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The Daily Briefing 21/11/05
1 Rupert Murdoch's war
Read it. Anyone with an interest in Rupert Murdoch, the media, the Iraq war or politics will get something out of this one. Scott McConnell is the editor of The American Conservative, set up in 2002 as a conservative voice against the neo-conservatives - against "fantasies of global hegemony, the hubristic notion of America as a universal nation for all the world's peoples, a hyperglobal economy". In this article, McConnell looks at the role Rupert Murdoch's "The Weekly Standard" played in pushing Saddam Hussein front and centre of the US policy debate, post-9/11. It is also an interesting look at the history of neo-conservatism. A great read. "Its role can be likened to the Yellow Press, the Hearst papers and Pulitzer's New York World, which did everything they could to instigate a war against Spain over Cuba in the 1890s and boosted their circulation mightily in the process. In the wake of 9/11, the Standard didn't have to create the martial atmosphere artificially, just divert it from Osama to Saddam. ... So in a sense the Iraq War is Bill Kristol's War as much as it is George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's, and the Standard is the vehicle that made it possible. It should go down in history as Rupert Murdoch's War as well, and thus becomes by far the most significant historical event ever to be shaped by the Murdoch media."
As for events on the ground in Iraq, this story is a scary read in terms of the future direction events might take. The NYTimes reports that hatred in mixed Iraqi towns is growing. "Two and a half years after the American invasion, deep divides that have long split Iraqi society have violently burst into full view. As the hatred between Sunni Arabs and Shiites hardens and the relentless toll of bombings and assassinations grows, families are leaving their mixed towns and cities for safer areas where they will not automatically be targets."
On the scandal surrounding the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah (that much has been established, it is now just a question of the purpose to which it was put, The Independent reports that "the debate over the use of white phosphorus in the battle of Fallujah took a new twist when it emerged the US Army teaches senior officers it is against the "laws of war" to fire the incendiary weapon at human targets.
On Friday, TDB linked to a Washington Post story that suggested US claims that an influx of foreign fighters was feeding the insurgency were exaggerated. In this column for The Guardian, Iraqi novelist Haifa Zangana, who was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein, says it is US actions that are motivating the resistance. "On October 16, for example, a group of adults and children gathered around a burned Humvee on the edge of Ramadi. There was a crater in the road, left by a bomb that had killed five US soldiers and two Iraqi soldiers the previous day. Some of the children were playing hide and seek, and others laughing while pelting the vehicle with stones, when a US F-15 fighter jet fired on the crowd. The US military said subsequently it had killed 70 insurgents in air strikes, and knew of no civilian deaths."
Ultimately of course, the war will be decided by US public opinion and the Congress. The NYTimes reports last week's "ugly" debate over Iraq might be a taste of things to come. "The ugly debate in the House on Friday over the Iraq war served as an emotional send-off for a holiday recess, capturing perfectly the political tensions coursing through the House and Senate in light of President Bush's slumping popularity, serious party policy fights, spreading ethics investigations and the approach of crucial midterm elections in less than a year."
SCOTT MCCONNELL/THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE
2 Iraq is lost, don't lose the war on terror
Liberal commentator Frank Rich pulls together a lot of strands of the Iraq debate (all followed by TDB) in this article - falling public support for the war, the run-down of the US military (which can't meet recruiting goals), the slow pace of building the Iraqi army and the recent bombings in Jordan - to argue that the war there is lost. The danger, he says, is that the "hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11" will mean that the public will now lose faith in the "war on terrorism" which is likely to haunt the world for some time to come. "Only since his speech about "Islamo-fascism" in early October has Mr. Bush started trying to make distinctions between the "evildoers" of Saddam's regime and the Islamic radicals who did and do directly threaten us. But even if anyone was still listening to this president, it would be too little and too late. The only hope for getting Americans to focus on the war we can't escape is to clear the decks by telling the truth about the war of choice in Iraq: that it is making us less safe, not more, and that we have to learn from its mistakes and calculate the damage it has caused as we reboot and move on."
In his article, Rich refers to this article for The Atlantic Monthly by James Fallows, "Why Iraq Has No Army". If you are unable to access it, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and you can have a look at our copy. And Rich doesn't refer to this piece of analysis by Peter Bergen and Alec Reynolds at the New America Foundation, which TDB linked to late last month. Bergen and Reynolds argue that the "blowback" from Iraq - future terrorism carried out by insurgents "trained" and recruited by the war - will be a major problem. "The current war in Iraq will generate a ferocious blowback of its own, which--as a recent classified CIA assessment predicts--could be longer and more powerful than that from Afghanistan. Foreign volunteers fighting U.S. troops in Iraq today will find new targets around the world after the war ends. Yet the Bush administration, consumed with managing countless crises in Iraq, has devoted little time to preparing for such long-term consequences."
3 When Greg met Donald - part II
(Warning, the following summary contains s*x scenes. Not really, but it does feature two middle-aged men licking each others tonsils in public.) Now, consider the analysis above, from across the US political spectrum. Then look at what happens here and see if TDB is too harsh when it describes most of our hacks as over-paid, useless, tryhards. On Friday, we brought you a love story, told on the front pages of our national daily - When Greg met Donald. It had a plot that requires more than the usual suspension of disbelief, because you had to accept that the foreign affairs editor for the paper would interview the man responsible for the bungled invasion of Iraq ... and not ask him anything about "invasion on the cheap", nor anything of the other scandals swirling around him, like the use of white phosphorous in Fallujah; or torture and abuse.
But part two in The Week-End Australian revealed and explained all. "The thing about US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is that while you're in his company, he completely convinces you ... " (you speak for yourself, Greg); and "There is an intensity and a physicality about Rumsfeld that is undeniably engaging." There you have it. Just as if a young cadet had been sent to interview Kate Moss and came back without asking her about cocaine. "But she has such gorgeous tits ... err, I mean, there is an intensity and a physicality that is undeniably engaging and that completely convinces you she would never use the stuff." Said cadet would be shown the door, on the spot. Or, he could end up as The Australian's foreign editor.
GREG SHERIDAN/THE AUSTRALIAN
4The terrorism beat-up
OK, so maybe TDB was wrong. Perhaps there is more chance of getting killed in a terrorist attack than of being kicked to death by a kangaroo. Depends which part of the country you live in though, and over which time frame you measure the risk. Anyway, last Wednesday, Ross Gittins dared to suggest that the risk of terrorism in Australia might be getting a disproptionate amount of attention and response given the much higher risk of death by other causes. Gittins also pointed out that the institutions doing the hyping all have a vested interest in the hype, including the media. "Their motives are narrowly and amorally commercial. The punters love a good scaring, and we're happy to oblige." Now, Gittins didn't mention any outlet by name, but The Australian, which too be fair, does more than its share of beating-up the fear of terrorism, seemed to think the shoe fitted. And so on Saturday, this absurdly defensive editorial taking Gittins to task. (TDB thinks The Australian doth protesteth too much.) For a far more interesting, measured and well-written response to Gittins, have a look at the piece from Crikey by Guy Rundle (link below.)
5 The trouble with Islam
TDB received a message about our perceived attitude to Islam on Friday, which has now been posted at Feedback. It seems we've been judged to have been too kindly disposed to this particular religion, or at the very least, insufficiently critical of it. Now is not the time, nor the place, for a detailed response, apart from saying that TDB has tried to show equal, if subtle, disdain for all organised superstitions, and that so far as Islam is concerned, comments made about the barbaric treatment of women in certain countries might have given a hint. (But TDB is also determinedly interested in the search for meaning, and in the debates about the role of religion, and so endeavours to give a fair coverage of such matters.)
As for Islam, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad is far better placed to talk about it's strengths and weaknesses, which he does in the column linked to below that seeks to find the historical crossroads at which it took the wrong turn. "And so, as Muslims were intellectually regressing, Europeans began their renaissance, developing improved ways of meeting their needs, including the manufacture of weapons that eventually allowed them to dominate the world. By contrast, Muslims fatally weakened their ability to defend themselves by neglecting, even rejecting, the study of secular science and mathematics. This myopia remains a fundamental source of the oppression suffered by Muslims today. Many Muslims still condemn the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, because he tried to modernize his country. But would Turkey be Muslim today without Ataturk, whose clear-sightedness saved Islam in Turkey and saved Turkey for Islam? Failure to understand and interpret the true and fundamental message of the Koran has brought only misfortune to Muslims."
And in The Guardian, Dr Giles Fraser , the vicar of Putney and Oxford philosophy lecturer reflects on tensions over homosexuality threatening to split the Anglican Church. Fraser believes that the pressure on the issue from conservative African Anglicans, lead by Peter Jasper Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, is driven by pressure from Islam. "It is observed, in Akinola's defence, that his real concern with a gay bishop in New Hampshire is that it lands a propaganda coup to Muslims keen to depict the Anglican church as the bastard child of the sexually decadent west. Indeed one reason Rowan Williams is wary of expressing his own views on homosexuality is that he believes liberal pronouncements from Canterbury may translate into lives being put at risk in northern Nigeria, where Islam and Christianity are locked in an often-violent struggle."
MAHATHIR BIN MOHAMAD/THE DAILY STAR
6Darfur - your fault and mine
Perhaps operating on the premise that the death of one person is a tragedy, that of millions merely a statistic, Nicholas Kristof begins this latest instalment in his campaign to draw attention to the genocide in Darfur by recounting the brutal murder of a two-year-old girl. "And finally, responsibility belongs to the international community - to you and me - for acquiescing in yet another genocide. Tama is just the latest of many hundreds of villages that have been methodically destroyed in the killing fields of Darfur over the last two years. Ms. Fatima sat on the ground and told me her story - which was confirmed by other eyewitnesses - in a dull, choked monotone, as she described her guilt at leaving her child to die."
7 Che's second coming
As David Rieff tells the story, the leader of Bolivia's Movement Toward Socialism, Evo Morales, is a latter day Che Guevara. Morales is also the front-runner for the next Bolivian presidential election, and is feared and demonised by the US. "For most Bolivians, globalization, or what they commonly refer to as neoliberalism, has failed so utterly to deliver the promised prosperity that some Bolivian commentators I met insisted that what is astonishing is not the radicalization of the population but rather the fact that this radicalization took as long as it did. Bolivia often seems now like a country on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Every day, peasants or housewives or the unemployed erect hundreds of makeshift roadblocks to protest shortages of fuel (a particularly galling affront in a country with vast hydrocarbon resources) or to demand increased subsidies for education or to air any of the dozens of issues that have aroused popular anger."
8 Himalayan lakes disaster
David Irving is under arrest in Austria for Holocaust denial. Perhaps there is a case for making climate change denial an offence - it is a crime against humanity after all. Twenty good years of action have been lost courtesy of climate change sceptics, many of whom did not act in good faith - they were protecting and promoting vested interests. Robin McKie (link below) reports on expected impacts in the Himalayas, as predicted by the latest science. "Himalayan glacier lakes are filling up with more and more melted ice and 24 of them are now poised to burst their banks in Bhutan, with a similar number at risk in Nepal. But that is just the beginning, a report in Nature said last week. Future disasters around the Himalayas will include 'floods, droughts, land erosion, biodiversity loss and changes in rainfall and the monsoon'."
The Independent reports on equally disturbing developments in Greenland. "Greenland's glaciers have begun to race towards the ocean, leading scientists to predict that the vast island's ice cap is approaching irreversible meltdown ..."
The Observer reports on what may be further evidence of the retreat by the Blair Government from the Kyoto Protocol. This article says the UK will focus on
voluntary emissions cuts.
ROBIN MCKIE/THE OBSERVER
9 Pondering the net and newspapers
In essence, Emily Bell (link below), editor of The Guardian's web site, Guardian Unlimited is reflecting on TimesSelect, the NYTimes' attempt to make money out of its online readers by putting its columnists behind a pay-to-view wall. But she is also asking the great media question of the moment - how do traditional newspapers respond to the growing power of the internet. "Once material on the web becomes paid for, a number of things happen. First, your traffic drops dramatically, so if you do have advertising its value will fall. Second, you stop being something stumbled on by Google or linked to by blogs, and potentially your growth stagnates. Early research shows that the average age of TimesSelect subscribers was higher than the general age of those reading the NYT online - probably because younger readers gleaned their opinion fixes from blogs and other sources."
Speaking of bloggers, here is a new, group blog site, OSM (Open Source Media), with bloggers from across the political spectrum, you might be interested to check out.
As part of TDB's on-going campaign to highlight the value of a public editor, a link to Byron Calame's take on how the NYTimes' new policy on the use of anonymous sources is travelling, and on readers' reactions to it.
Fresh from his sacking as Daily Mirror editor, and the publication of his memoirs, Piers Morgan talks about his next media adventure (and Cherie Blair, naked ladies and media feuds) with Lynn Barber from The Observer.
The Independent provides this round-up of UK media news, including the departure of Martin Newland as editor of The Daily Telegraph and more speculation that Boris Johnson will be replaced as editor of The Spectator. The paper also reports that the magazine has recorded healthy profits and circulation under Boris - although that may have had something to do with who was under ... no, lets not go there. Let's just say it may have had something to do with the various "S*xtator" scandals.
And no, I don't know what this Simon Hoggart column is doing in this section either, except that he's a journalist, it's about words and since when did you need an excuse for running a Hoggart column. "The kicker is: "Our current vision statement is: 'To make Derbyshire a safer place to live, work and visit.' Do you agree or disagree that this is an appropriate vision?" Mr Unwin writes: "I am strongly tempted to reply that it should be 'to make Derbyshire a complete deathtrap for all who venture within its borders'."
EMILY BELL/GUARDIAN UNLIMITED
10 Shakespeare's love triangle
William Boyd closely examines Shakespeare's sonnets, "the greatest lyric sequence of love poems ever written", in an attempt to find out who inspired them, or to whom they were addressed. "It is fair to say that some of the sonnets to the Fair Youth are unabashedly homoerotic, others display a wistful, unrequited sensuality, rather like that of Aschenbach for Tadzio in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. On the other hand, some of the sonnets addressed to the Dark Lady are unabashedly misogynistic, full of lingering physical detail, and relentlessly explore the consuming and destructive power of lust. However, the problems inherent in the sonnets begin to multiply incrementally when someone asks you to write a film about them."
WILLIAM BOYD/THE GUARDIAN
11 Appreciating Bruce
OK, OK. Nothing more in TDB about Springsteen for the rest of this year (unless someone writes something that is just too good to ignore that is). Helene Cooper (link below) bought the 30th-anniversary box set of "Born to Run" and was last seen somewhere out on the highway, volume turned right up.
But it seems Republicans have not forgiven Springsteen for his support of John Kerry during last year's presidential election campaign, and refused to consider a resolution honouring the album.
12 Coffee shops, war diaries and a famous radish
A few left-over bits 'n pieces we enjoyed while collecting the more serious stuff above. "Researchers who spent three years investigating the rise of the "cappuccino culture" in Britain, have concluded that high street cafés are convivial places where people go to enjoy others' company." It cost them £140,000 to figure that out, but a field trip to Italy was veoted (worth a try though).
Simon de Bruxelles, also in The Times, reports on the wartime diary of his great-uncle, Jack Swaab, which has been published as a book.
And from Aioi in western Japan, the tale of a brave radish whose life was cut short. "People came from far and wide to wish him well - until a brutal attack this week that left him critically injured. It is all the more remarkable because Little Dai, as he is fondly known, is not a human being, but a plant; a long, thick, white daikon, or Japanese giant radish."