Thursday, May 09, 2002

I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE BETTER: A.O. Scott trashes "Attack of the Clones." Fans may hope that institutional incentives have affected his review: it was rumored that Janet Maslin's positive review of the previous installment helped cost her the job as the Times' movie critic.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: From Tom Segev, a left-wing Israeli journalist:

The Zionist movement worked for 30 years to lay Israel's national infrastructure, and when David Ben-Gurion declared its independence, the state already existed de facto. Arafat, too, symbolized and organized the national struggle of his people, but in contrast to the leaders of the Zionist movement, he neglected almost entirely the civilian infrastructure of the state he wants to establish. So we have to take with a large grain of salt the contention that Operation Defensive Shield brought about the destruction of the Palestinian Authority's civilian infrastructure: there wasn't a great deal to destroy. Arafat did not bring a national administration with him from Tunisia, and in the eight years that have passed since he was allowed to return, he surrounded himself with a relatively small oligarchy of salaried individuals, many if not all of them in uniform and bearing arms. His government is corrupt and despotic. The majority of Palestinians did not benefit in any way from his return or from the peace process; in many cases their life took a turn for the worse.
THE "INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY:" James Lileks has a great take-down of the United Nations.
He also disses the Palestinians' incessant and fictitious claims of "massacres:"

In the long run, it really doesn’t pay to inflate your losses. You become the Boy Who Cried War-Crimes. If every action is a massacre, an atrocity, a sin against civilization, and the world “community” responds to every military feint as though you’d Groznied the joint to dust and dental fragments, then eventually your adversary has no incentive to exercise restraint. I’m not saying Israel will, or should, do a Dresden on the Gaza Strip. But if they will be hated and chastised no matter what they do, what holds them back from a truly ruthless extirpation of their enemy? Will the Norwegian unionists double their searches of produce trucks, looking for Jewish cabbages as well as carrots? Will the UN pass condemning resolutions printed in really big red letters on heavier paper? Will the Vatican envoy stand on a ladder so he can hold Arafat’s hand even higher? Will demonstrators in Berlin strap six pieces of fake dynamite around their daughters’ waists instead of three?
THE FACTS ARE UNPLEASANT THINGS: Richard Cohen really dislikes Ariel Sharon, and thinks that the bombing in Rishon le-Tzion has destroyed his credibility.
[I]n saying the bombing proved "the true intentions of the person leading the Palestinian Authority," he was insisting on what most of the world -- anyone with a TV set, that is -- suspects cannot be true.
...It's hardly possible that he gave an order -- even in the most complex code -- while a prisoner.
...What about since? Still, not likely. Unless the vaunted Israeli intelligence services have become inept, I would assume that they had Arafat under surveillance the entire time. I assume his phone is tapped. I assume his car is bugged. If he had a pacemaker, I assume the Israelis could turn it off.
It is, of course, remotely possible that Arafat either gave the order for the bombing or looked the other way. But Sharon did not make such a case. He offered no proof -- nothing to overcome our skepticism.

It's probably true that Arafat wouldn't have minded Hamas waiting a few more days before resuming their lives' work. But in terms of "looking the other way" - how about letting Hamas roam free, calling for "millions of martyrs" and calling the Israelis "terrorists, pigs and Nazis?"
It's not, mind you, that I don't believe Arafat is a terrorist and has in the past either initiated or acquiesced in suicide bombings. It's rather that this time Sharon seems only to be rounding up the usual suspects.
Maybe we should wait until Sharon actually does something before deciding whether or not he is "rounding up the usual suspects." If he were to send forces into Gaza to attack the strongholds of Hamas, that would be aimed at different suspects than Operation Defensive Shield, which was mainly aimed at the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. Nuances, anyone? I forgot - this is Sharon we're talking about.
Nonetheless, Arafat had nothing to gain by permitting a suicide bombing at this time. He must know how Sharon will retaliate. He must know that Sharon is perfectly capable of snatching him and sending him back into exile. At a minimum, Sharon could destroy whatever the Palestinian Authority has left -- and that ain't much.
He must also know that Sharon has been dying to do so for a while, and has been prevented from doing so by the U.S., egged on by the Europeans and Arab countries. Why would he expect one more suicide bombing to change that? He has already survived innumerable "last chances;" what's another one? (Via InstaPundit, here's the best summary of the situation.)
These bombings make everyone crazed. The rending of flesh, the unspeakable horror of bodies vaporized, make us all a little nuts. But we cannot let go of what we know. Suicide bombings are virtually nonexistent when Israel and the Palestinian Authority cooperate on security matters. A meaningful peace process discourages terrorism.
That is intuitive. But is it true?
Take a look at this chronolgy of suicide bombings from 1994-1997
when there was a "meaningful peace process." (And Netanyahu can't be blamed, because only the attacks from 1997 took place during his term. Hmm..there were fewer attacks in that year than in any of the three preceding ones. Must be a coincidence....)

THE QUESTION NEVER ASKED: James Klurfeld has the precise answer for those who see Sharon as the root of all evil in the Mideast:

Yes, in the past, Sharon has shown himself to be a man of terrible excess. He often had to be rescued by his military superiors, especially the late Moshe Dayan. Dayan understood and used Sharon's talents as a warrior. But he also understood that Sharon often did not know when to stop. Sharon's invasion of Lebanon is only the most well-known example.
But too many people have projected Sharon's past behavior onto Israel's recent military operation to end terrorist attacks on its civilian population. The military incursion into Palestinian cities was not a Sharon operation; it was an operation of the entire Israel Defense Forces that was supported by the widest possible political spectrum in Israel. If dovish Shimon Peres were prime minister, he would have done no differently.
A government's first responsibility is to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens from outside attack. Israel - and Sharon - waited months before responding militarily to the Palestinian suicide attacks. Sharon did not send in the troops after a discotheque with dozens of teenagers was blown up last summer. He did not respond with Israel's military might all through the fall and winter as suicide bombings became the order of the day. It wasn't until the Passover massacre in Netanya that Israel, not just Sharon, said enough and turned to the tanks and bulldozers. What nation would have done differently? What nation would have waited that long?
Now the question about Sharon is what he will do next. Does he have a plan? Does he understand that the settlements, many of which he built himself, have become an obstacle to peace? These are the issues that President George W. Bush explored with Sharon this week in Washington. Clearly, the resumption of suicide bombings inside Israel Tuesday plays into his proclivity for confrontation.
But there is a further question that Sharon himself asks and for which there is no easy answer. That is, does he really have a partner with which to negotiate? The assumption behind the peace process, from Jimmy Carter at Camp David in 1978 to the Oslo Accords in 1993 to Bill Clinton at Camp David in the summer of 2000, was that the Palestinians would end the conflict if the right peace offer was made. But when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made that offer, or at least something very close to it, Arafat not only rejected it but turned to violence in violation of his solemn pledge on the White House lawn.
I was surprised and disappointed, as were many others who believed in the peace process. Sharon was not. His reading of Arafat might have been the correct one from the beginning.
And, if that is true, what does that say about the anti-Sharon crowd?

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

THE LEFT GETS A SCALP: I haven't yet written on the assassination of maverick Dutch politician
Pim Fortuyn,
in large part because I never heard of him until a couple of months ago. From what I've been reading, though, I agree with Mickey Kaus that his murder is far, far more important than the mainstream U.S. papers seem to believe.
There's plenty of good stuff written about Fortuyn: Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds have plenty of items, as does - believe it or not - former MTV VJ Adam Curry, now living in Amsterdam (I think I remember his hair.) Rod Dreher also has an excellent piece on the ramifications of the killing.
One historical parallel has jumped out at me from the beginning, and not just because everything on this blog revolves around Israel: the 1995 murder of Yitzchak Rabin. I was in Israel at the time and remember the atmosphere well: Rabin's political opponents constantly delegitimized him and his positions, and either called him "traitor" or winked at those who did. Rabbis in yeshivot (including, allegedly, one in the yeshiva I was attending at the time, though I didn't know him) endorsed willful misinterpretations of old Jewish law to deem Rabin worthy of death (thus showing the greatest possible disrespect for the system to which their lives were supposedly devoted), and then were shocked, shocked when Yigal Amir took them seriously.
On the Continent, the political and media establishment desperately tried to shoehorn him into the same group as Le Pen and Haider, thus deeming him unworthy of debate. (This post is a good summary of the de-legitimizing that Fortuyn was subjected to.) The U.S. media has generally followed this pattern, for various reasons.
It appears that someone took that rhetoric seriously. I'm surprised that no one else has drawn the Rabin parallel.
Now, I don't want to go overboard in blaming the European politicians and media; the main person to blame is obviously the killer, and I don't want to diminish his responsibility in any way. But you'd think that some reassessment would be in order, and that overheated rhetoric would be toned down. Will it happen? I don't think so either.
DON'T SAVE THE IRA - OR, WHAT IS "GLOBAL REACH?" I had never put forth the effort required to learn about the issues underlying the conflict in Northern Ireland, and thus my thoughts on the matter were limited to incohate feelings of "terrorism bad - peace good."
In the immediate aftermath of September 11, I thought it might be a good idea for Britian, with the U.S.' encouragement, to mount a campaign to utterly exterminate the IRA. It wasn't that I thought the IRA had anything to do with September 11. Rather, irrelevance to September 11 was the point; in a war on terrorism, it would help to make the point that white European terrorists were just as worthy of destruction as Islamic fundamentalists. As Charles Krauthammer said regarding the inclusion of north Korea in Bush's "axis of evil," it would have been the "equivalent of strip-searching an 80-year-old Irish nun at airport security: It is our defense against ethnic profiling." Not long after September 11, though, there were signs that the IRA had been scared straight, quite unlike the Palestinians.
Now it appears that the IRA has resumed their activities which make them subject to President Bush's declaration of war against "terrorist groups of global reach."
Apparently they have been training Colombian and Palestinian terrorists in the fine arts of bomb-making.
THERE'S ALWAYS ROOM AT GUANTANAMO: How perversely funny is this? 13 of the worst terrorists holed up in the Church of the Nativity cannot find a country willing to take them in. Kind of makes you wonder why Israel is expected to let them roam free...
A WEEKLY TONIC: After tragedies like yesterday's massacre of 15 people in a pool hall in Rishon le-Tzion, you get tired of reading the same old claptrap from those who refuse to acknowledge reality. It is good to find someone unafraid of acknowledging the ramifications of such tragedies, like Michael Kelly:

[V]arious senior Bush administration officials were taking to the newspapers and the Sunday public affairs talk shows to pressure Sharon to, as Secretary of State Colin Powell delicately put it, "recognize who the Palestinian people look to as their leader," no matter "how disappointed we've been with him over time."
Yes, we have been a little disappointed, haven't we? You give a fellow a perfectly good peace process, not to mention the Nobel Peace Prize; award him much of the land he demands and a $90 million monthly budget; let him build an armed force on Israeli territory; and, finally (as America's former top negotiator, Dennis Ross, recently revealed in a remarkable Fox News interview), get both the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel to promise him all of Gaza and nearly all of the West Bank as an independent and joined Palestinian state, with a right of Palestinian return to that state, plus a multibillion-dollar reparations fund -- and what does he do? He goes to war against you. Yes, a disappointment to us all.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

FIRST, LET'S KILL ALL THE REPORTERS (WARNING: THAT WAS NOT MEANT SERIOUSLY): As long as we're criticizing the NY Times, The Idler has a damning analysis of the Times' coverage of the Palestinian terrorist attacks in March and April.
Second, from Charles Johnson, Daniel Gordon has a chilling account of a trip through Jenin with some notable journalists.

Monday, May 06, 2002

THIS IS (UNFORTUNATELY) MORE LIKE IT: I was at the annual Salute to Israel parade in Manhattan yesterday, an event far more heavily attended than in recent years. It was a good experience; considering the circumstances, the crowd was in reasonably good cheer.
I also noted a counter-demonstration over two blocks at the beginning of the parade route, strategically placed for maximum TV coverage. The parade began at 11:00 A.M. By the time we left at about 2:30, the counter-demonstration had largely petered out.
The editors of the New York Times seem to have missed the parade.
In describing media coverage of the Washington rally for Israel last month, James Lileks wrote:

To those of us who followed the story via mainstream press reports and blog updates, the story of the rally was the rally itself - its size, its tenor, the quickness with which it was assembled, and the lack of foaming hatred. Was Wolfie’s boo-fest the most distinguishing characteristic? No - unless you believe that conflict determines the story’s angle. And most reporters think that’s the case - not because they agree with the dissenters, but because they’ve been trained to look for the story in the dissent. Thus if a rally of 100,00 people is largely peaceful but has a brief skirmish with police at the margins as the crowd disperses, the headline and lede graf will be “Arrests mar hopes for peaceful rally.”
It’s the stupidest rule of journalism, and one of the most devoutly believed: The detail that contradicts the general impression often contains the truth of the event.

On today's front page, the Times had a large photo of the rally, but not just any picture.
The photo was taken behind the pro-Palestinian rally, and taking up most of the foreground is a poster which says "End Israel's Occupation in Palestine."
The Israel portion of the parade is only visible in the backround.
What makes the picture nonsensical is the caption:
"On Parade for Israel
Hundreds of thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue in Manhattan yesterday for a parade commemorating Israel's 54th anniversary. The boisterous but peaceful event also drew several hundred protestors."
So - the caption for the photo provides the (wholly appropriate) context; the protestors numbered several hundred while the parade participants were thousands of times that number. In other words, the caption completely subverts the story told by the photo.
In its own way, this mismatch between photo and caption is the true successor to the idiotic headline which inspired a contest last week.
Other papers are flagrantly biased and leave it at that, omitting any contrary facts. The Times' special talent, in my opinion, is in its skill at describing the facts which undercut its chosen positions while simultaneously refusing to face the ramifications of those facts.
UPDATE: Obviously, this post got results.
The Times issued the following correction under the heading "Editor's Note:"

An article yesterday about a parade in Manhattan marking Israel's 54th anniversary reported that 100,000 people had registered to march and hundreds of thousands more lined Fifth Avenue in support. The article also said that anti-Israel protesters numbered in the hundreds.
A front-page photograph, however, showed the parade in the background, with anti-Israel protesters prominent in the foreground, holding a placard that read, "End Israeli Occupation of Palestine." Inside the newspaper, a photo of a pro-Israel marcher was outweighed by a larger picture of protesters, one waving a sign that likened Zionism to Nazism.
Although the editors' intent in each case was to note the presence of opposing sides, the effect was disproportionate. In fairness the total picture presentation should have better reflected The Times's reporting on the scope of the event, including the disparity in the turnouts.


FIRST, GOOD NEWS FROM THE TIMES: Nicholas Kristof has a shockingly good column today, noting, among other things, that poverty is not a "root cause" of terrorism:

...Osama bin Laden's tricycle was probably gold-plated, and we all know that the 9/11 hijackers came from privileged backgrounds. Look at ETA in Spain, Red Brigades in Italy, Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, the I.R.A. in Ireland or Timothy McVeigh: they suggest middle-class alienation rather than third-world deprivation.
ABOLISH THE STATE DEPARTMENT: I'm almost serious. Not content to be the U.S.' representatives in the League of Appeasement, it now seems like the State Department has been actively working aganist President Bush's policy of "regime change" in Iraq.
First, Jim Hoagland describes how the State Department is working overtime to undercut the Iraqi National Congress so as to claim that there is no viable alternative to Saddam:

Unable to dissuade Congress and the White House from backing the only Iraqi opposition group with a record of fighting against Saddam Hussein and for democracy in Iraq, the State Department is now trying to strangle the Iraqi National Congress with red tape provided by State's inspector general's office.
The tip of an ugly struggle between the INC and the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs surfaced this week when the opposition group was forced to shut down satellite television broadcasting into Iraq. The rebels had plunged $2 million in debt broadcasting propaganda against the Iraqi regime after State cut off funding in February in a dispute over accounting procedures.
This was no isolated event: The INC television shutdown came immediately after the White House rebuffed Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's effort to funnel $5 million to the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank working to promote rival Iraqi groups. Armitage had failed to notice that Ned Walker, the head of the institute, had publicly scorned President Bush's "axis of evil" metaphor as "ridiculous."
...The funding cutoff to the INC, an amazingly detailed and fussy set of audits that the inspector general's office was instructed to perform on the Iraqi group, and State's abrupt cancellation of the Walker grant are matters of public record. Armitage's urgent telephone call to Henry Hyde to get the chairman of the House International Relations Committee to let the Walker grant go ahead -- despite serious questions the astute Republican legislator had -- is confirmed by State and Hyde's office. The White House role? I trust my sources.
State Deparment animus toward the Iraqi National Congress -- much of it generated by old and festering quarrels between the group's leaders and the CIA over toppling Saddam Hussein -- is also an established reality. Since Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 to force the Clinton administration to fund the INC as the core of an effective Iraqi opposition, the Near East bureau has worked to undo the intent of the legislation while avoiding responsibility for doing so.
Enlisting the weight of Armitage's office and the inspector general's staff conveniently accomplishes both goals, INC leaders charge. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? But their suspicions are shared by some officials at the State Department who have witnessed the trial by auditing and persecution by leaks to the press that the Iraqi group has endured.
"I have never seen a group we are told to help treated the way the INC has been treated," says an authoritative source. "Any group trying to run an espionage and guerrilla campaign is going to have accounting problems, of course. This kind of find-every-flaw approach only happens when there is pressure from the top to change an outcome."

In a previous column, Hoagland assessed the State Department's attitude by putting his words into Sharon's mouth:

You think I just fell off the cabbage truck? You think I don't know what is going on in Washington? That I don't see the serious and widening differences between Powell and the White House on fighting the war on terrorism? It is a priority for State, the priority for Bush.
What was it Henry Kissinger told me about the State Department? That it would never frontally fight a big policy decreed by the White House but would undo that policy one small decision at a time? That means that protecting a Musharraf or a Mubarak -- or an Arafat -- becomes the purpose of today's decision, rather than advancing the long-term goal of going after the killers and fanatics that these "leaders" protect or encourage. Improving relations with China, with Russia, with Crown Prince Abdullah, that's the important business of foreign policy that State is eager to get back to.

If that isn't bad enough, Joshua Marshall has the following scoop regarding Cheney's trip to the Middle East:

This evening I was talking to a very knowledgeable insider on Middle Eastern affairs, and he said that the State Department had sent out word to folks in the region to give Cheney an earful. Among other things, said my source: "[Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs] Bill Burns met with a prominent Arab ambassador here and he told him, 'Don't tell me your views on Iraq. When he goes there you guys tell him.' So this is the vice president going to the region to hear Arab views and he came back and reported to the president 'The Arabs are not on our side.' They set him up. They set him up."

I'm not sure where bureaucratic warfare morphs into treason, but that seems pretty close.