• May 23, 2004 | 6:58 PM ET
GEORGE W. KERRY
But, in an article in Foreign Policy entitled "Meet George W. Kerry," author Moises Naim argues that the president that Kerry will most resemble -- at least in terms of foreign policy -- is the one we've got now, and that, paradoxically, if reelected President Bush will be more like Kerry than he is today: "If reelected, Bush will have difficulty sustaining the foreign policies of his first term, whereas a first-term Kerry presidency is bound to emulate some of Bush's more aggressive positions."
There's some truth to this. Presidents are powerful, but they are also influenced by the world, and neither the world, nor America's interests in it, change as much as people think from one election cycle to another. Nixon, remember, ran as a "peace candidate" in 1968, but was still fighting LBJ's war in 1972. And although George W. Bush invaded Iraq, Bill Clinton threatened to, and even, in 1998, signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which made regime change official U.S. policy.
I don't know what this means for the campaign. Perhaps anti-war folks will figure this out, and decide to back Ralph Nader. Or perhaps things in Iraq will look so good, or so bad, in November that there won't be any argument over what ought to be done. But, in fact, it's likely that whoever is elected, U.S. policy will look less different in 2005 than the campaign commercials of 2004 suggest.
• May 20, 2004 | 4:33 PM ET
RICHARD MILHOUS KERRY?
Last week, I compared a possible John Kerry presidency to that of Jimmy Carter.
But Kerry the candidate is starting to look like someone else -- Richard Nixon:
"It will not be like Vietnam," Kerry said. "I will get our troops home from Iraq with honor and with the interests of our country properly protected."
How soon? "It will not take long to do what is necessary. I'm not going to give you a specific date, but I'll tell you that I have a plan and I will put that plan in place." Republican Richard M. Nixon used similar language during the 1968 presidential race, but the war dragged on for years after his election.
"Peace with honor?" A "secret plan to end the war?" Sounds like Nixon all right. And that didn't work out so well.
I've got a better idea -- let's try ending the war by winning. And Kerry's biggest misconception is to believe that Iraq is the war.
In fact, Iraq is just one part of a much larger war against Islamist terror. Since Kerry seems to care a lot about what "foreign leaders" think, perhaps he should listen to this one:
Terrorism is a generic term. Terrorist organisations such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or ETA in Spain are only of local concern. The virulent strain of Islamic terrorism is another matter altogether. It is driven by religion. Its ideological vision is global. It is most dangerous. The communists fought to live whereas the jihadi terrorists fight to die, and live in the next world. . . .
But the threat remains. It stems from a religious ideology that is infused with an implacable hostility to all secular governments, especially the West, and in particular the US. Their followers want to recreate the Islam of 7th Century Arabia which they regard as the golden age. Their ultimate goal is to bring about a Caliphate linking all Muslim communities. Their means is jihad which they narrowly define as a holy war against all non-Muslims whom they call "infidels".
MORE ON MEDIA
I've mentioned the media and war here a lot. In connection with that, I recommend this post on the news media as weapons of war, and this one on the news cycle -- along with this column by Ralph Peters, with these by Collin Levey and William Safire.
And, on a somewhat broader scale, James Glassman says that the Bush Administration is blowing it when it comes to the international war of ideas.
Hey, maybe we should just bribe foreign journalists. It worked for Saddam!
• May 18, 2004 | 9:34 PM ET
NEWS, GOOD AND BAD
A lot of people complain that the media report nothing but bad news. That's not quite true, but it does seem that the bad stories get more attention than the good. And that often leads to considerable distortion. I remember a few years ago when a rather mild hurricane struck New Orleans. All the news channels showed a tree that had fallen across a major intersection. It was the same tree on every channel, and a friend in New Orleans reported that it was pretty much the only tree to fall in the city. But the news stories made it an emblem.
It's important, of course, for bad news to get reported -- because you have to know about problems to fix them. But good news is important too, because it shapes our view of the world, and a view of the world that's based only on bad news is sure to be distorted. That's led the crew at The Speculist to start running a regular feature collecting good news on all sorts of topics because they think that the mainstream media don't pay enough attention to the subject. Looking at the grateful reactions in their comment section -- and at the declining viewership and readership of most news outlets -- I think they're onto something.
When challenged on this, members of the press tend to get defensive.
You want us to only report happy-face fluff? they respond.
Well, no. Just actual news.
The New Orleans example is a good one -- the downed tree wasn't the real news. The real news was that the hurricane hadn't been that bad. But they wanted arresting imagery, even if it gave a false impression. When you play that game -- and we all know that they do -- you're not in a position to get on your truth-teller's high horse.
If the news media are negative in general, though, they've been especially negative in covering the war. Lately, even news media people have been complaining about coverage from Iraq again. John O'Sullivan writes in the Chicago Sun-Times that the willingness of press in America and Britain to run with fake abuse photos from Iraq is revealing:
Neither the media's vaunted "skepticism" nor simple fact-checking on the Internet were employed by the papers. The fakes were, in the old Fleet Street joke, "too good to check." As Mark Steyn argued Sunday, the journalists wanted to believe they were real. Indeed, it is worse than that -- since the fraud was discovered and the Mirror editor fired, he has become a heroic figure in British circles hostile to Blair and the war.
Admittedly, reporters and editors make mistakes. But when all the mistakes are on the side of opposing the liberation of Iraq, and none of the mistakes favor the United States or Britain or Bush or Blair, it tells you something.
Namely, which side they're on.
And it's not the side of the truth, whatever they claim. Likewise, Abe Rosenthal, formerly of the New York Times, observes:
Since the latest torture story, many editors have failed to present background stories about the millions killed by Saddam.
They worry about being accused of minimizing the brutalization of Iraqi prisoners by Americans, if they recall in print the masses of people Saddam slaughtered.
These journalists are truly embarrassing.
And James Lileks notes:
This smothering gloom, this suppurating corrosion – this isn’t us. This isn’t who we are. If it is, well, we’re lost, because it contains such potent self-hatred that we’ll shrink from defending ourselves, because what we have built isn’t worth defending. Thanks for the push, al Qaeda! We’ll take it from here.
You can imagine an enemy propagandist wanting to accomplish that, but it's striking to see American media working to establish such a mood on their own.
And they are. And they're responsible for it, because -- when their own politics are threatened -- they act differently. Media folks are constantly cautioning one another not to report stories about minorities that give the impression that black people tend to be disproportionately involved in crime and drugs, or that gay people are likely to be pederasts, or whatever. News organizations are exquisitely sensitive to the implications of reporting only bad news where "victim" groups are concerned.
Which means that if they can do better when they want to, then on subjects where they don't do better, they must not want to. And why not? Beats me, but I'm sure it can't reflect well on them, and I'm not surprised that more and more Americans are tuning them out. What business has ever succeeded by making its customers feel bad?
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