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War on Terra: the Economist relents and repents (sort of)

by Jerome a Paris Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 05:23:58 AM EST

In a 2-page editorial which is not on the front page of their website and which is strangely only available to subscribers, the Economist go through heavy contorsions to admit the wholesale failure of the War on Terra.

an honest tally of the record since September 11th has to conclude that the number of jihadists and their sympathisers has probably multiplied many times since then. It has multiplied, moreover, partly as a result of the way America responded.

They acknowledge the reality of the failure of the "War on Terra", they note the fact that US policies are a cause for such failure, but try throughout to find excuses.


Even though Mr bin Laden himself eluded America's forces in Afghanistan, the invasion deprived al-Qaeda of a haven for planning and training. This achievement, however, was cancelled out by the consequences of Mr Bush's second war: the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. There, three and a half years on, fighting and terrorism kill hundreds every month, providing the jihadists with both a banner around which to recruit and a live arena in which to sharpen their military skills.

They still see the invasion of Afghanistan as a success (because the warlords "cannot topple the government n Kabul") but, for the first time, they use unambiguously strong words about Iraq: invasion, jihad arena, etc... They still blame it on "Rumsfeldan incompetence", though.

Mr Bush and Tony Blair tried and failed to win a clear United Nations mandate for war. By invading without one, they made themselves vulnerable to the charge that the war was unlawful. The quarrel in the Security Council widened a rift between America and Britain on one hand and France, Germany and Russia on the other. But this would have counted for much less if the weapons of mass destruction had existed. When it transpired that they did not, Muslims—and many others—began to assume that they had been just a pretext.

(...)

There were those (such as this newspaper) who supported the Iraq war solely because of the danger that a Saddam Hussein with a biological or atomic bomb would indeed have posed. But Mr Bush and Mr Blair refused after the war to be embarrassed by the absence of the weapons that had so alarmed them beforehand. They stressed instead all the other reasons why it had been a good idea to overthrow Mr Hussein.

Are they finally, finally, getting a bit miffed at having been lied to and played for dunces, repeatedly? And just a bit ashamed of themselves for having supported those lies for so long and arguing all along that the invasion was a good idea but botched?

It's not clear. Their article is furiously ambiguous, alternating criticism of the situation on the ground, the execution, and the motivations with semi-lame justifications and heavy reliance on indirect sentences to hide behind third parties ("Muslims began to assume it was just a pretext" - seriously, how much more weaselly can you get?)

If it was all about dictatorship, what about the dictatorship the West continues to embrace in Saudi Arabia, and the quasi-dictatorship in Pakistan? If it was about helping Islam's moderates against its reactionaries, what is so clever about stepping in to someone else's civil war?

(...)

By what right do you invade someone else's country in order to impose a pattern of government?

Indeed? Good of them to ask these questions, but a clear and unambiguous reply would have been appropriate at this point. Nah.

Some curtailing of freedoms was inevitable. Yet Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the torture memos and extraordinary rendition have not just been unAmerican and morally wrong but also hugely counter-productive. In a battle that is largely about ideas, America seems to many to have abandoned the moral high ground and so won more recruits for the jihadists.

That's an issue they've been somewhat more consistent all along, so I won't bash them with it.

not every Islamist movement is inspired by the ideas that animate al-Qaeda. In Palestine Hamas is a pious (and vicious) version of a national-liberation movement with local goals, not another front in a global fight. Ditto, more or less, Hizbullah, except that it is also a tool of Iran. And Iran itself is better understood as an assertive rising (and dangerous) power that happens to have a theocratic constitution than as an ally of al-Qaeda, whose ideas come from a separate strand of Islam.

Ooh. Nuances... Local politics... Complexity...

The Economist has actually always been excellent at writing deep background stories about such multi-layered stories, bringing in the motivations of the parties in a pretty even handed way. This paragraph is itself a pretty good summary of what they can write at their best. Pity that the editorial crowd of the Economist stopped reading what the journalists of the Economist wrote - or deliberately chose to ignore it.

Al-Qaeda did not invent terrorism. In its Baader-Meinhof or Shining Path or Irish or Basque or Palestinian guise, terrorism was the background noise of the second half of the 20th century. But September 11th seemed to portend something new. There was something different in the sheer epic malevolence of the thing: more than 3,000 dead, with destruction sliding out of a clear blue sky, all captured on live TV. Most previous terror organisations had negotiable demands and therefore exercised a measure of restraint. Al-Qaeda's fantastic aims—sweeping away regimes, reversing history and restoring the caliphate—are married to an appetite for killing that knows no limits.

They are still struggling with the stupid idea that "everything is different now". All rational arguments which they bring to the table show that it's not so different. Al-Qaeda did not invent terrorism. But their ideological blinders (knee-jerk support for American exceptionalism) and the emotional impact of the 9/11 attack (promptly cultivated and abused by the Bush administration) won't let them admit it unambiguously.

What the article misses is the bigger picture.

  • Not a single mention of oil, which is frankly the only reason why our politicians and pundits care about in any way about the Arab world. The vicious circle of being dependent on Arab oil, propping up "friendly" (but deeply corrupt) regimes, and seeing local opponents turn their grievances into hate for the West which steals their resources and supports their oppressors, using religion, tolerated by all the local regimes, into a tool of political expression;

  • Not a single mention of the damage made to international law (which has built up over the past 60 years thanks to the USA's constant, if not always consistent, support), the terrible fact that the precedents of pre-emptive strikes, wars of choice and all out war on concepts have been handed to as a great future excuse for unscrupulous regimes around the world;

  • Not a mention of the fundamental breach that has appeared between Europe and the USA. The "West" has been shattered in a probably irremediable way;

  • and, finally, not a word on what could have been. In September 2001, all the governments of the planet wanted to support the USA, and would have done a lot of things not to get in their way. A massive push to close offshore financial havens, impose an international court with teeth, and real enforcement capacity for the UN would have been supported with little resistance. At home, a massive effort to change energy use patterns, and to launche a crash investment programme into sustainable energy sources would have been enthusiastically supported.

But no, the Economist is trying to justify its unflinching support for Bush's Iraq folly, and looking at the bigger picture would only serve to make them look even more foolish. The problem was not Rumsfeld incompetence, it was the perception that Al Qaida was a civilisational threat rather than gangsters with grievances, and the abuse of that perception by a power-hungry crowd in the White House, supported by shameless sycophants in the heart of what then were our more respectable papers and magazines.

No, the Economist, you won't get off the hook so easily.

Display:
Mr Bush and Tony Blair tried and failed to win a clear United Nations mandate for war.

Funny, I thought they saw which way the wind was blowing and jumped at the first chance to play the Blame France card. Does that count as trying now?

by det on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 06:54:14 AM EST
Jerome. An excellent brief analysis of America's failed foreign policy of the last five years.

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 08:05:43 AM EST
Does anyone in the world seriously believe that the invasion did not produce a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda?  It's simply undeniable.

It's nice to see The Economist finally getting a few things right.

Anyway, I'm out of here.  I need to ask a favor, though (and due apologies, Jerome, for doing so in this thread): If any of you see Miguel on today, would you ask him to check his email?  Thanks aead of time.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 08:59:43 AM EST
Hmmm, I've been checking my e-mail for the past 24 hours and there's nothing from Drew, who was supposed to fly into Gatwick this morning and stay with us for a night or two on his way to Nottingham but hasn't shown up yet...

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 12:29:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, I sent you an email.  Sorry again.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 10:36:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Got the e-mail now... Funny, it says it was sent "19 hours ago" but I didn't get it before going to bed 8 hours ago...

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 02:49:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm, that is odd.  GMail may have been doing some maintenance or something.  I don't know enough about it to speak with any intelligence.

I'm thinking of nominating Her Majesty's Immigration Service for Keith Olbermann's "Worst Persons in the World" segment (Dad's idea).  The entire issue simply blows my mind.  That they couldn't have simply let her through as a visitor, which would've given us six months to sort everything out, is frustrating to me, but I'm starting to think that there was a miscommunication -- that they thought she had lined up a job illegally when we suggested that she would want to look into the work/study necessary to become a teacher.  A few hundred thousand Muslims sympathetic to al-Qaeda, yet they're going to give some tiny American girl shit for this....  Much playing in the traffic to do.

I'm sure I must have missed something on the websites, so I suppose I should look in the mirror to find the person most at fault.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:27:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the rest of us are only getting half of that?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:30:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Drew needs to diary how his move to Nottingham was aborted by the deportation of his fiancee.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:32:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah. Whoops.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:33:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which would make an excellent Part II to Drew's Most Excellent Adventures.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:34:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So is that a total abort or a temporary hiccup?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:38:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no idea. I'm waiting for the diary ;-)

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 10:53:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Temporary.  I'm flying out tomorrow morning to get into Gatwick at around 7AM on Wednesday.  (Imagine my joy at spending more time in the arms of Delta.  thirty hours of the past 73)  Jen's on the phone with a potential employer and already has emails going with a few, so I guess this looks like it may be turning a negative into a positive.  (Insert heavy dosage of obnoxious American optimism here.)  She'll come out when she gets a visa in order.

It might indeed make for a decent second installment of my series, but I'll need to change the title a bit.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 05:05:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
frankly, the American reaction was stupidly over the top but what Europe, Japan, China have done.

did they really need US to change their politic against the muslim world ? where are our investment in new energy ?

we just stayed on the side, watching the show, weak.

by fredouil (fredouil@gmailgmailgmail.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 09:06:56 AM EST
The thing is, after 9/11, the leadership of the reaction could only come from the USA, and when it started going the way it did, there was little that could be done.

Europe should have started working on an energy policy anyway, that's most absolutely true.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 10:08:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are they finally, finally, getting a bit miffed at having been lied to and played for dunces, repeatedly? And just a bit ashamed of themselves for having supported those lies for so long and arguing all along that the invasion was a good idea but botched?

It's not clear. Their article is furiously ambiguous, alternating criticism of the situation on the ground, the execution, and the motivations with semi-lame justifications and heavy reliance on indirect sentences to hide behind third parties ("Muslims began to assume it was just a pretext" - seriously, how much more weaselly can you get?)

In a lot of ways, if they were being more straightforward then they would in effect be calling for the overthrow of the US Government. It would be a very big step for a magazine as respected as the economist.

Being a British based magazine, they are used to the delicate tap-dance that happens round the UK Libel laws, they are probably just applying the same techniques to telling the truth about the administration.

Unfortunately I'm not in a position to read the whole article. but I get the feeling that it's one step towards the edge. at some point one of the major newspapers or TV channels is just going to say Fuck it and leap over the edge, but at the moment no-one wants to be the first. But once one of them takes that step, there will be a blizzard of people following after.

When it comes down to it the only option would be for the administration to go out on mass arrests of the first paper to do this, and try and claim that they are committing treason. But my understanding is that the freedom of the press means that that will not fly.

This Bluff might keep the lid on things for a while but basically when the media jumps the game is up.

the main problem then is rounding the whole lot up and not leaving enough of them loose to repeat the whole sorry mess thirty years down the line.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 09:16:16 AM EST
When I saw their cover (a picture of NY with the cloud of 9/11 all over it), I expected them to post another abject justification on the war in Iraq and the rest, so I was surprised by the very real change in tone.

Your theory as to why they did not go further is intriguing, if a bit depressing (in that it is them, the very ones who enabled Bush's sorry adventures, that will decide to put it to an end - democracy and free speech seem so pointless if the big decisions happen only that way).

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 10:11:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think it's that depressing. in someways the views of the media follow where they think their viewers are at. And if the readers of the economist have in General been lost by the administration, then the world is in a much better situation than we think.

Free speach is still important, there's an old cartoon which runs

National Democracy

XXXXXXXXXXXXX.

Local Democracy

XXXXXXXXXXXXX.

this is your lifetime supply of democracy, Please do not steal the pencil.

looked at  in that way democracy does not seem to be that great a thing to have and any other way we have to put preasure on governments increases our participation. The media isn't just watching the government for us it's also the best way that the government has of watching us.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 11:53:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don´t know enough about the British libel laws so maybe you could elaborate?

Being a British based magazine, they are used to the delicate tap-dance that happens round the UK Libel laws, they are probably just applying the same techniques to telling the truth about the administration.

What would be the problem?
I mean saying the government is incompetent, their policies wrong, a change of government is needed...
Why would that be libel?
Especially in an editorial?
I could understand that it would be a very big step for "The Economist", given their reputation, but why should they be concerned about libel?
Or are British media so "accustomed" to libel suits that they follow "libel rules" everywhere in their reporting and editorials?

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 02:30:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not saying that this would be a libel, there is just a large history in the UK due to the way our libel laws are weighted, of the rich and powerful using the libel laws to conceal their misdeeds.

A good example of this was Robert Maxwell. he had a tendancy to sue at the drop of a hat. and at the time of his death was taking Private eye magazine to court for suggesting that he was ripping off his companies pension funds. The editor of Private eye, Ian Hislop freely admits that had the case come to court, he would have lost. as there was no possibility of them proving the allegation to the standard demanded.

After the death of the old crook, it was discovered that there was somewhere in the region of £400 million missing from the Pension funds, leading to the near collapse of a range of companies.

To defend against this posibility, when talking about individuals they have tended to have develope a somewhat eliptical style, which if you are used to it and can read between the lines you can tell what they are actually talking about, but there is a degree of plausible deniability in case it ever gets to court.

looking at the phrasing in this article that I've seen, it loks stylistically similar, as if they have made the step away but don't quite want to admit it to the administration yet.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 03:28:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Crossposted on dKos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/9/2/10251/91078

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 10:05:51 AM EST
Good diary from das monde over on Booman Tribune discussing what the War on Terror has accomplished: here.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 10:52:17 AM EST
The Pentagon has just come out with a new report on Iraq as well (dtd Aug 29).  The Wash Post says: "The Pentagon report, though consistent with what news media have reported for months, is significant because it represents an official acknowledgment of trends that are widely believed to be driving the country toward full-scale civil war."

See Pentagon Report for full text.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Sep 2nd, 2006 at 11:30:21 AM EST
Al Qaeda's "No 2" al-Zawahiri releaseda new video, where he urges Americans to convert to Islam. It is a chilling thought, but his words might actually work on a handfull of economically frustrated folks. That is the war on terror we got.
by das monde on Sun Sep 3rd, 2006 at 01:51:48 AM EST
I am a journalist at The Economist, covering CEE.  We have roundly criticised the administration for their incompetence. We demanded Rumsfeld's resignation, backed Kerry ahead of Bush, and continually criticise Bush for his lack of engagement in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Secondly the idea that "British" (actually English) libel laws in away constrain us from writing about the politics of America is fanciful.

by edwardlucas (firstnamelastname@economist.com) on Wed Sep 13th, 2006 at 01:01:28 PM EST
Welcome aboard.

I don't think that the point being made was that the libel laws constrained you rather that they tend to form a style of writing that takes them into account. Avoiding triggering them can be habit-forming!

The frustration evident in the story is because it appears that the Economist seem to be only now asking the questions that those of us who could clearly see where an attack on Iraq was most likely to go before it started were asking years ago. The purported reasons for the attack never made any sense. The predicted outcome was wildly optimistic. These things were obvious to many of us and we've been, sadly, proved right.

I'm not sure what you mean by "incompetence"? Do you mean incompetent to execute or incompetent, by reason of their distorted world-view, to hold office?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 13th, 2006 at 01:17:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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