Sunday, August 8, 2004

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Al Jazeera's Forced Vacation

The Iraqi government's decision to shut down the Baghdad office of al Jazeera seems sure to backfire. Allawi justified the decision saying that the network's practice of airing videotaped terrorist demands amounted to incitement. The primary problem with this decision is its futility: al Jazeera can still broadcast into Iraq and the insurgents have shown themselves capable of disseminating their gruesome footage via the web (cf. Nick Berg's beheading). Since there does not appear to be much of an upside, we ought to consider the downside, most notably a propaganda field day for those opposed to the nascent Iraqi regime. Clearly, they will say, the U.S. occupiers have forced their puppets to shut down the only station that was telling the truth about Iraq, and so on. I strongly doubt that the United States in fact had anything to do with the decision, particularly since Rumsfeld admitted on Friday that there was little he could do about negative coverage from al Jazeera. (Interestingly, he does note prior attempts by the Iraqis to clip al Jazeera's wings by denying them press credentials.) But none of this will deter conspiracists in the region and elsewhere.

Given this cost, it will be interesting to see if our man in Baghdad makes any attempt to get the Iraqis to reverse their decision on the grounds of the "forward strategy of freedom" and all that.

posted by on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM


It will be bitterly amusing to listen to the complaints from the Arab countries which have state-controlled media.

posted by: Assistant Village Idiot on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

“Clearly, they will say, the U.S. occupiers have forced their puppets to shut down the only station that was telling the truth about Iraq...”

Heck, they are going to say that anyway. The current Iraqi government is in a no win situation. It will be under continuous attack by the radical left.

I agree with you that it is foolish to censor al Jazeera. But you still need to ask the real question: how should we respond when inevitably Iraqi officials commit human rights abuses and other chicanery? The greatest threat to the fledging government is that we demand it be perfect. Jeanne Kirkpatrick warned of this foolish tendency during her time in the Reagan administration.

posted by: David Thomson on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

Clearly, they will say, the U.S. occupiers have forced their puppets to shut down the only station that was telling the truth about Iraq, and so on.

In fact, if you read Al-Jazeera yesterday, they took exactly that tack. (The stories have changed now.) They didn't exactly blame it on the US, but the headlines looked something like:

Al-Jazeera shut down in Iraq
Al-Jazeera responds to US criticism
Al-Jazeera promises to continue

posted by: Bob McGrew on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

I think what is happening here is something that we need to monitor very closely. It has happened in the past, starting with the French revolutions, that dictators often start out with good intentions but begin to use repressive measures when the opposition starts squeezing them. As I understand it, some of the Alexanders of Russia, in the late 19th Century tried to loosen the tsarist controls until the terrorists of that time took the easing to demand more with bombs. I think we had some of that in Haiti within the last decade. And we've seen it in some South American countries. Some people on the left, where I station myself, and some of the loudest defenders of freedom of the press in this country may kneejerk against it. But the station will continue broadcasting into Iraq and as I understand that it is limited to a month (?). But what we have to watch carefully if this is a slide into well-intentioned dictatorship.

posted by: chuck rightmire on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

"I strongly doubt that the United States in fact had anything to do with the decision..."

Don't be so sure about this. George W. Bush has called Al-Jazeera "the mouthpiece of Osama Bin Laden", and this is absolutely not true. They broadcast the truth, even if it involves showing civilian deaths. It's not like they are faking the civilian deaths.

posted by: entertainment news on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

Even with all the propoganda, Al-Jazeera, probably had the most reporters on the ground, actually reproting, rather than sitting in the green-zone all day. Probably also had the highest casuality rate?

posted by: Jor on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

Wow .... AJ's telling the truth?

I wonder if the American servicemen & women still in Iraq would agree with that claim. Somehow I doubt it.

The new Iraqi government has one mission & goal - to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous Iraq which can work & play well with others. Period. How they get there is not nearly as important as their getting there.

Is AJ contributing to that task? I doubt it.

The thing to watch is not "How is the Iraqi interim government treating AJ?", it's "Is the Iraqi government still working toward elections and popular sovereignty for the Iraqi people?"

posted by: BradDad on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

“But what we have to watch carefully if this is a slide into well-intentioned dictatorship.”

That’s true. But we also must make sure that we don’t allow the radical leftists to persuade us to abandon the Iraqis for trivial reasons. I’m convinced that the Howard Dean types are staying relatively quiet merely to help John Kerry get elected. However, the very moment he takes office (God forbid)---these left wingers will almost certainly declare the new Iraqi government to be illegitimate and dictatorial.

posted by: David Thomson on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

All the Iraqi bloggers seem to be applauding this decision.

Whether they are a meaningful sample of elite opinion, I have no idea.

posted by: praktike on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

What I'm seeing here and I don't think it's very responsible in this site is a diatribe against one side or the other. Without going political about it, I think that the worst repercussion the U.S. could face on its action in Iraq is if that country votes itself into a new dictatorship. Actions taken under emergency grants in time of crisis can quickly grow into authoritarianism rule.

posted by: chuck rightmire on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

If Iraq does wind up being ruled by another dictator, even one voted into office, that sort of plays merry hell with the last standing justification for the war: that we were bring "Western-style democracy" to Iraq.

posted by: CaseyL on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

Casey, they will just move the goalposts and find a new justification. And I am not being facetious as they have already done it a couple of times already: WMDs ---> Ties to Al Qaeda ---> Establishing a Democracy ----> Creating a free Iraq.

posted by: Spin Doctor on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

I was being a bit facetious: I know the war was only ever about kicking someone's ass because the America Uber Alles brigades were scared. There was just too much Gloat-N-Glee when the war started, and too much "f*ckit, kill 'em all" when the insurgency got going.

posted by: CaseyL on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

I suspect Dan will have to apply whatever the discussion-board equivalent of flea powder liberally when he gets back.

Let's remember what al Jazeera is: a television station run from, funded by and operating with the permission of the government of Qatar. It happens that the emir of Qatar for some years has pursued a policy of internal liberalization, including an elected legislature with some real power and education for women, which greatly eases his country's relations with the United States and the West generally but could potentially make it a target for Islamist extremists. Al Jazeera's news coverage, by giving such extremists every benefit of the doubt and giving time to Arab-speaking voices that the predominantly English-speaking world media cannot, has been effective in directing the attention of Islamists elsewhere.

This is good for Qatar. Its impact on Iraq is more problematic. What Allawi has done is to point out that giving to give the terrorists in Iraq a forum is to help them -- and since these terrorists kill many more Iraqis than they do people of all other nationalities combined he has good reason to prod his people into debating whether al Jazeera is helping people who want to kill and oppress them. Really Allawi is taking up the slack from a dismally weak American public diplomacy, which should have been pounding away at this very theme long before the war in Iraq began.

posted by: Zathras on 08.08.04 at 01:10 PM [permalink]

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