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The Tentacle


November 22, 2005

Maybe That’s Why – Part 1

Roy Meachum

Far from feeling elated that I had written and published the prediction the invasion of Iraq would turn into the Vietnam-like quagmire it has become, I have remain deeply mystified why virtually all the nation’s media went along with the White House call for a new “crusade.”

Some possible answers have been slowly cropping up; the most recent roared through the weekend, consuming tons of print and lots of hot air. It involved Washington Post star Bob Woodward who should join The New York Times’ Judy Miller in ex-journalists’ never-never land. Their two papers led the way that other editorialists followed.

But I get ahead of myself.

The reasons for the Times inclination to support an attack on a repressive Arab regime could be measured in the 9/11 attacks and the bloody cost in human lives, especially the loss of hundreds of city police and firefighters. Indeed, the president sought to rationalize the assault against Baghdad by claiming Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had participated in the plot to destroy Manhattan skyscrapers.

No intimate knowledge of Middle Eastern realities was necessary to know the claim was totally false: the 9/11 attackers were Islamic zealots while Saddam’s reign had been defiantly secular.

Religious freedom for his country’s churches can be counted as one of the casualties of his fall. His tolerance of Christianity had long made the dictator a target for Islamists, which is one excuse he used to justify his widespread genocide against his fellow Muslims.

His American-backed war against Iran exacerbated the hatred directed his way by Iraqi Shiites who shared their faith with Teheran’s ayatollahs. As readers now know, Saddam Hussein is Sunni, the main branch of Islam.

On the other hand, his invasion and bloody occupation of Kuwait placed him beyond the pale in every major Arab capital, all Sunni, except Senussi Libya and Alawite Syria. They had maintained a look-away attitude: What wasn’t seen demanded no response. His grab for Kuwait made them pay attention.

When U.S. tanks rolled across the Iraqi border, March 19, 2003, the only “foreign” Muslims that Saddam could count upon were some Palestinians, and only because he encouraged their jihad against Israel by donating money to suicide-bombers’ survivors.

His prominence on Israel’s hit list aside, his isolation within the Islamic world tilted favorably toward the administration’s decision to invade Iraq.

But those very factors made his downfall inevitable, especially when they were strengthened by the international oversight imposed on his regime after Desert Storm. The combination of restricting oil money for buying weaponry and frequent British and U.S. air patrols over Iraq assured his impotency as a serious element in the region.

That was not how The New York Times regarded Saddam Hussein, however; the most influential newspaper in the United States loaded its news pages with Pulitzer-prize winner Judith Miller’s reports on weapons of mass destruction, despite certification from United Nations’ inspectors that no such weapons existed.

In addition, at the time it was known the dictator lacked a delivery system that could make the non-existent weapons a threat to Washington, London, Rome or even Cairo. The imminent danger simply didn’t exist as the White House argued.

Perhaps more weighty in the councils of the Times’ management was columnist Thomas Friedman’s support for war against Iraq. His Pulitzer had come in recognition of his preeminence as journalism’s foremost expert on the Middle East. My personal library contains his justly praised book that detailed the Israeli-Palestinian plight with compassionate clarity.

Once Mr. Friedman weighed in, his newspaper’s editorial board really had little choice; to preach the other way would not help the reputation and standing of the man who is, arguably, the Times’ most important asset on the international scene.

Since beginning his column, the former Jerusalem correspondent has expanded his purview to include much of the known world, although I cannot recall any musings on Latin America.

At this distance, it is possible to speculate the demonstrated falsity of her earlier reporting may have nudged along the Times’ divorce from Ms. Miller, after the honeymoon of her gallant willingness to suffer imprisonment for the cause of brave journalism.

Of the Times’ two most Iraqi hawks, only she was revealed as willing to stretch facts to protect a valuable contact at the highest level of government.

Mr. Friedman, who recanted much too late to save either Iraq, the United States and their peoples, now challenges the wisdom of sustaining what has become an American occupation force.

His public repentance may have contributed to Ms. Miller’s hasty departure from the paper’s payroll; and it was hasty if only in the sense it came so soon after the pictures appeared of her holding hands with her smiling publisher the day she got out of jail. Thomas Friedman’s recantation left her out there as the Times’ celebrated and prize-winning journalist had been equally gung-ho for the invasion.

Inexorably the thought hangs there: Did his pro-invasion stance, so contrary to his previous commentary, result from Middle East guru’s closeness to sources?

Most competitive journalists experience the danger of assuming the identity of a person who furnishes the substance and details of a really good and continuing story. A suspicious eye should be fixed on any reporter who categorically denies ever slanting his writing to favor such a person. I can’t make that claim.

And that brings us to the latest media firestorm that broke last week over the special investigation into who revealed the identity of the covert-classified CIA official, the probe that allowed Ms. Miller time in the federal pokey.



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