So, Inauguration Day. It’s here and I still can’t quite believe it. Eight years of arguably the worst presidency in the history of the country are over and a new one begins with President Barack Obama. Like many Americans I am hopeful, anxious, enthusiastic and ready to move on. But I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for President George W. Bush.
I mean, he provided me and my colleagues in the war covering business with lots of work. I mean, *a lot of work*. I made a career covering Bush’s catastrophes across the Middle East, and that wasn’t the only region he royally screwed up. THese include Afghanistan/Pakistan, Russia, the Caucuses and — lest we forget — New Orleans right close to home. Any one of these would be a blight on a presidency and a boon for journalistic careers, but damn.
Anyway, welcome to the Big Game, President Obama. Time to get to work.
OK. I’m going to take an I-told-you-so victory lap on this one. The U.S. will lead a 20-nation coalition to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa. Many of you will remember I’ve been interested in pirates off of Africa since 2005. I even embedded with the Germans in 2007 on the FGS Bremen as they took part in CTF-150, designed to protect the sea lanes leading up to the Red Sea. Other embeds I pursued included the USS Stennis off the coast of Pakistan and the task force in the Persian Gulf charged with protecting Iraq’s two off-shore oil terminals.
It’s nice to see that something I’ve been trying to draw attention to is finally getting the press attention it deserves, given the threat piracy poses to trade and the tie-ins between global terrorism and non-state criminal organizations.
Manynewsoutlets are reporting that several Katyusha rockets from southern Lebanon have landed in western Galilee in Israel, injuring two. Israel has apparently flown sorties over the Lebanese border and responded with mortar fire.
Stratfor has some quickie insight that I find plausible:
“… a Stratfor source in Hezbollah also noted recently that the Iranians, preferring to keep Hezbollah out of the fight, were concerned that other Sunni militants in Lebanon could decide to launch rockets against Israel and draw the group into war. The key thing to watch for now is whether this rocket attack is the first salvo, or if this is an isolated attack. If the rocket attacks continue, it is far more likely to be Hezbollah than some Sunni militants acting independently.” (Emphasis mine — CA)
Regardless of who fired those rockets, the risks of a new war on Israel’s northern front has just gone up dramatically — and I suspect that Israel won’t make the same mistakes in 2006.
UPDATE 0649 PST: Well, maybe not, as it turns out. Both Lebanon and Israel seem to be downplaying the event, with Palestinians in Lebanon getting the blame and being accused of trying to widen the conflict. Israel has opened the northern bomb shelters amid signs of de-escalation. Still, this bears watching.
Another day, another bout of bad news for the journalism industry. The New York Times has a story today about how newspapers are cutting back on Washington coverage at a time when a new administration is coming in, two wars are still going on and the economy is teetering on the brink of collapse.
“From an informed public standpoint, it’s alarming,” said Representative Kevin Brady, a Republican from the Houston area, who has seen The Houston Chronicle’s team in Washington drop to three people, from nine, in two years. “They’re letting go those with the most institutional knowledge, which helps reporters hold elected officials accountable.”
The papers are focusing on local news rather than on events “far away” in … Washington, D.C.
Look, I can almost understand the desire to cut back on foreign news. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand the thinking. But Washington? On a recent trip to Louisiana, family members were discussing Congressional legislation that might affect them and their mortgages. That was direct paycheck stuff and they definitely wanted to know about it. So for newspapers to cut back on Washington coverage at such a time… Well, it just shows the desperate straits the industry is in.
I’m here at Stanford giving some thought to how the industry can be triaged and transitioned to the new media future, but for the moment, we need to save what we can. Do your part. I know you’re mad at “the media” but letting newspapers go under won’t help. It will be much, much worse.
So here’s a radical thought: if you want to hold the government accountable, buy a newspaper — an actual, printed copy. Subscribe to a paper, read it. Take some time and actually peruse the paper. Think of these small steps as a democracy bond purchase in a time of crisis. As Joseph Pulitzer once said, “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.”