Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"The American People" according to Lehrer and Shields

By Winnifred Thomas

“For more than three decades, Iraq’s life was sheer and limitless terror” Fouad Ajami

“Thus media attention is a whole weapon in itself, and the main one from the view point of this terrorist group, and this subject should be a matter of primary consideration to strategists and planners of the War.” The Mesopotamian blogger.

After years of habitual listening to Jim Lehrer and his news report, one finds oneself weary of Jim’s plaintive and repetitive search for the correct answer from each interviewee, and just about ready to quit the habit. Lehrer’s questions are often phrased this way: “Considering the terrible results, you don’t think that going into Iraq was a mistake?” There is always that surprise and anxiety in the inflections of his voice. He is waiting for the fish to take the bait and then he will reel him in. (He seldom says “don’t you think” – it is rather phrased “you don’t think” as if putting the person on the spot.)

In this past week, Lehrer had both Sen. John McCain and Gen. Peter Pace on his show for in-depth interviews. He tried his best to trip them up.

Meanwhile on Veterans Day we had been fortunate enough to hear our President’s stirring speech to a group of Veterans in Pennsylvania. At last he bluntly attacked his opponents and declared that they could criticize his conduct of the war, that was their right; but he considered their recent attempts to rewrite history to be akin to treason. He pointed out various individual approvals and comments made in both Senate and the House at the time we entered the war with Iraq. Because he made some similar remarks on his way to Asia, a few days later, our biased media declared that the controversy was “escalating!”

John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona, had just given a speech in Washington on how the United States can, and should win the war in Iraq. Lehrer asked McCain if he “bought” the idea that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has created more terrorists than it destroyed. McCain said that he did not buy that theory. In fact he thought that the war in Iraq was more important than the Vietnam War. The astonished Lehrer echoed his words with horror and surprise in his inflection: “More important than Vietnam. In what way?” McCain then went on to explain the very different enemy.

Lehrer had one more try before letting his victim go: “You know as well as anyone what the opinion polls show about the American people’s feelings about the whole Iraq enterprise at this point. They are down on it, and they are losing support for it. What’s the cause of that? Why don’t they get it, what you just said?”

He got a typical politician’s answer for that. But we could insert our own. What American people is he talking about? What kind of genuine polls are being used? Why hasn’t the media reported all the success and real progress being made in Iraq? If anything is being manipulated, it is our own public opinion and that by a mainline media which cannot be trusted.

One last question to McCain: “Do you believe that the costs thus far in lives and money and prestige …have been worth this going into Iraq?” McCain hedged but did say that if we hadn’t gone in and removed Saddam Hussein, he would have been acquiring all those dreaded weapons and using them on his neighbors, in the same way he used them on his own people. Here came the last plaintive gasp of Jim Lehrer: “So you have no second thoughts at all about the wisdom of going to war?” McCain admitted to lots of second thoughts when a soldier’s life is lost. But he didn’t say we shouldn’t have gone.”

Now for General Peter Pace, the newly appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In this interview you got the crisp straight-forward answers of a life-time Marine. He managed to turn one of the first questions into a mini-lecture to Mr. Lehrer that “I truly believe that we do not want the American public or anybody else watching this broadcast to start counting bodies.” Lehrer was inclined to argue about that, as if the military had been quick to say how many insurgents or army men had been killed. Pace replied: “No. I am saying that anyone who, in the past, has been counting bodies has been presenting the wrong measure of success. The correct measure of success is how much of this country, how much of Iraq is being controlled by coalition forces to include, and most importantly to include the Iraqi armed forces themselves, how much security is being provided and it’s not about death counts. It’s about defining security so that the Iraqi people can live in freedom.”

Lehrer quickly switched to the matter of the insurgency and its strength. Pace replied: “The insurgents fear the fact the Iraqis will be able to pick their own future. So when I say that, no, to your question about how they are getting stronger, I believe they are not because of the elections—because the 64 percent of the Iraqi populous went and voted; because 210,000 Iraqis now serve in their armed forces and their police.”

So Lehrer then asked if it was just a matter of time and Pace replied: “I absolutely believe that, yes.

Every Friday night on PBS stations, there would be a summary of the week’s news dealt with by Mark Shields and David Brooks. We would then have to suffer through the mock indignation of Mr. Shields as he time and time again brought up with strangled voice the dreadful facts of “no WMDs”, Jim, we went in there and they told us untruths. We didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction. We have been deceived. It was all a big lie,” etc., etc., ad infinatum.

How one wishes that these two old friends, Jim and Mark, could be given copies of Kenan Makiyah’s “Republic of Fear” to read. Or that they could develop a taste for the numerous fine articles of Fouad Ajami, who teaches International Relations at Johns Hopkins University. They don’t seem to have a glimmer of feeling for the Iraqi people themselves and for their excitement over the success of both elections. In an article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on September 28, 2005, Ajami remarked:
“For more than three decades, Iraq’s life was sheer and limitless terror.” He speaks out loud and clear for the Shi-ites in the south and the Kurds in the northern part of Iraq. “An edifice of Arab nationalism built by strange bedfellows—the Sunni political and bureaucratic elites, and the Christian Arab pundits who abetted them in the idle hope they would be spared the wrath of the street and of the mob—was overturned in Iraq.”

He imagines what it would have been like if oil had been located in Sunni provinces.

“They would have disowned both north and south and opted for a smaller world of their own and defended it with the sword. But this was not to be, and their war is the panic of a community that fears that it could be left with a realm of ‘gravel and sand.’”

“The claim that our war in Iraq, after the sacrifices, will have hatched a Shiite theocracy is a smear on the war, a misreading of the Shiite world of Iraq…..The new order shall give them what they want, a place in Iraq’s cultural and moral order, and a decent separation between religion and the compromises of political life.”

Fouad Ajami ends this article, which was called “Heart of Darkness,” with these words:

“It has not been easy, this expedition to Iraq, and for America in Iraq there has been heartbreak aplenty. But we ought to remember the furies that took us there and we ought to be consoled by the thought that the fight is a fight to ward off Arab dangers and troubles that came our way on a clear September morning, four years ago.”

By the way, Dr. Fouad Ajami who was born in Lebanon, and received most of his education in his native land, speaks now as an Arab-American.

If you look up the November 3rd blog from Baghdad, you will get something to think about: Summing up his talk about the media and about Al Jazeera television station in Qatar, our grateful friend says:

“What is paradoxical, is that the regime behind this outlet claims to be the most faithful ally and friend of the U.S. to whom it owes its prosperity and security especially in the face of historical claims by Saudi Arabia, and often makes very friendly gestures towards Israel, and where the biggest American military base is located housing the command of American forces in the entire region (Siliya, Qatar). To western people who do not understand the M.E., this may sound very strange. The answer however is very simple: Sectarian prejudice, i.e. the pathological hatred of the Shiaa sect, which is the majority in only one Arab country, which is Iraq. Indeed, the only Sunnis who are inclined to be more tolerant towards the Shiaa’s are the Iraqi Sunnis, especially in cities, having lived side by side for many centuries. Thus the fury of the Arabs and other Moslems against the Americans is not because they invaded and occupied Iraq, but because as a result of this action and the fall of the Saddam regime, the Shiaas have become liberated and acquired a louder voice. This by the way is also the main factor fanning the “insurrection” and terrorism in Iraq, a fact which is publicly proclaimed by people like Zarqawi. Thus, the development of representative democracy with the Iraqi Sunnis taking their rightful place is the real antidote to these stupid prejudices. This is the hope of all patriotic Iraqis of all sects and the final happy outcome that we are all praying and working for."

How could anyone think it has been a mistake to liberate 26 million people? And who else could have done it? Freedom has always been a costly commodity. We, ourselves, have enjoyed peaceful lives thanks to the sacrifices made in World War II.

I would like to think that there is a strong core of patriotic Americans who aren’t ashamed of their love of country. Every time the media talk about the “American People”in this negative way, I want to say – that’s not the group of people I know.