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|Mon Apr 14, 2003 8:44 pm Seeing what isn't there
|Seeing what isn't there
By Michael Freund
April 8, 2003
Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post
The ease with which American troops sauntered into downtown Baghdad earlier this week, paying an uninvited visit to one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces after renaming the airport which had borne his name, should at last lay to rest any doubts about the course of the current war in Iraq.
The coalition is marching toward victory, Saddam is heading toward defeat, and much of the media will be left scratching their heads wondering how they failed to foresee such a swift triumph for US and British forces.
Bear in mind that just over a week ago various media outlets were busy sounding the alarm about the war's progress, suggesting that disaster was at hand. A March 31 Associated Press dispatch from the front pessimistically noted that, "Despite claims of success, coalition forces appear to be bogged down in the south... Closer to Baghdad the regime's defense appears more resilient than US war planners had anticipated."
Joining in the chorus of gloom, a New York Times report stressed the anger and frustration felt by "soldiers who feared becoming bogged down" (March 31), the Los Angeles Times alluded to "ground troops who had bogged down on the road to Baghdad" (March 2, while the Toronto Star suggested that "not much is going according to plan in Iraq for the US administration."
In a March 30 editorial, London's Sunday Mirror struck an even more dramatic tone, declaring that "The worst nightmare is coming true. The war to get rid of Saddam Hussein is dragging on with no prospect of an early end." So much for believing everything you read in the newspaper.
To be fair, the fighting did hit a few bumps along the way, ranging from Turkey's surprise rejection of a US request to use its territory as a launching-pad for the assault to various "friendly fire" incidents and the parading of American PoWs on Iraqi state television.
But there is hardly a war that does not hit such bumps at one point or another, and in racing to pass judgment about its progress the media misread the situation on the ground and failed to take the larger picture into account. Inexplicably, they chose to ignore the overwhelming firepower, experience and determination that were deployed by the coalition forces and instead fell victim to the myths they themselves had helped to create about Iraq's "elite," "well-trained" and "highly loyal" troops.
Many journalists apparently become so accustomed to using these empty adjectives when describing Saddam's forces that they actually started to believe them, failing to bear in mind the relative nature of such words.
Saddam's Republican Guards might indeed qualify as elite or well-trained, but only if one compares them to the underfed and underpaid conscripts in Iraq's regular army. Put them up against a division of US Marines, and the adjectives lose all their meaning.
But journalists rarely make such distinctions, in the process doing an injustice not only to semantics but to the story they are trying to tell.
As the commander of British forces in the Gulf, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, told the Daily Telegraph earlier this week, "The UK media has lost the plot If you look at what fills newspapers now, it's the equivalent of reality TV it's superficial, there's very little news reporting, there's very little analysis, but there's a lot of conjecture."
Furthermore, he noted, "Embedded journalists see very localized action and it's a pinprick."
OF COURSE, the media's superficiality, shallowness and narrowness of vision is not just limited to its coverage of military exploits, but extends into other areas as well.
Take, for example, their reporting on the Arab world. Journalists and columnists just love to talk about moderate Arab states and pro-Western Arab regimes, as if such things really existed.
Compared to places such as Libya and the Sudan, I guess that even the authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak's Egypt would start to look somewhat moderate or pragmatic, but that is missing the point.
The Arab world today is a living encyclopedia of outmoded forms of government, from sultanates such as Oman and emirates such as Qatar to dictatorships such as Syria and dynastic monarchies along the lines of Jordan.
It may be a political scientist's dream, but it is a nightmare for the hundreds of millions of Arabs chafing under oppression and tyranny.
As Prof. Bernard Lewis has written, the Arab states are little more than "a string of shabby tyrannies, ranging from traditional autocracies to new-style dictatorships, modern only in their apparatus of repression and indoctrination."
But most people would never know this, given the manner in which the media reports the story. They describe as moderate what is in reality extreme, only because there is something even more zealous next door.
Rather than holding the Arab states up to more objective standards of freedom and democracy, journalists instead compare them with each other, using terminology that is both relative and misleading. The result is a twisted and inaccurate perspective which fools too many people into thinking that there are good Arab regimes and bad Arab regimes, rather than just horrific and merely dreadful ones.
Indeed, if Egypt and Jordan are so pro-Western, then why are they openly opposed to US intervention in Iraq? And if the Gulf Arab states are so pragmatic, then why do they allow their preachers to incite violence and call for jihad against Israel and the West?
Try to name one Arab country where the people are free to elect and dispense with their rulers as they see fit, express their opinions without fear and worship according to their individual consciences. Try to think of the last time an Arab leader spoke out against suicide bombing attacks and the murder of innocent Israelis and Americans.
The fact is that there is currently no such thing as a moderate Arab state, and that is highly unfortunate. Equally disturbing, though, is that the media continues to speak as if there were.
As author Victor Davis Hanson has noted, "Just as an American-led NATO was ready for anything that came West, so too must we be ever vigilant against the Middle East Bloc America cannot be allies with any existing government in the Middle East until the entire region has been liberated from mullahs like those in Iran, killers such as Saddam Hussein, Assad and Gaddafi, plutocrats like the sheikhs, and even the benevolent dictators in suits and ties in Jordan and Egypt."
Only once the West comes to terms with this unpleasant, if inconvenient, truth will it be able to address the challenges posed by Middle Eastern fundamentalism and misrule. To do so, it will have to leave behind the fallacies of the past.
But as long as the media continues to delude itself and its viewers, feeding us a steady diet of relativism and rhetoric, the chances of that happening will only grow more remote.
It is therefore time to introduce some realism into the picture and recognize the Arab regimes for what they are: a dangerous mix of despotism and intolerance.
Once we do so, and start treating them accordingly, the road to a democratic Middle East, like the road to Baghdad, will likely prove far easier to navigate than the media would have us think.
The writer served as deputy director of communications & policy planning in the Prime Minister's Office.[/b]