Just Above Sunset
June 27, 2004: On the other hand... The insightful, levelheaded News Guy clarifies matters.

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Previously in the web log here, and in Just Above Sunset here you will find an analysis of what someone I knew in college, and now a rather important thinker on public policy, has to say about America and the world right now.  That would be Stephen Holmes, research director and professor at the Center for Law and Security at New York University School of Law. 

After if you have read that, you might like to read this response, from Rick Brown, late of AP and CNN, my friend I like to call The News Guy.  Rick also knew Holmes back in college -


Although I do agree with most everything Holmes says (at least in your Cliff Notes version), and I do think his focus highlights one of the most prominent failings of Bush and his people, I do take issue with some of the straw men he sets up to knock down. 

Specifically, I'm not sure I've heard Bush say the war is between "Democracy versus Terrorism," although I have heard "Freedom versus Terrorism" and the like.  I think Bush has generally stayed away from using the "d" word when so many of our allies in the Middle East don't practice it. 

Then again, I suspect he promotes democracy in that part of the world in the probably naive belief (held by so many of us Americans) that if these people would just take over their own affairs, they'd stop blaming our country for everything, much in the same way that after we all left our nests, our parents just wished we would quit going to psychotherapists to complain about our upbringing, would get jobs and have children and finally learn the true meaning of responsibility.  (This is not to say the U.S.  IS the parent, or that all those third world nations are our children, but that's just the way we so often seem to see it.)

And although I like Holmes's take here on Machiavelli, I think the phrase most frequently cited by neoconservatives has NOT been, "it is better to be feared than loved," but has instead been "it is better to be respected than loved." Did Machiavelli ever actually say it this way?   Not sure, but if it's a misquote, please blame the neocons, who I'm pretty sure confuse "fear" and "respect" in either case.  But in fact, I don't think these American bully-types have any real "respect" for people or things they themselves "hate," so why do they seem to imagine that anyone else does?  

… Also, even as I do like Byron Rushing's argument about terrorism being a crime rather than something warranting, as [some] rightly describe, "this vague, undeclared, indeterminate 'war' Bush is perpetrating," that would seem to deny the political nature of al Qaeda as an ideology, rather than some criminal venture based on personal gain.  I think that too often in history, thug regimes have made the mistake of throwing political opponents in jail and labeling them "common criminals" as a cover for something much larger.  The radical Islam movement may not be the traditional nation-state enemy we're using to confronting, but I think it is bigger than just some gang, and to defeat them, we need to fight them on a larger battlefield than we would a bunch of crooks.  (The downside is, of course, that this makes Bush a "wartime president," and a perpetual one, at that.)

One problem I've had from the beginning with this so-called "war" as it's being waged has been that it should be fought specifically against al Qaeda, the enemy that attacked us, and not against some nebulous concept called "terrorism".  For one thing, a "War on Terrorism" allows others to ask why we don't go after their particular enemies, such as "Hamas"; for another, it allows us to wander off the trail of Osama bin Laden and attack someone like Saddam Hussein, for no self-evidently good reason at all. 

But I would go Holmes even one better in the damage done to us by the Iraq War (although he might have mentioned this in his own non-digested version, which I haven't read) in that it exposed our intelligence weakness in not finding all those WMD that we kept saying ahead of time "we know he has." While before, those who wish us ill, along with their fellow travelers, might have suspected we knew more than we let on, now they're likely to suspect we know even less than we claim. 

Finally, even as I am so often a defender of American journalism in these … exchanges, I do agree with Holmes's judgment of the U.S.  News Media.  I just so wish we could go back to the days when delivering news was considered a sacred public trust, instead of an opportunity to "enhance shareholder value" by being the most popular kid in school.  (I caught just part of Michael Moore speaking with Katy Courick this morning, and thought he was right on when he said something like, "You news people are in the privileged position of asking these people any question you want, and going into this war, you didn't do it.  You really let us down!")

Although I don't want to end this on a sour note -- I really do like what Steve has been saying lately, including in this piece -- I must say that I seem to remember reading something he wrote before the war that argued in favor of allowing the post-war Iraq to become a democracy, and probably dominated by the Shiites, which (I think he said) would be inevitable anyway, since they're the majority.  I remember thinking at the time that this seemed to run counter to most expert advice -- that it should be a democracy, but one that takes into account the country's multi-ethnic character, in which no one group would have the upper hand. 


Enough said. 

The damage has been done.  The news media certainly haven’t helped.  Those in power confuse fear with respect.  And there are few ways out of all this. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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