Thursday, September 08, 2011

"9/11" is not an excuse for silly

Hard to say who's more at fault here -- a Washington Bureau reporter who has no idea what he's writing about, or a desk that fails to challenge the reporter's cluelessness, then amplifies it in a first-person headline. Let's get straight to the point:

When terrorists attacked New York and Washington in 2001, the Middle East was firmly in the control of authoritarian leaders. Some of them were staunch allies of the United States who tolerated the growing threat from Osama bin Laden.

Irrelevant to the extent it's true, and false to the extent it's relevant, but go on.

A decade later, bin Laden is dead, al-Qaida has been set back and the autocrats in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan and, at least for now, Yemen have been swept from power by their own people — a series of sometimes deadly protests and battles now known as the Arab Spring.

OK. This should be a hint. "Spring" doesn't last 10 years. (The "Prague spring" began in spring, but it wasn't spring 1958). Conflating the US invasion of Afghanistan with the "Arab spring" -- let alone the killing of bin Laden and assorted setbacks to the Qaida organization -- is the sort of breathless fawning that gave the Dispatch of old its reputation as a happy prancing tool of the hard Republican right.

Although analysts are deeply divided about whether U.S. policy brought about this remarkable transformation, they say that the U.S. is safer today than when the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed and nearly 3,000 Americans died at the hands of terrorists.


Yes, I think we can say by definition that we're safer when people aren't killing us at Blitz-level rates than when they are. But we need to narrow down which "remarkable transformation" we're talking about. No one's "divided" over the US role in sweeping the Taliban from power (though you could get a pretty good argument if you insist on counting Mullah Omar in the same class of autocrats as Mubarak or Ben Ali, and if you're scoring along at home, you've probably noticed that the Taliban weren't "swept out by their own people"). That was the point of the invasion, and it worked.


What US policy had to do with the "Arab spring," on the other hand, is a topic of debate. If you are desperate to find some benefit among the multiple fatuous justifications for the 2003 Iraq debacle, you might claim the set of uprisings called the "Arab spring" are an ordained reflection of US policy decisions. If you're a grownup,* on the other hand, you might lean more toward a naturalistic explanation: Sometimes those pesky natives get tired of the dirtbags in power and take matters into their own hands. That's a debate. It may not be a very good one, but at least it's a debate. With that, let's go back to our reporter:

... In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack, Bush articulated a new U.S. strategy that would promote democracy, saying that “as long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.’’

... When Obama took office in 2009, he showed little enthusiasm for Bush’s approach, giving only tepid support in 2009 to Iranians protesting the apparently fraudulent outcome of that country’s presidential election.


That's a convenient elision. Bush's "approach" to democracy is best exemplified by the irrational, destructive and stupid invasion of Iraq. One of the many reasons it was stupid was its effect on the neighborhood. What's the most important lesson Iran learned from the invasion? That if some loony in Washington sets out to bully his electorate into thinking you have a nuclear weapon and pose an existential threat to Our Way of Life, you might as well go ahead and have a few, because sweet reason** isn't going to head off a pretty nasty combined-arms war in which a lot of your civilians will die.*** If the Dispatch thinks that outcome has somehow "left us safer," it needs to start looking into beachfront property and bridges into Brooklyn.

It's kind of regrettable to point all this out. America is a big country, and it'd actually be a good idea if newspapers in state capitals and major population centers could write competently about issues of public significance. The Dispatch ought to get a little credit for not just waiting for a wire service to tell it what it thinks. Fine. Let's encourage that -- but let's be sure that when writers produce clueless partisan swill, they're sent back to try again before they're rewarded with a 1A spot. Even if, or especially if, they've already been awarded a spot in your Washington bureau.

* The Dispatch insists on calling this a "left-leaning" view. It isn't, and if the Dispatch doesn't want to be mistaken for its old self too often, it would do well to buy a clue.

** Or -- not to put too fine a point on it -- a massive off-the-books federal spending deficit that you can then blame on the scary colored socialist Muslim dude from Kenya.
*** Can you believe that a fairly substantial body of right-wing opinion favored John Bolton as a presidential nominee?

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