Daily MoJo


A Ba’athist Rebirth?
SWAT raids on Saddam’s die-hards? If only it were that simple.

Helping the Hardliners
Bush is saying nice things about student demonstrations in Iran. Bush may be making things worse.

The Right’s Media Rant
Still celebrating over the New York Times’ shame, neocons propose new antidotes to the ‘liberal’ press.

A Ba’athist Rebirth?
Iraqi Ba’athists seem, at least according to recent reports, to be putting up more of a fight now than when American troops first rolled into Baghdad, more than two months ago.

Over the weekend, US forces launched a series of new search-and-destroy operations — the biggest since George W. Bush’s aircraft carrier photo-op victory speech last month — in the so-called “Sunni Triangle” surrounding Baghdad. The reasons for the new sweeps are obvious: American troops have been coming under increasingly heavy, well-organized fire in the last few weeks, and convoys are now being ambushed and soldiers shot with alarming regularity. Since the end of major combat in May, 40 have been killed.

Who, exactly, is behind all of these attacks is less clear, however. For its part, the US military appears to have little doubt. Desert Scorpion, its latest operation, is “designed to identify and defeat selected Ba’ath party loyalists, terrorist organizations and criminal elements,” according to Central Command in Doha. And to be sure, some Sunnis do pine for the ancien regime. “ Hell with Saddam is better than paradise with the Americans,” reads a freshly painted slogan on a burnt-out tank in the central town of Baquba, the London Independent‘s Patrick Cockburn reports.

But to label all resistance “Ba’athist” is a gross oversimplification, many observers say — especially because American heavy-handedness seems to be creating more enemies by the day. In a particularly egregious example last month, US soldiers shot and killed four teenagers in Samarra, a town north of Baghdad. Their crime? Firing guns during a wedding parade. It was just a terrible mistake on the Americans’ part, of course, a mistake borne of cultural disconnect and nervous trigger fingers, but a mistake with potentially serious consequences. The tactics of the new anti-Ba’athist sweeps — round-ups carried out by US soldiers, shouting in English and guided by score-settling informers — have also provoked outrage, the London Guardian‘s Richard Norton-Taylor and Rory McCarthy note. Ultimately, these new iron-fist operations might achieve the exact opposite of their intent, and further harden Iraqi sentiment against the US occupation.

“Hostile residents are not shy of threatening more attacks, insisting they are not Saddam loyalists but angry at the US military occupation. Aggressive house searches and the killing by US troops of 18 protesters in a demonstration last month have provoked fury. Soldiers on the ground say the attacks they are facing, mostly from rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, are disciplined and skilled, not the random shootings of angry civilians. American generals admit that though the attacks may be locally organised there is no evidence yet of a reformed Ba’ath party centrally coordinating the assaults.

The US and Britain said they came to liberate Iraq and protect its people. The failure to understand how Iraqis would respond may be rooted in arrogance. It is also a colossal failure in intelligence which may prove to be at least as important as the inability to find any of Iraq’s banned weapons. The commander of British forces in the war, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, admitted as much in remarkably frank evidence to MPs this week. Asked about the problems of ‘policing’ Iraq, and the number of forces needed to do the job, he replied: ‘I’m not sure we understand yet.'”

In fact, three months in, US forces still seem to have precious little understanding of the country they occupy. “Hearts and Minds” operations are greeted with Iraqi derision and, as the Washington Post‘s Anthony Shadid reports, even the distribution of food aid has sparked anger throughout the Sunni heartland.

“U.S. soldiers tossed military meals and bottles of water to the crowd. ‘They treated us like monkeys — who’s the first one who can jump up and catch the food,’ said Mohammed, who was captured by Iran in the Iran-Iraq war and kept as a prisoner for 11 years.”

While most of the organized resistance is coming from the Sunni strongholds of central Iraq, that may change. The Shi’ites, too, are increasingly angry over the occupation, as the London Telegraph‘s Peter Foster reports. In the southern city of Basra over the weekend, 10,000 protesters rained stones on a British convoy while chanting, “ Answer our demands or you will regret it.”

Well, it is a military occupation, after all. No one ever promised it would be all sweetness and light. Right?

Oh, wait. Dick Cheney did. So did Paul Wolfowitz. And George W. Bush

Helping the Hardliners
After six days of protests in Iran, students and their pro-democracy supporters continue to withstand an onslaught of arrests and beatings from the Ayatollah Khameini’s police. President Bush, on a break from his Maine vacation, tried to be helpful by making comments in support of the demonstrations. Bush announced Sunday: “This is the beginning of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran which I think is positive.” (Interesting that the president didn’t have the same insight in March when millions of people across the globe were protesting a potential war on Iraq. Nor has this been his take on anti-occupation demonstrations in Iraq.)

Given the political reality on the ground in Tehran, President Bush’s comments, however heartfelt, may only hinder the progress of the Iranian-led democracy movement. Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Hamid Rezi Asefi, pointed to Bush’s statements as evidence that Americans in Washington were orchestrating these “hooligans'” demonstrations. Bush’s pro-democracy comments also drew sharp criticism from the nation’s state-controlled newspaper, the Tehran Times. The editors there griped about Bush’s interference in Iran’s domestic concerns:

“George Bush’s interfering remarks about Iran are nothing new. The Iranian people have experienced much interference and witnessed numerous hostile measures by the United States over the past two decades. In fact this type of rhetoric, based on a misconception of U.S. interests and the White House’s interventionist policy, has become routine.”

The Tehran Times is far from an expression of popular feeling in Iran. But its comments do illustrate that an occupying power might not be in the best position to fend off accusations of interference.

Regardless of Bush, the student protesters are evidence of important shifts in Iran, and their position may be gaining some ground. The protesters are the most vocal tip of a demographic iceberg in Iran, where 70 percent of the population is under 30. This younger generation did not participate in the clerics’ revolution, and seems fed up. Some have even mustered the gumption to call for Khameini’s execution — under a regime where any criticism of the Ayatollah can land you behind bars. In May over 120 lawmakers published an open letter calling on Khameinei to accept the reform the students are pushing before “the whole establishment and the country’s independence and territorial integrity are jeopardised.” Student actions are being met with strong support from thousands of ordinary Iranians. Demonstrations have spread to several smaller cities outside Tehran.

So the demonstrations do represent an important indication of popular feeling. But Monday’s editorial in the Christian Science Monitor notes that although the demonstrations have once again brought Iranian students into the international spotlight, the students are not about to initiate drastic reform:

“These latest protests, like those in 1999, which also turned violent, reveal more about the weakness of the reform movement than its strength. They are confined largely to universities, and incited mainly by Persian-language satellite broadcasts sent by exiles in Los Angeles. And the spark this time was a move to privatize universities, hardly the stuff to drive a revolution.

Rebellion in Iran may be years away, yet the US needs action soon. Iran might have a nuclear device within a few years. For now, the best course is direct diplomacy and urging other nations to push Iran for more democracy and an end to support for terrorists.”

It’s unclear what course Bush is setting. According to Hooman Peimani of Asia Times, Bush’s recent statements may fit in with a larger, menacing pattern:

American allegations on Tehran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program are not something new. In fact they have been around since the early 1980s. Nor are the accusations of Tehran backing terrorists. What is new about them is Washington’s trying so hard to create an unfounded sense of urgency to justify its regime change in Iran, just as it did in the months preceding its March attack on Iraq. This is notwithstanding the fact that factors such as Iran’s social, economic and political developments as well as its strong military force benefiting from a home-grown military industry make any foreign-orchestrated plan for regime change unrealistic.

There is not yet any strong evidence to suggest that this wave of protests – which have run for six days – could lead to a popular pro-democracy movement capable of replacing the existing theocracy with a democracy.

Against a background of two years of anti-Iranian propaganda and a few months of talks of a regime change in Iran, Washington’s clear expression of support for the Iranian students has only provided grounds for Tehran’s suppression of their protests under the pretext of neutralizing an American plan to destabilize Iran.

Despite what the American government claims, its policy towards Iran has not and will not likely help foster democracy in that country. However, as an external factor, it will certainly damage the Iranian people’s bid for democracy and for a domestically-planned regime change.”

The Right’s Media Rant
It all started with Jayson Blair. Blair is conservative America’s archetypal liberal villain — a young, successful member of the big-shot press who is also a big fat liar. Oh, and he was black — making him an archetypal liberal, multicultural villian. Despite the many remaining brilliant journalists of color, the right’s pillar publications still purport that any editorial oversight at the New York Times was the result of an “almost blind devotion to liberalism’s god of ‘diversity’ in the newsroom,” as Pat Buchanan writes in Townhall.

Yes, on the conservative right, it’s open season once again on the mythic “liberal media.” Apparently, according to Buchanan, “Big Media” is, and always has been, a “fortress of liberalism.” But not to worry. Pat and his cohorts have solutions. Aside from doing away with the implementation of racial diversity in the media, gender politics ought be jettisoned as well. The good old boy’s call for ‘fair and unbiased coverage’ is best evidenced by William Kristol of the Weekly Standard, who somehow manages to simultaneously criticize America’s well-to-do elite and charge that said elite deserves more voice in the media:

“At [Kristol’s ideal newspaper of record], too, ‘diversity’ would be understood not merely in terms of skin color. Jayson Blair was a middle-class kid from suburban D.C., who attended a fine state school — not presumably an under-represented class at the New York Times. Yet he was Howell Raines’s idea, and totem — and a badly exploited totem — of ‘diversity.’

The first-rate paper we need would have real diversity — of background, of experience, but especially of viewpoint. It wouldn’t, for example, suppress columns by its own sportswriters who happened not to be entranced by the top brass’s project of transforming an all-men’s golf club.”

Interesting that for Kristol, a diversity of viewpoints at the New York Times would primarily mean the inclusion of a column in support of a rich, all-male country club. But his first point is well-taken — all media, right and left, would do well to expand the socioeconomic diversity of its newsrooms. A plug for an all-male golf club hardly seems an example of the kind of true diversity that might be missing.

Meanwhile, there are new allegations of plagiarism against another New York Times star, this time one of the cowgirls at the media circus. David Frum of the National Review plays knight in shining armor for his wife , Danielle Crittenden. Frum accuses columnist Maureen Dowd of plagiarising Crittenden’s work. He calls Dowd the author of “trademark gaseous columns about popular culture turning its back on the accomplishments of feminism, etc., etc.”

According to the valiant Frum, one of Dowd’s points was pulled directly from his honey’s NPR broadcast:

“As [Dowd’s] column trudged wearily to its end, there unexpectedly appeared an unusual thought, vividly phrased: ‘There’s even a retro trend among women toward deserting the fast track for a pleasant life of sitting around Starbucks gabbing with their girlfriends, baby strollers beside them ….’

Now compare Dowd’s words to these, broadcast on National Public Radio’s ‘Morning Edition’ two weeks ago:

‘You see them at Starbucks at two o’clock on a weekday afternoon, pushing a stroller and balancing a latte, with a slight look of bewilderment on their faces, as if to say, How did I end up here? … Yet forty years after the launch of the women’s movement, this is exactly what many former career women find themselves doing.'”

As a plagiarism case, this is far from cut and dry. But why is Frum the one making the accusation? Does Crittenden need her husband to come to her defense while he sets the record straight about those pesky proponents of feminism?

But it’s not just Dowd — aside from being a royal pain in the collective Republican neck, Hillary Rodham Clinton is naught but a media-savvy liar, according to the Right. Comparing the former first lady to one of Howell Raines’ minions, Andrew Sullivan opines in the Washington Times that Mrs.Clinton has either been neglecting her political duties or not giving her ghostwriters credit:

“Of course, politicians deploying ghostwriters to pen their memoirs is common practice. They all do it. But most do it honestly… John McCain credited his co-author/ghost-writer on the book cover. But the junior senator from New York had none of that with her first book, ‘It Takes A Village,’ and she’ll have none of it with this one either. In other words, the lies begin on the cover.”

What a relief then, that the American public is too smart to buy any of the liberal media bias (except maybe a record-breaking number of Hillary’s book). According to Buchanan, “in the populist and democratic media — the op-ed pages, the Internet, cable TV, talk radio — where people have a variety of voices from which to choose — conservatives prevail.”

Except that, democratically speaking, the dreaded and liberal New York Times is still one of the top selling papers in the States. This, according to theWeekly Standard’s Kristol, is evidence of the how the liberal media and its confounding desire to represent women and people of color have doomed the nation:

“Fundamental regime change at the New York Times is not in the cards. Inspections and sanctions won’t work. Even the French can’t help. The Times is irredeemable. The question is whether a new newspaper of record will replace it.”

What’s next? Preemptive strikes on alternative weeklies?