May 11, 2004

Sullivan and Peters

As someone who rarely finds himself at a loss for words, the effect of the disclosures of abuses at Abu Ghraib has been to sadden, depress and anger me, and to leave me with little to say beyond that. Up until now that is. I have supported the U.S. effort to liberate and to democratize Iraq on humanitarian and moral grounds, and while I am no less convinced that the effort was necessary and justified on these and other grounds, I am, like so many others, reeling emotionally from this haymaker. The shameless attempts by Democrats to capitalize politically disgust me. Lieberman and a couple of others are notable exceptions. I find myself nodding in agreement these days when I read Andrew Sullivan on this particular topic.

...we must still win. This isn't about scoring points. It should not be about circling partisan wagons. And it must not mean withdrawal or despair. Much has also gone right in Iraq. Saddam is gone; the Kurds are free and moving toward democratic rule; in many areas, self-government is emerging. The alternatives to regime change, we should remember, were no alternatives at all. Civil war is neither inevitable nor imminent. Before the Abu Ghraib disaster, there were encouraging signs that Shiites were themselves marginalizing al Sadr's gangs; and that some responsible Sunnis could be integrated into a new Iraq. We have time yet to win over the middle of Iraqi opinion to the side of peaceful democratic change.

And as he so often does, Ralph Peters steps up to say what needs to be said to put things in perspective:

As an American, I want my country to be held to higher standards - we can live up to them. Proudly. But we don't need any more hypocritical charges from states with no standards at all.

The international media have been no better. It's certainly fair to criticize America. Our system's robust enough to stand up to even the most bigoted scrutiny. But when stations from al-Jazeera to CNN International cover the misbehavior of a few U.S. prison guards with more fervor and airtime than they did Saddam's mass murders (or the ongoing crimes in virtually every other state in the Middle East), then, as an American, all I can do is to tune them out.

All those who opposed the removal of Saddam, from the BBC to Egyptian state television to The New York Times, act as though the events in Abu Ghraib prove that they were right all along.

No. They weren't right. And no amount of disingenuous "reporting" or feigned shock on the part of newsreaders can change the fact that America behaved nobly and bravely in Iraq - or that we continue to struggle to do the right thing, if sometimes ineptly.

We've made mistakes. We'll make more. We're human. But it's never a mistake to fight for freedom. If the Iraqis make a mess of their one great chance, it won't be our fault. But it will be the fault of those regional governments and the global media who encourage anti-American hatred at every opportunity, pretending that terrorists are freedom fighters.

Now that al-Zarqawi has sawed off the head of an innocent civilian, and captured the event on video to multiply the horror of the act, al Qaeda has once again revealed themselves to be barbarians of the first order. But unfortunately, now the edge has been taken off of that charge by the barbarism of some of our own soldiers.

The conflict is being contested on both sides by humans, flawed to a man. The difference in civilizations will be demonstrated by how outraged and disgusted Americans react to the barbarism of their own countrymen. Those responsible will be tried and punished in a transparent process. The barbarism of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will be celebrated by millions, and there will be no one except the United States military who will make any effort to bring him to justice.

Sullivan is calling for an end to the double-standard of the media where showing video footage of "abuses" is concerned:

Let's start an internet campaign to insist that the major media - including the New Yorker, the networks, the major newsweeklies, and every major paper - run a picture of Zarqawi holding up Nick Berg's severed head. It's time to release the Pearl video and stills too. Enough with the double standards. The media were absolutely right to show the abuse photos. But they are only part of the story. It's about time the media gave us all of it, however harrowing it is.

And from another post, on the media's "insane spin"...

How are the media this stupid? AOL headlines: "Abuse Scandal's Deadly Fallout" referring to the hideous beheading of Nick Berg. Or this idiocy: "American Beheaded for Abuse." Do these people have no memories? This is al Qaeda. They beheaded Daniel Pearl long before the war in Iraq. They murdered thousands in New York City long before Saddam was removed from power. And they are as stupid as they are evil. Iraqis now have contrasting images. Do they want to be run by people who cut innocent people's throats at will or by people who have removed a dictator and are investigating unethical abuse of prison inmates? Zarqawi has now done something for our morale as well as his. He has reminded us of the real enemy; and he has reminded the Iraqis. One simple question: will CNN now show these video stills? I know it must be torment for the family. But if we are in a propaganda war, as we are, we need to be as ruthless in publicizing the murders committed by our enemy as we are in exposing the abuses committed by our own.

Glenn Reynolds has a summary of reaction from bloggers to the media treatment of the Berg murder and the Abu Ghraib abuses.

Belmont Club reacts to Sullivan's call for an end to the double media standard:

What was new about the May coverage was that the press had pictures of the Abu Ghraib abuses and was in a position to project, not a new set of facts, but a new set of powerful emotions upon the public. Getler's claim is really an assertion of the right to invoke outrage, disgust and hatred at a specific act and its perpetrators, and those who may have been indirectly responsible for it. By taking this logic to its limit, Sullivan claims the same right: to unleash a symmetrical set of set emotions at another group -- and demonstrates the absurdity. For it must either be correct to publish both the Abu Ghraib and Berg photos or admit partisanship. Surely, if it is acceptable to run the risk of tainting the entire US military with the brush of Abu Ghraib then there can be no harm in coloring all Muslims with the hues of Al Qaeda. But this is madness.

Posted by dan at May 11, 2004 5:19 PM