Article in BusinessWeek on pay-to-read journalism

DSC00620.jpgThis week’s issue of BusinessWeek has a pretty good article on pay-to-read journalism and possible business models. Included is Back-to-Iraq, David Appell’s indy experiment (where’s that story, Dave?) and Ohmynews.com, the South Korean “people’s newspaper.”

There is no spoon…

Did the President really just say that?

Is George Bush going mad? Losing his grip on reality?

In a photo op in the Oval Office with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday, Bush made a comment at the very end of the event that didn’t quite jibe with the collectively agreed upon reality:

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. *And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in.* And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful. (Emphasis added.)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember Hans Blix et al. running around Iraq while Saddam was in power, often accompanied by Iraqi minders who were there, one would suspect, on the orders of Saddam Hussein.

Joe Conason over at Salon has a good take on this, including this nugget: “Another recent president once said something that was blatantly untrue, if fairly trivial, and the videotape of his statement was replayed again, and again, and again, and again…” He also points to Dana Milbank’s _Washington Post_ coverage of the event, which has this marvelously understated passage:

The president’s assertion that the war began because Iraq did not admit inspectors appeared to contradict the events leading up to war this spring: Hussein had, in fact, admitted the inspectors and Bush had opposed extending their work because he did not believe them effective.

I can just imagine the uncomfortable shuffling of feet in the room as reporters glanced to each other. “Did he just really say that?” they may have whispered to each other once Bush was out of earshot.

Actually, I take that back. Judging from a quick Nexis search, most reporters yesterday completely missed the comment. Nexis reveals just 10 hits on the quote, and five of them are the same Knight-Ridder story, one is a story in the Irish Times, which gives Bush’s comment headline treatment, and another is a CNN transcript of the event. The last three are government transcripts. Newsday has something on it, and CNN’s Wolf Blitzer quotes it, but — astonishingly — doesn’t address it all. “The best way for the White House to resolve the matter once and for all — of course — is for the Bush administration actually to locate weapons of mass destruction,” writes Blitzer. “Short of that, the debate will not only continue but is likely to intensify in the weeks and months to come.”

Shame, shame, you guys in the D.C. press corps.

[UPDATE On his first day on the job, new White House press secretary Scott McClellan had to respond to Bush’s “he wouldn’t let them in” statement. He said this:

*Q* Two quick questions, one on Iraq. When the President said of Saddam Hussein, we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in and he wouldn’t let them in, why didn’t he say that, when the inspectors went into Iraq?

*MR. McCLELLAN:* What he was referring to was the fact that Saddam Hussein was not complying with 1441, that he continued his past pattern and refused to comply with Resolution 1441 of the United Nations Security Council, which was his final opportunity to comply. And the fact that he was trying to thwart the inspectors every step of the way, and keep them from doing their job. So that’s what he’s referring to in that statement.

*Q* But that isn’t what he said.

*Q* Just quickly on a different subject, on North Korea. …

Argh! Why the hell did someone not keep up on that line of questioning?]

Anyway, statements like Bush’s are truly freaky, and remind me of his Social Security line in the closing days of the 2000 election (“They want the federal government controlling the Social Security like it’s some kind of federal program!”) He often says stupid things when he’s under stress, and when he’s coming up with whoppers like this, Ari Fleischer’s assertions that the president has “moved on” don’t quite ring true. And it’s playing havoc with the Bush White House’s aura of inevitability.

Much of Team Bush’s success has been because officials are adept at presenting a _fait accompli_ to opponents and the public. They also like to imbue Bush with some kind of Pope-like infallibility, sort of like he’s the Gipper’s vicar. THis technique worked in Florida, when he assumed a presidential stance in the days after the election, even though everyone knew by that point that it was very much up in the air. It worked for a while after May 1, when Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared the Iraq war as a “mission accomplished.”

As long as the Washington press corps and an apathetic public allowed the White House to do this, it worked like a charm. Unfortunately — for Bush — it now looks like that era is over. There’s blood in the water and tossing DCI George Tenet over the side won’t do much to calm the churn, especially after the White House has made contradictory declarations regarding the CIA.

There’s no doubt the White House is in disarray and in full damage control mode. The uranium story may be the spark to ignite a full-on forest fire of media scrutiny licking at Bush’s toes as he makes convoluted statements regarding Iraq. And if that happens, the larger story about the reasons for war might get so hot, it will be radioactive.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq…

While much deserved attention is paid to battle for the truth against the Bush administration’s many changing rationales for war, the battle for Iraq is still ongoing. Newsday has a chilling interview with a man known as Khaled, who claims to be a commander of the Saddam Fedayeen, and says the resistance is organized, growing and ruthless.

While much deserved attention is paid to battle for the truth against the Bush administration’s many changing rationales for war, the battle for Iraq is still ongoing. _Newsday_ has a chilling interview with a man known as Khaled, who claims to be a commander of the _Saddam Fedayeen_, and says the resistance is organized, growing and ruthless.
“We have many more people and we’re a lot better organized than the Americans realize,” said Khaled, 29, who gave an hour-long interview to _Newsday_ on Wednesday on the condition that only his first name be published. “We have been preparing for this kind of guerrilla war for a long time, and we’re much more patient than the Americans. We have nowhere else to go.”

Khaled described the workings of a loosely organized network of former Baath Party members, Iraqi soldiers, intelligence officers and other die-hard Hussein supporters who have been responsible for an unknown number of the attacks that have killed 29 U.S. soldiers and injured dozens since May 1.
He said the network operates in cells of five or six members that answer to a secret leadership structure. It goes by various names — the Fedayeen, the Iraq Liberation Army, Muhammad’s Army — and Khaled said only a handful of people know its full reach. He said its members draw inspiration from Hussein and from the belief that the ousted Iraqi leader is alive and will regain power once U.S. troops are forced to leave.

What has the United States marched its troops into? A quagmire? An abattoir?
I respectfully disagree with other sites that the U.S. should bring the troops home by Christmas. While I resent that the men and women I met while in the war were lied to and put in harm’s way for a myriad of shifting rationales, the fact of the matter is that Iraq is a mess. Pulling out the troops now would make it even worse, if you can believe that.
Iraq is a dangerous place, full of dangerous men. Saddam’s regime terrorized his people leaving resentments, fury and the urge for revenge. If the U.S. pulled out before the country was stabilized, there would be a civil war that might spill over into Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Kurds would be massacred as Turkey and Iran move in to protect their interests. The Persian Gulf would be impassable. Energy infrastructure from Basra to Baku in Azerbaijan would be destroyed, slower or otherwise impaired. The world’s economy would grind to a halt. And the real danger to the West, al Qa’ida, would be able to operate much more freely.
That’s not to say there aren’t any alternatives, but none of them are very good. Turning Iraq over to a U.N. trust to be administered and policed by the body is a popular one. That’s a tough call, however. Iraq would be the biggest project of this kind ever undertaken by the United Nations, and its track record is mixed. Any realistic U.N.-sanctioned force needed to establish security would have to include a sizable portion of Americans — if only for logistical purposes — who would be even less welcome in Baghdad a second time around. Avoiding additional ill will would probably require placing American troops under an Islamic command, possibly Turkish or Pakistani. Can anyone really imagine any president, Republican or Democrat, doing that?
Many, many opposed this war — I did. I thought it was a mistake of colossal magnitude — still do. U.S. troops face 10 to 25 attacks _a day,_ and, as Khaled implied, it will get likely worse. The choices available are all bad. Simply put, *the Americans can’t stay, but neither can they leave.* What they call “liberation,” _tahrir_ in Arabic, too many Iraqis are calling _ihtilal,_ — “occupation,” with the overtones of the Christian Crusades, the Mongol sacking of Baghdad in the 13th century, the divvying up of the region between Britain and France after World War I and the Israeli presence in Lebanon and the occupied territories. As Salon.com writer Nir Rosen says:

The most common refrain one hears from Iraqis these days is: “They came as liberators and now they are occupiers.” The significance of the liberation vs. occupation debate can get lost in translation here, but its immense political implications were evident in a June 2 meeting, hosted by the Coalition Provisional Authority, for nearly 300 tribal leaders of all religions and ethnic groups. Hume Horan, a political advisor to Bremer, also was present. Horan, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and fluent Arabic speaker, addressed the audience in Arabic about the coalition’s efforts and its need for Iraqi support.
After Horan finished speaking, Sheik Munther Abood from Amarra thanked President Bush for removing the Baath regime of Saddam Hussein and stated that he had seen the mass graves full of dead Shias in the south and was firmly opposed to Saddam. He then asked Horan if the coalition forces in Iraq were liberators or occupiers. Horan responded that they were “somewhere in between occupier and liberator.”
This was not well received by the audience. Sheik Abood stated that if America was a liberator, then the coalition forces were welcome indefinitely as guests, but that if they were occupiers, then he and his descendants would “die resisting” them. This met with energetic applause from the audience. Several other sheiks echoed the same sentiment. Then the meeting deteriorated and a third of the audience stood up and walked out, despite efforts by Horan and other organizers to encourage them to stay. At which point the meeting ended. It was not a public relations success.

Is it any wonder people like Khaled find support? “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” Mao once said. (He also said, “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive.” Khaled and people like him are proving Mao right.)
All Americans should be aware of the agonizing position Team Bush has put them in. There are few good solutions to this that will a) benefit the Iraqi people and respect their dignity and sovereignty, and b) keep the region stable and secure while reducing American casualties. The answers that do look viable — pumping massive quantities of aid and money aimed at rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and dealing with Iraqis on their terms and not on the Americans’ — don’t seem to on the table in Washington and Baghdad. Perhaps it’s just not in this White House’s political DNA to deal with anyone except at gunpoint. (“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” — Mao, again.)
Former CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks says the world is facing a four-year presence in Iraq. So, electing a Democrat into the White House in 2004 won’t be a solution. As I’ve argued above, the chaos and anarchy that would result in a premature pullout will force any president to maintain a sizable presence in Iraq. (Americans should still turn Bush and his cronies out on their collective ass, though. The list of reasons to do so other than Iraq are encyclopedic.)
The comments from Khaled, Franks, Horan and Sheik Abood remind me of the apocryphal story told of the encounter between an American colonel and his North Vietnamese counterpart at the Paris Peace Conference. “You know,” the American said, “you never defeated us on the battlefield.” His counterpart responded: “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”

Sept. 11 report said to be “highly explosive”

A new, “highly explosive” report on the failures of the U.S. in preventing Sept. 11 is due out in a couple of weeks. Any estimates how many hours before Bill Clinton is blamed for Sept. 11?

Despite the unfortunate choice of words by former Rep. Tim Roemer, who called the upcoming Sept. 11 report due out in the next couple of weeks as “highly explosive,” I wonder if the report will live up its billing.
12190008.jpg“It’s compelling and galvanizing and will refocus the public’s attention on Sept. 11,” predicted Roemer, an Indiana Democrat. “Certain mistakes, errors and gaps in the system will be made clear.”
The report allegedly has at least two revelations, including:

  • More information on ties between the Saudi royal family, government officials and terrorists. The FBI may have mishandled an investigation into how two of the Sept. 11 hijackers received aid from Saudi groups and individuals.
  • A coherent narrative of intelligence warnings, some of them ignored or not shared with other agencies, before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The report also seems to say that the Bush Administration was warned in the summer of 2001 that al Qa’ida was going to attempt to hijack planes and launch “a spectacular attack.”
This appears to contradict (again) what Condoleeza Rice told the San Francisco Chronicle on May 17, 2002.

Rice said that the president, as part of his daily intelligence briefing, was informed Aug. 6 while on vacation at his ranch that Islamic militants associated with bin Laden might hijack American airliners. The mention of bin Laden and “hijacking in a traditional sense” was part of a 1 1/2-page terrorism report given to Bush during the briefing.
But Rice said the administration never considered alerting the public to a possible hijacking threat at home and had no idea that hijackers might consider using an airplane as a missile in a suicide attack. (emphasis added.)
“The most important and most likely thing was that they would take over an airliner, holding passengers and demand the release of one of their operatives,” Rice said.
“That terrorism and hijacking might be associated is not rocket science,” she added. “I don’t think that anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center.”

We’ll have to see what’s in the report, of course. I’m looking forward to it. But I’ll go out on a limb and predict that if the report is as embarrassing as Roemer and Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who is running for President in part armed with allegations of negligence against the White House, say it is, the response from Team Bush will consist of a) denial that they had any warnings, and when confronted with evidence that they _did_ have warnings, b) blame it on Bill Clinton.
Just a hunch.

French students getting the “non!” from America

French students getting the cold shoulder from American host families because of Paris’ stance on the Iraq war. This is beyond ridiculous.

Oy. Seems the anti-French sentiment in America is hitting even student exchange programs, since many of them are reporting that host families are turning away French teenagers.
C’mon, people. This is ridiculous, and it’s stories like this that convince the rest of the world that for Americans, loyalty is a one-way street. If terrorists had blown up the Eiffel Tower, would the _New York Post_ have run a headline blaring, “Jourd’hui Nous Sommes Tous Français!” [“Today, We Are All French!”] as _Le Monde_ did after Sept. 11? I doubt it. (OK: They wrote “We Are All Americans Today” but you get the point.)
I’m waiting, on this 227th Day of American Independence — which, in part, inspired the French Revolution — for my fellow citizens to stop being so pigheaded about this. Stop wallowing in self-absorption, righteous victimhood and pique. Why is it OK for the United States to invade Iraq in the service of _its_ self-serving national interests, but when France opposes the invasion for its own, self-serving, reasons they’re suddenly perfidious, treacherous and an enemy of freedom everywhere? Plus, we no longer want their wine or cheese?
So if anyone reading is interested in taking in French exchange students and teaching them that there are aspects of American culture worth celebrating, please do so. It’s small gestures like this that can heal the rift between two old friends.
(I would take a student in myself, but I’m a single guy living in a _very_ small one-bedroom in Manhattan. I’m barely qualified to have a puppy, much less take care of a French teenager for the summer.)

Kurds appoint first woman prefect in Iraq

In some good news from Iraq, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has appointed Iraq’s first women “governor” since the country’s founding in 1921.

Thank goodness for a little good news from Iraq. Mudira Abu Bakr has been appointed town prefect of the Dukan region near Suleimaniya, making her the first woman “governor” since the founding of modern Iraq in 1921.
“I will work according to my action plan to provide the best public services for the people of the Dukan region and I will do my best to ensure the rule of law,” Abu Bakr told journalists at a ceremony to mark the occasion.
Good for the Kurds. Abu Bakr joins Nasreen Mustafa Sideek Barwari, the minister for reconstruction and development in the Kurdistan Regional Government, in rebuilding Iraqi Kurdistan. The appointment of Abu Bakr and Sideek Barwari’s continued duties is in marked contrast to developments to the south, where conservative religious leaders are encouraging, or even forcing, women to cover up and pull back from the relatively equal status they held under Saddam Hussein’s reign. (“Relative” is the operative word here. They were more or less oppressed equally.)
Interestingly, women attained much of their equal status in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war, when the men were sent to the front lines to die and women entered the workforce to replace them — a similar dynamic to what happened in the United States during World War II. After the 1991 Gulf War and the imposition of sanctions, however, jobs disappeared and Saddam began encouraging a religious revival to hold on to power. Women were usually the ones who paid the price, and the _hijab_ became more common as Sunni clerics railed against Western immorality.
But in the north, the Kurds were one their own. When I was there last July and, more recently, during the war, I often saw women working in stores or in businesses and not wearing head scarves. One of the women, an Arab from Baghdad who had moved up to Arbil, worked at the Arbil Towers, the hotel I stayed at, and came out to a Fox News party I attended. The Kurdish _peshemergas_ at the table seemed not to mind (or notice) as she flirted with one of the network’s cameramen.
And Arbil, in the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s territory, is much more conservative than Suleimaniya and the nearby Dukan region, which is controlled by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Women _peshmergas_ are unthinkable to the KDP, but on the day of the liberation of Kirkuk, I ran into an all-woman squad of PUK _peshmergas_, fully armed with Kalashnikovs and wearing the yellow green headband of their party. I was surprised when I saw them lounging in the back of a truck, and it must have showed. They looked at me, then smiled and laughed at my expression.
So Abu Bakr’s appointment is good news, indeed. Now let’s hope the rest of the country can see the good that women such as Sideek Barwari and Abu Bakr have done and can do, and learn from their example.
[NOTE: I had a color-blind moment when I wrote this and said the PUK’s color was yellow. It’s green.]

Cowboy Bush Taunts the Enemy

Bush tells Iraqi militants to “Bring them on,” and U.S. troops pay the price.

mdf309468.jpgOutrageous. At a briefing at the White House today, President Bush told Iraqi militants attacking and killing U.S. troops to “bring them on.
“There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there,” Bush said. “My answer is: Bring them on. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation.”
Oooh! I’m sure the cowboy-in-chief’s tough-guy rhetoric plays well with his red-meat, conservative, defend-Bush-at-any-cost, mouth-breathing backers. Always nice to see the commander in chief _invite_ attacks on his troops, who are so bad-ass that they only lose about one guy a day. But hell, who cares? Casualty rates like that are “militarily insignificant,” right?
Throwing more gasoline on the fire, Iraq’s viceroy L. Paul Bremer ripped the velvet glove from the iron fist when he was quoted thusly:

“We are going to fight them and impose our will on them and we will capture or… kill them until we have imposed law and order on this country,” he declared at the weekend. “We dominate the scene and we will continue to impose our will on this country.”

Callow, shallow and heartless are the only words to describe the increasingly desperate rhetoric coming out of the White House these days. Team Bush knows they’ve now got a tiger by the tail. But there’s no one to come help them, since they did such a bang-up job on diplomacy prior to the war.
In the midst of all this, Bush aw-shucked his way around the country on a merry fundraising circuit, raking in $22 million since June 24. He’s campaigning on his strength as commander-in-chief and his successes in the war on terror.
In that same time period 16, and possibly 18, U.S. and British soldiers came home in flag-draped coffins. Talk about blood money.
[UPDATE: When I said “possibly 18” I was including the two wounded Army soldiers who were injured in the attack Tuesday on their convoy on a Baghdad highway, as they seemed to be grievously injured. One of those wounded troops died. Also, a Marine was killed clearing mines. That means since Bush began his fund-raising dash touting his role as commander-in-chief, I have confirmed that 18 troops have died.]