines, which will help lead the press to independence safely. Hey, if we can’t get a credible press here, we might as well learn from our mistakes and create a good one in Iraq.

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A New Iraqi Army?

Debka is reporting that L. Paul Bremer has begun on the quest to constitute a new Iraqi Army, with a 40,000-person goal of conscription by the end of the year. While Debka has been right in the past, they have also been wrong–Saddam in Syria was a great story, but doesn’t look like it’s holding up, but, then again, who knows–so I would not put too much hope on this one.
If Bremer has kickstarted the journey towards Iraqi military reconstitution, however, more power to him. As I wrote in my report on rebuilding Iraq–which will be posted on my new site, ArielBeery.com as soon as my computer starts working correctly:

[T]he US will have to build a single, coherent, all Iraqi security structure. At this juncture, the security force should be limited to policing actions, along Japanese lines, while external security would be guaranteed by forces of the “alliance of the willing” already inside Iraq—US, UK, Australian and Polish. That will be discussed further below. This structure can be based on the already present Free Iraq Forces (FIF), but must begin to incorporate the low-level Iraqi soldiers currently hiding from the regime—before a renegade general gets the chance to cobble together a personal militia and attempt to seize power. The creation of this force will also have positive side-effects: Dr. [Jack] Snyder, citing Dr. [Ted Robert] Gurr and Dr. [Barry] Posen’s research on military mobilization, notes that the military has cohesive effects on the populace, especially when it recruits from all ethnic and religious groups and is based on “a loyal, self-motivated mass army,” though it is important develop such a force within a liberal framework to prevent the creation of a militarized cast. Once this force has been created, the US should step back from the Iraqi domestic affairs, and redeploy its troops into the Kurdish north of the country.

The former Iraqi soldiers have already shown themselves to be prone to rioting, and it is safe to assume that the longer they go without pay or structure the more violent their actions will be.
So Bremer, if you haven’t begun building the new Iraqi army, please do.

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Bremer and Pollack Take on Iraq

Good op-eds on Iraq today. The first, by L. Paul Bremer in the Wall Street Journal, gives an interesting look into the mind of the chief civil administrator in Iraq, and he sounds optimistic, which is good. Yes, he does seem a bit zealous when it comes to free-market economics–and I’m sure a few of you out there are using his remarks as evidence for the regime’s explotaitive capitalist reflexes–but his points are sound. Check out this quote:

“Against that backdrop, my primary focus now is working with Iraqis to put their country on the right economic path. The immediate situation is daunting, but it could have been much worse. Humanitarian crisis was avoided. Early operations by Coalition forces protected Iraq’s oil infrastructure, and production has already resumed. Iraq should export more than $5 billion worth of oil in the second half of this year.
Still much work remains. To address the population’s immediate liquidity needs, we have placed more than $400 million of purchasing power in the hands of the Iraqi people through the rapid payment of public-sector salaries, pensions, and emergency payments. Baghdad’s streets are now alive with traders and merchants selling goods that were unobtainable only a few months ago. The Coalition has committed billions of dollars to further spur economic growth by funding infrastructure and development projects around the country.”

The second article, by Kenneth Pollack in the NYTimes, who wrote the seminal The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, gives a good and balanced survey of the current state of WMD in Iraq. Until this point much of the controversy has been wrapped in partisan rhetoric, so it is nice for a less-political person to summarize the situation. This quote is good:

“In the meantime, accusations are mounting that the Bush administration made up the whole Iraqi weapons threat to justify an invasion. That is just not the case — America and its allies had plenty of evidence before the war, and before President Bush took office, indicating that Iraq was retaining its illegal weapons programs.
As for allegations that some in the administration may have used slanted intelligence claims in making their case against Saddam Hussein, they seem to have merit and demand further investigation. But if the truth was stretched, it seems to have been done primarily to justify the timing of an invasion, not the merits of one.
The fact that the sites we suspected of containing hidden weapons before the war turned out to have nothing in them is not very significant. American intelligence agencies never claimed to know exactly where or how the Iraqis were hiding what they had — not in 1995, not in 1999 and not six months ago. It is very possible that the “missing” facilities, weaponized agents, precursor materials and even stored munitions all could still be hidden in places we never would have thought to look. This is exactly why, before the war, so few former weapons inspectors had confidence that a new round of United Nations inspections would find the items they were convinced Iraq was hiding.”

These articles only serve to remind us that the US’s involvement in the Mideast has just begun.

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Selling Out Democracy

This article was published by the Spectator on Wed. I’m presenting it in the longer, uncut and yet first-round edited form on this website. If you would like to view the published version click on the link on the top-left section of the site, or click here.

Selling Out Democracy

Without good information one can simply not make good decisions—it is because of this principle that the founders of American democracy, and nearly all democracy advocates before and since, have relentlessly advocated the freedom of speech and press. Mostly, these advocates set out to protect the freedom of the press from government’s oppressive hand. Lately, however, we have encountered a different problem: major and central news outlets selling out, obscuring reality, and selectively reporting about events.
This phenomenon is most dangerous when it rears its head among the world’s leading news outlets. While journalistic integrity should be the guiding principle no matter a reporter’s station on the totem pole, one must admit that when the New York Times, CNN, and, for the Arab world, Al Jazeera overstep the boundaries as reporters by becoming involved with the subjects upon which they are meant to report, the entire edifice of public information comes into doubt.
“News organizations boast that they cover even the toughest beats without fear or favor. Sometimes it’s true. But sometimes journalists choose to censor themselves instead,” writes Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe on April 17, concluding that, “Whatever the excuse, the results are the same: The public is cheated, the news is corrupted, and a despot is strengthened.”
That is why the lack of reporting by the New York Times on Arafat’s active drive to undermine Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas through the creation of the Supreme Military Council under Arafat, usurping PM Abbas’ intended control of the Palestinian security forces, in more than unethical. It is also dangerous since decision makers in our democratic system–the people–are not given good information and are thereby unable to make good decisions. As the leading newspaper in the world, it is the yardstick upon which readers measure all other journalism. When the measuring tool loses its reliability, everything else comes into question.
The New York Times refuses to call the Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the various other groups in the Palestinian areas “terrorists” for fear of loosing its sources, notes a foreign reporter I queried for this piece. CNN, still calling itself “the most trusted name in news,” has admitted to hiding reports of Saddam Hussein’s brutality in order to keep its bureau open in Baghdad and protect its employees there, by way of an op-ed written by the station’s chief news executive Eason Jordan in the New York Times on April 11. Al Jazeera, according to John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, has been found to be saturated with Saddam Hussein’s agents, with the network’s managing director, Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, allegedly at the top of the payoff list. And yet the entire Arab world looks to it for credible, non-state controlled information, calling it “the CNN of the Arab world.”
As Hugh Hewitt asks in the Daily Standard, “Are there any similar non-disclosure deals at work in Cuba, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Burma, or any other country in which CNN maintains a presence?” How can we, who will probably never experience much of the world first-hand, judge a policy advocated by any member of out government if the information we receive is in doubt?
The democratic ideal of mass participation in politics rests upon the idea that the citizenry can make educated decisions about policies, and elect representatives responsible for carrying out the will of their constituencies. When the citizens are presented with a slanted or incomplete view of reality, they cannot be expected to make educated decisions. Moreover, as a handful of corporations gain the power to control an ever-increasing portion of the media–which was a problem even under the recently relaxed FCC regulations—a select few will gain a disproportionate amount of influence over our opinions.
While some such as the journalist Robert Wright claim that the dawn of the ‘ebay of ideas’—the decentralization of news due to the Internet—may provid a counterweight to the influence of the media corporations, the unfortunate fact is that news networks set the standards upon which other news outlets are judged. Think of it this way: when asked to verify a fact, most people would trust The New York Times over Salon.com any day of the week. On the same note, weblogs, while revolutionary in their ability to generate original analysis and open peoples eyes to inconsistencies in reporting, are still no more than third-hand sources, quoting other news sources to make their points.
So, in recognizing that the traditional media remains important even after the information revolution, there is now a vacuum of credibility, a lack of good information on which democratically empowered citizens can base their perceptions and choose their candidates. This vacuum is degrading our democracy, reducing our ability as citizens to influence our government.
To protect democracy, we will need to figure out how to restore credibility to a free press that will serve all citizens and not solely corporate interests. We need to set standards in order to know that the press is reporting the whole picture, is doing its best to find the truth in events, and is not mixing opinion with reporting. Until we solve these problems, our democratic values are endangered, and our ability to truly influence government is compromised.

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