Monday, May 01, 2006

Iraq: War in Iraq and how news & media report news

I'm no fan of the anti-war movement. Neither do I want our soldiers to stay overseas and continue putting their lives in danger. But when we leave Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to do so with the expectation that we won't have to go back for the same reasons. The American people seem to understand that much, but they are generally frustrated with the progress of the war.

The chief reason people are frustrated is that they pay too much attention to the news organizations' headlines and too little attention to the details of the news stories. And I have to admit I spend a fair amount of my time just scanning headlines, too. But I have some publishing experience and I know you cannot really trust headlines to accurate convey the gist of the details.

Some political commentators, both Republican and Democrat, are quick to allege that the media have a "liberal bias" or are "too conservative". CNN's 'Iraqi president eyes deal with armed groups' story (the URL may change content) from May 1 is an indication of "liberal bias".

CNN typically bundles all recent news stories about a major topic at the tail end of its online updates. In this article, they cover a lot of ground, but the headline actually captures the most important point. Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq, has been meeting with leaders of Sunni insurgent groups who hate Al Qaeda and Musab al-Zarqawi. These insurgents have been fighting the Americans for, they say, the wrong reasons.

They view us as invaders. Well, maybe the fact that we invaded their country had something to do with that.

They view us as occupiers. Well, maybe the fact that we have stationed 150,000 troops in semi-permanent fashion on their soil, and the fact that we dictated how they would form a new government, have something to do with that.

But it has always been our clear desire and intention to leave Iraq as soon as possible. The insurgents are only just now beginning to realize and accept the truth. Why is that? One reason is that the Arabic-speaking world, like the United States, has its own "liberal bias" and "too conservative" media. And some of their broadcasters don't mind just outright lying and distorting the facts in order to make America look like a villainous colonizing power.

Many people feel that the Qatar-based network al-Jazeera favors Al Qaeda. The United States government apparently got tired of defending itself against the lies that al-Jazeera publishes (or used to publish -- I've stopped trying to read their English-language Web site). But is al-Jazeera really sympathetic to Al Qaeda or are their journalists simply in tune with millions of Arabic-speaking people around the world who hear little more than that the United States is once again bullying its way through international disputes?

We do bully people. American citizens should be aware of that. The United States has installed dictators, supported dictators, launched and financed small wars between other nations, and often placed whole countries under embargo as a means of "negotiating" a solution to some issue that affects our national interests. But we Americans drive our gas-guzzling cars, shop in our relatively safe shopping malls, and go out on weekend dates without really thinking about who may be suffering on the other side of the world for the sake of our comfort.

Liberal Americans think about these issues more than Conservative Americans. But right now, we have a largely Conservative government. It's so conservative, that the "liberal media" had to raise a fuss just so they could watch CNN instead of Fox News on Air Force One.

I have to admit that I may not agree with the way CNN reports the news (I actually feel ABC World News Tonight does a better job -- or did when Peter Jennings was the anchor, but I've stopped watching television news), but I get tired of Fox's constant parade of screaming sound bits, 30-second whirlwind meatless stories, and conservative tirades. They support President Bush. Good for them. Every President probably should have one American network on his side.

CNN, on the other hand, goes out of its way to undermine Conservative presidents' agenda. When Ronald Reagan was President, he introduced the Strategic Defense Initiative, which incorporated many proposed elements. The most controversial element was a space-based defense system to protect us against intercontinental ballistic missiles. CNN and other "liberal" news organizations immediately dubbed the program "Star Wars" and maliciously referred to it only as "Star Wars" as often as possible in order to distort public perceptions of the program.

Now, anyone who was active in the Computer Science community at the time could tell you that many computer scientists were scared of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Computer Scientists can be scary people themselves. Among other things, they like to "prove programs are correct." That is, they don't just write code and run it on a computer. They subject it to intense mathematical analysis to determine that the programs will only precisely what they are supposed to do and only what they are supposed to do.

The Strategic Defense Initiative, however, was going to require programs to track up to 100 concurrent missiles at a time. This requires multi-tasking, what we call "spawning" of new tasks. That is, when you detect 100 missiles rising from the Earth, you have to launch 100 copies of your tracking software and let each one track a missile. Then they all have to coordinate. Back in the 1980s, Computer Scientists had no way of determining if our space-based defenses would accurately track the missiles or, instead, start lobbing their own missiles and ray-beams at American cities.

Why did the media call this "Star Wars"? Because George Lucas had popularized the name, even though the SDI program bore little resemblance to what George was painting on the silver screen. When you're pumping out propaganda the way CNN does, any slur will do in a rush.

The latest round of CNN propaganda consists of numerous polls to check the pulse of American political opinion. Hardly a day goes by where 1,000 or so people aren't being asked some very leading questions about whether President Bush is doing a good job. You know, considering the fact that President Delano Roosevelt declared war on Germany and Japan and that President Truman dropped nuclear weapons on Japan and involved us in the Korean War, I'd say Bush is doing a pretty good job.

Not that we should not have responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor. But President Bush (and his father) have struggled with the legacy of World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War. Many American Presidents committed this country to mutual defense treaties, and enacted policies that have required us to be manipulative and bullying, that we are expected to honor to this day. Anyone running for President in the 21st century must honor those treaties and carry through those policies.

The potential consequence of shirking our responsibilities is that someone like Saddam Hussein may rise up, raise the 4th largest army in the world, and start attacking his neighbors. People forget that is how the Nazis began their rampage across Europe. The appeasers tried to concede land and privileges to the aggressors in the hope of maintaining "peace in (our) time", and instead they found themselves losing ally after ally. We, of course, created Saddam Hussein. Well, he was already there but he was conveniently positioned to be our punising stick when Iran's conservative religious government allowed some radical students to take control of our embassy and hold our people hostage.

We are in Iraq today because Ronald Reagan gave weapons and money to Saddam Hussein in the hope that Iraq would beat the Iranian people to a bloody pulp. Many Iraqis and Iranians died because of that policy, which though it spawned the "Iran-Contra Arms Scandal" (and made a national hero out of Oliver North) was (in my opinion) an excessive response to our national humiliation. Admittedly, Iran's leaders talked for a while of violently exporting their fundamentalism to other nations.

If Iran were indeed to carry Fundamental Islam to other lands through military force, the United States would be forced to fight a major conflict. Why? Because we have mutual defense treaties with Israel and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and other nations in the region. It's not like the American government has the luxury of standing off and allowing its treaty obligations to wither away. We have done that, too, and paid a high price for it.

The alternative to putting a warhawk-family like the Bushes into office is that we end up with wussy Clintonesque leadership. President Clinton went out of his way to get American troops out of the line of fire. Somalia is the mess it is today because Clinton was unwilling to provide our forces with the armor they needed to back them up when Somali warlords started looting U.N. supply convoys. Instead, we ended up fighting the Battle of Mogadishu -- which by every military benchmark we won. And Clinton (and the news media) acted like the battle was a shameful humiliation for the Amercan people.

Yes, some of our soldiers' bodies were treated badly in the aftermath. But you know what? If our men had been given the support they asked for, we could have brought them home.

Instead, Clinton redeemed himself by destroying tanker trucks, oil facilities, and bridges in the Balkans. Technically, Clinton proved all the generals wrong. Up until Serbia started slaughtering its neighbors, American generals said you could not win a war through air power. But when the Serbs ran out of gas, and obviously became easy pickings for American fighters and helicopters, the fight went out of them. They capitulated when the only American soldiers to set foot on their soil had been rescue teams and downed pilots (and probably some special ops troops).

Hooray for our side. We can end any little brush war by dragging it out needlessly as tens of thousands of people are butchered. We have a great strategy for success.

Is Bush doing a good job? I have no idea. I disagree with a lot of the things happening in Washington. I don't much like Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, or any decision-makers who don't make decisions I feel comfortable with.

But I'm totally fed up with the weekly "How is Bush doing" polls. And I'm fed up with the "It's been three years since Bush declared major hostilities over" (technically, he was right -- there were no longer any armies for our army to fight). Today, we're not fighting the Iraqi army. We're fighting beside the Iraqi army. The Middle East is rife with militias and armed groups. Iraq is not unique in that respect. Even Israel has armed civilian groups that would be called militias in other countries.

So if you are asked to participate in one of those propaganda polls (whichever side), here is a suggestion: hang up the phone. Don't participate.

Thank you, dear readers, for coming this far. We'll be returning to more of Michael's adventures in life with the next post.

1 Comments:

Blogger boinky said...

Ah, you should try listening to CNNInt from 10 000 miles away...
It's not so much bias as poor editing, so nothing is taken into perspective, and the past is ignored.
Take this week: someone said we went in with too few troops...wait a second...don't you have Google?
CNNI and much of the news will report this critically, forgetting... Turkey wouldn't let them invade from the north, France didn't send their share, and those 20 000 peacekeepers from India didn't show up because the UN didn't agreee...
But none of this is mentioned, it's merely criticism.
Sorry, but unless Hillary gets her act together I might have to vote for Rudy.
Is Bush doing a good job? No. But like Truman, I suspect history will be kinder to him than the press...who hates him because like the haberdasher, he is uncouth...and from the south.

12:55 AM  

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