Craziness on Display

One of the things writing the U.S. media roundup on [IraqSlogger](http://www.iraqslogger.com) allows me to do is get a high dudgeon up over the crap that passes for analysis on op-ed pages … or sloppy writing in the middle of reporting. (Michael Gordon of the *New York Times* has been [raked over the coals](http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/opinion/08pubed.html) for his indiscriminate use of “al Qaeda” to describe most Iraqis with a Kalashnikov, but thankfully that seems to have been reined in.)
Others have been less careful. On Friday, Leslie Sabbagh of the *Christian Science Monitor* writes that Petraeus warned of “greatly increased sectarian violence” if the U.S. pulls out too soon. It’s a fairly run-of-the mill story, with stats showing a drop in attacks against civilians and an increase against U.S. troops. Pretty much what you’d expect, but there is some sloppy language in here. Sabbagh writes of a “quick withdrawal,” but few people in Washington are talking about anything hasty. They’re talking about the start of a withdrawal sooner rather than later — one that might take six months, a year, whatever — not a pell-mell rush to the border.
Sabbagh does it again, writing, “The prospect of any hasty removal of US troops has (Petraeus) concerned.” But the general actually said, “If we pull out there will be greatly increased sectarian violence, humanitarian concerns….” Petraeus makes no mention of the speed of the pullout; he questions the wisdom of a pullout altogether. The military command and the Bush White House seem to be envisioning a long-term presence in Iraq that will last years, but reporters are thinking of a evacuation, Saigon style. Those are two very different ideas. Reporters need to let the readers know when Petraeus, Bush, et al. are trying to reframe the debate as a choice between a hasty, unplanned retreat and an indefinite presence. What’s actually being talked about is either an indefinite presence or an orderly withdrawal with proper force-protection over a period of time, but which begins sooner rather than never.
But for an egregious example of high weirdness, check out the *Monitor*’s publication of [an op-ed by Andrew Roberts](http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0712/p09s01-coop.html), author of “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.” In this extraordinary op-ed, Roberts argues that “the English-speaking peoples” (ESPs) of the world are the ones best able to stand up to radical, totalitarian Islam because Anglophones have never been invaded or fallen under the sway of fascism or communism. “Countries in which English is the primary language are culturally, politically, and militarily different” — read, “better” — “from the rest of ‘the West,’” he writes. “They stand for modernity, religious and sexual toleration, capitalism, diversity, women’s rights, representative institutions — in a word, the future.” Yeah! Suck it, Germany, Spain and Italy! (Who have all committed troops and suffered casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere since 9/11.)
Seriously, this offensively nativist tract must come as a surprise to the those non-English-speaking peoples of the world (poor sods), but maybe they’ll be content to bask in the warm protectorate of the US-Canadian-British-ANZ imperium. There is just so much wrong with this op-ed — such as saying the invasion of South Korea by North Korea was a “surprise” attack for the world’s ESPs when it sounds like it was more a surprise to the South Koreans. And his repetition of the whole ESP phrase is grating. Finally, he just up and ignores the contributions of German soldiers in Afghanistan and the French Navy in patrolling the vital sea lanes throughout the Arabian and Indian oceans. And he trots out the old, “Al Qaeda can’t be appeased because the French would have already done so” trope. WTF? Is this a joke?
There’s much more — so much more. I’m leaving out the pablum from such luminaries as Bill Kristol — “the Bush presidency will be seen as a sucess” — and the *Wall Street Journal* editorial page. I mean, we all know what’s the score with those guys. But I expected a bit more from the *Monitor*.
Finally, my latest column for [Spot-on.com](http://www.spot-on.com/) is available. In it, I take up — what else? — [the 1st anniversary of the Israel-Hezbollah war](http://www.spot-on.com/archives/allbritton/2007/07/lebanons_war_one_year_later.html). (Some people call it the July War, but since half of it happened in August, I’ll stick with my appellation, thanks.)
That’s all. More to come!

Latest IraqSlogger: Chalabi’s back

My latest for IraqSlogger is up, and there’s a howler of an op-ed in today’s _Wall Street Journal_. As I wrote for the Slogger:

Melik Kaylan writes a fawning piece on Ahmad Chalabi for the _Wall Street Journal_’s op-ed page, calling him the “nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician.” For many Americans, that may be hard to stomach, as the guy has been roundly criticized for peddling false WMD information to eager listeners at the Pentagon. (He once said, “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. … We are heroes in error.”) In Chalabi’s views, everything would have been hunky-dory in Baghdad if the Americans had just let the Iraqis run the show, presumably with him in charge. (Which was pretty much the plan until those meddlin’ State Department kids showed up.) Furthermore, without once mentioning that Chalabi is Shi’ite himself, Kaylan says Chalabi recognizes the realities of Iraq and its ethnic makeup, admitting that Shi’ites will be dominant. Well, other than Sunni insurgents, does anyone really dispute that? Kaylan seems to have been snookered by Chalabi, who thrills Iraqis by wandering amongst the people. Admirable yes, but Chalabi has almost zero support in Iraq and perhaps the reason he’s able to walk and talk relatively safely in public is because no one takes him seriously anymore.

The quote from Chalabi that I reference can be found here, way back from February 2004.

Alan Johnston Goes Free!

Thank goodness. After 16 weeks, BBC journalist Alan Johnston has gone free. I can now remove that logo to the right.
Thanks to negotiations between Hamas and his kidnappers, Johnston wasn’t killed in a cowboy raid. Good to Hamas for that wise tack. While there are many concerns about Hamas’ takeover of Gaza, there is no denying the security situation seems to be improving now that Fatah and Hamas aren’t shooting at each other. I hear the clans in Gaza, who had run the place for a while and one of which was responsible for Johnston’s kidnapping, are running scared now that Hamas is in charge. That may be a good thing.
Hamas says it will protect foreigners and enforce the rule of law. This release should be taken as a sign that perhaps that’s not an empty claim. Time will tell.

There’s Competence and Then There’s “Competence”

I’m coming a bit late to this because of server problems, but it’s something that’s been bugging me about the whole Reid-Pace “competence” imbroglio.
The question nagging at me is not who called whom incompetent or whether Reid was wrong or right to do so. I mean, Pace had just been fired, so Reid’s not that far off calling the former chair of the joint chief’s abilities into question.
No, what I wonder is why Reid’s comments didn’t get picked up by the bloggers in the conference call.
Why did the almost all of the liberal bloggers deny he said that Pace was incompetent when from the “transcript posted on Talking Points Memo”:http://electioncentral.tpmcafe.com/blog/electioncentral/2007/jun/14/obtained_a_tape_of_reids_conference_call_with_bloggers_reid_did_blast_pace, he did, and it appears pretty clear he’s talking about Pace? Did they screw up or are they trying to cover Reid’s ass, since he’s “on their team,” so to speak?
Now, I say this as a blogger with both indy cred — you’re reading it — and strong ties to the so-called MSM. But if bloggers are supposed to be an alternative/side dish or even an antidote to the excesses and failings of the mainstream press, why did they miss this? It’s a genuinely Big Deal, so was it a miss or a willful omission?
If it was a willful omission, it’s a horrible one. And it would prove that most liberal blogs — or conservative ones — shouldn’t be considered credible alternatives to anything if they can’t step up to their responsibility and report on newsworthy items even if it might get “their guy” in hot water. The right-wing blogosphere has had this problem for years now. Has it infected the left side as well?
On the other hand, if it’s a mistake, it’s a doozy. Any reporter who missed that would be tarred and feathered by editors. (And it’s significant that mainstream reporters in were the ones who broke this story, even though bloggers had every opportunity to break it.) So, why are the bloggers given a free pass on this lapse?
Indeed, it was Talking Points Memo itself that in 2002 was instrumental in bringing down another Senate majority leader. The mainstream press was heckled and criticized for missing Lott’s noxious comments. (And rightly so, in my opinion.)
But shouldn’t bloggers — in a friggin’ conference call with the current Senate majority Leader, for crissakes — need to be held to the same standards of accountability and, dare I say it, competence, that they hold the MSM to? Why the double standard?

Escape from Iraq

A story I wrote appeared Monday in the Newark Star-Ledger, a great smaller paper that cares about foreign news. The story dealt with the plight of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

Lives suspended by war
AMMAN, Jordan — Rana crosses her legs on the threadbare carpet in her living room in this poor Palestinian section of town and watches as her three children light a candle. The kids are having a pretend birthday party without a cake or presents, but their faces are painted a magnificent shade of gold by the candlelight.

Across town, Hasa and his family sit in their richly-appointed apartment, with all the modern conveniences and bedrooms for everyone. The kitchen is especially bright and clean.

Rana and Hasa live in separate worlds, but have much in common.

Both families are Iraqi refugees facing an uncertain future in a foreign country. Both want to return to their shattered country. And both agreed to be interviewed and photographed for this story only if their real names would not be used because they fear deportation from Jordan and retribution in Iraq.
Driven from their homes by violence and threats of death, Rana and Hasa also provide rare portraits of the refugee life facing many Iraqis. The two families are among the 750,000 Iraqi refugees estimated to be living in Jordan, a country about the size of Pennsylvania and choking on the staggering burden of its new population. (The Iraqis account for about 15 percent of the people living in Jordan.)

Rana’s family is struggling to fit in and faces discrimination from other Iraqis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Jordanians, Rana says, complain to her that “you’re not wearing a hijab, you’re wearing tight jeans, you’re leaving the house.” Palestinians, meanwhile, say, “You killed Saddam.”
Hasa’s family, while well off, faces difficult circumstances as well. From their plush perch overlooking the local mosque, they made a comfortable life here after arriving in 2003.

Things have changed, though.

Hasa now complains government regulations make it impossible for him to run his businesses here or in Iraq, and his life savings is being bled dry.
At the same time, he rages at the U.S. government.

“We are in such a state that we who welcomed America now hate it, and hate the people as much as we hate the politics,” he says. “This isn’t the freedom we expected. This isn’t what we wanted.”

Two families in a country where they don’t want to be.

Two families in a country that really doesn’t want them.

“Please read the whole thing”:http://www.nj.com/starledger/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-11/1180932323248120.xml&coll=1. It should be noted that two days after the story appeared, the UNHCR raised the number of Iraqis who are displaced or refugees to 4.4 million — almost twice the numbers that were available to me at the time of my reporting. That’s 16 percent of the entire Iraqi population, making it the largest human catastrophe to hit the Middle East in recorded history. It dwarfs the Palestinian displacements in 1948 and 1967. If something isn’t done about this, it will further destabilize an already volatile region.

By the way, can someone recommend a good server host? Yahoo! is terrible and I keep getting 500 Server Errors preventing me from getting into the blog, rebuilding it, etc.

Calling Middle East bloggers

BEIRUT — Taking a break from all the news, I’d like to throw something out there and see what gets picked up.
Would you like to be part of the B2I team? (Which, at the moment, is me.) Would you like to blog on Iraq, Syria, Egypt and the rest of the Middle East? Would you like to make some cash while you’re doing it? (Assuming people donate, of course.)
I’m looking for one or two people who can help me out here with covering Iraq, Syria and Egypt, although I’ll entertain other locales or if you move around. Someone to blog from Washington or New York about how news in the Middle East is playing would be great, too.
The ideal candidates should be energetic, hungry and have some journalism training. Fluency in English is a must, as well as the ability to look at things as objectively as possible. I want to continue to give observations and news as it’s seen, not as how most people want it to be seen. No left- or right-wing true believers need apply.
If you’re a freelance journalist in the region and want to have a wider outlet than some of the trade journals might offer, please consider signing up. I’m working out out a donations-sharing system, by which you would reap rewards for your work. It’s not much, but it can help.
Best of all, you get to be part of a blog that single-handedly started the the idea of reader-funded conflict reporting. B2I is still a strong brand and people in the journalism world know it. It’s still read at newspapers and magazines in New York, Washington and elsewhere. Here’s your chance to get some exposure, if you need it.
If you’re interested, please email me with a CV, a cover letter and three writing samples.
Thanks very much,
The Management

Coverage of the Conflict

BEIRUT — Well, the situation up north has settled into a standoff, despite a bout of gunfire on Monday. The various Palestinian factions are trying to negotiate an end to this crisis, and the Lebanese government has given them time to get the job done. But while several politicians, such as Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, have said the military option is off the table, we may very well see more violence before this is over. Lebanon simply can’t allow these guys to walk away, as I’ve mentioned before.
The group continues to refuse to hand over any of its fighters. “This is impossible,” said Fatah al-Islam spokesman Abu Salim Taha via telephone from inside Nahr el-Bared.
I’ll be heading back up, probably Tuesday, to monitor the situation. In the meantime, here are some of the stories I filed over the last week:
* Lebanon, Syria Point Fingers in Recent Violence (Washington Times)
* Lebanese army assault cheered, but raises fears (San Francisco Chronicle)
* Bodies piling up in assault on camp (San Francisco Chronicle)
Another one on the foreign fighters in Fatah al-Islam is due out tomorrow morning.
*UPDATE 5/30/07 2:13:53 AM:* And here it is! Sorry for the delay. Been busy here taking care of daily life that got put on hold while the North caught fire. Right now, things are more or less quiet, with the occasional exchange of fire. We’ll see how long it holds.