Daniel Seaman, chairman of Israel’s Government Press Office, declared today that the al-Dura news report was staged. This was the report filmed on September 30, 2000 at Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip by a Palestinian cameraman employed by state-owned French channel France 2, which purported to show the death of a Palestinian boy at the hands of the Israeli army. The news broke in the Israeli media this morning, is spreading in the United States, but has not pierced the firewall of mainstream media in France.
In the voice-over to the footage, France 2 Jerusalem bureau chief Charles Enderlin dramatically described the “death” of the twelve-year-old Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Dura, “target of gunfire from the Israeli position.” The 55-second video was immediately broadcast worldwide and assimilated by unsuspecting viewers. It functioned as a blood libel, justifying atrocities against Israelis and Jews.
For seven years investigators and analysts have labored relentlessly to counter that unfounded accusation. For seven years Charles Enderlin and France 2, protected by the Chirac government and upheld by mainstream media, have stifled criticism and discredited these investigators. The Israeli government, pursuing a “let sleeping dogs lie” policy, discouraged efforts to expose the hoax. Jewish organizations shied away from the controversy.
In today’s New York Times we read this:
The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.
This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”
The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.
• Last week Mary McCarthy, this week her ex-husband: I’ve been perusing two new Library of America volumes devoted to the essays of Edmund Wilson, who is now remembered chiefly by literary historians and readers of a more-than-certain age but once was America’s best-known literary critic. Between them, Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920’s and 30’s and Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930’s and 40’s contain all of Wilson’s collected literary articles from the first half of his career. Additional volumes are in the pipeline, but these two bring together the bulk of Wilson’s most significant literary criticism in a convenient and attractive format not too far removed from that of the elegant little crown octavo volumes he favored for his essay collections.
I have no doubt that Wilson would have been pleased by these two volumes, for the Library of America was his idea, more or less, and for the most part it has been executed along the lines he had in mind when he envisioned a publishing venture devoted to “bringing out in a complete and compact form the principal American classics.” Yet I wonder how widely they will be read, and I’m not sure that Wilson’s memory will be served best by republishing his original collections in toto, as the Library of America apparently plans to do. Not only did he spend a fair amount of time and energy reviewing books that are no longer of any great interest today, but his work almost always becomes silly, even squalid, whenever it strays from the narrow path of art. In his journals, for instance, he preserved for posterity an enervatingly complete record of his senile couplings, while his political views were left-wing in all the most tiresome ways. Though deeply disillusioned by Stalin, Wilson thereafter embraced the idiot notion of moral equivalence between the Soviet Union and the United States; on one infamous occasion he compared their relationship to that between a pair of hungry sea slugs bent on mutual engorgement.
A young, pro-American, “neolibertarian” blogger from Argentina named Pablo Martin Pozzoni recently wrote me this lament:
A few months ago I got the chance that I never have had before: to visit the country that I admire the most, because of what it is and represents, I had to stubbornly defend my decision against the hysterical anti-Americanism for which my country is well known…. This simple dream was cut short…not because of an economic or political situation in my country [but] by the Embassy of the United States…. Without taking into account my motivations or interests, I was considered something that anybody that knows me, and I am well known in Internet, will realize that is unthinkable and even laughable: a potential illegal immigrant.
It reminded me of other such tales. The Czech Republic and Poland, two of our staunchest allies, were on the brink of winning non-visa entry into the U.S. for their citizens, which several western European countries enjoy, when the deal was scotched by 9/11. Instead, would-be Czech and Polish visitors have to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for a visa application (which is not refundable) and wait on long lines. If this doesn’t cure their philo-Americanism, nothing will.
The ostensible reason is security, but I doubt there has ever been a Czech or Polish terrorist who targeted the U.S. The real purpose of the screening process is to weed out anyone who might wish to stay in the U.S. But what harm, exactly, would a few Czech, Polish, or Argentine illegal immigrants do? And is that harm—such as it might be—worth the ill will we invite at a time when we have a serious dearth of foreign friends?
The stories get even more absurd. This June, when President Bush tried to revivify his democracy-promotion agenda by delivering a stem-winder at a conference in Prague organized by Natan Sharansky and Vaclav Havel, and meeting with a group of dissidents from around the world, the most important Iranian dissident who had been invited was unable to attend. Mohsen Sazegara was scheduled to be one of the conference’s speakers, but he was forced to cancel: U.S. immigration authorities refused to promise him undelayed reentry into the U.S. (where he lives in exile).
Bill Richardson is not among the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates. But he is notable for having more foreign-policy experience than the leading three: John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. He served as UN ambassador from 1997 to 1998 and then went on to head the Department of Energy, where he dealt not only with the problems posed by OPEC and our dependence on imported oil, but also with the dependability and security of America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.
With a two-theater war under way, and the menace of Iran’s nuclear program looming over the horizon, is Richardson worth a second look? Is he made of presidential timber, or perhaps vice-presidential timber?
We got a glimpse of him this past weekend on Face the Nation, where Bob Schieffer questioned him on what to do about Iran.
Richardson was adamant that he would not have invited the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University and is “glad we didn’t let him go to Ground Zero.” He expressed determination to stop Iranian interference with the American war effort in Iraq: “We cannot have them, obviously, continue helping the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards in Iraq.” And he is also determined to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring the most fearsome weapon known to man: “we cannot have Iran have nuclear weapons.”
This is tough talk. What are Richardson’s means for realizing these laudable objectives? The way to accomplish them, he told Schieffer, “perhaps is a carrot-and-stick policy.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set African leaders astir with his ultimatum concerning an upcoming European Union/African Union conference in Lisbon, Portugal. Brown has laid down a simple condition for his attendance at the December conference: that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe not attend. “We should not sit down at the same table as President Mugabe,” Brown told the Labour Party conference last week. He elaborated
We will play our part also in helping all those people who want to work together to make sure there is social and economic justice, and then political justice, also for the Zimbabwean people. We are ready to play our part in the reconstruction and in the building of a democracy…. There must be democracy restored to Zimbabwe.
Many of Tony Blair’s friends in America were unsure of his successor’s commitment to global freedom, but Brown’s principled and uncompromising stand on the Mugabe tyranny should assuage most, if not all, of those doubts.
African leaders, who have done nothing of substance to assist Mugabe’s exit from power (and have actually aided him whenever the democratic opposition to his rule came close to weakening his regime) are angry at Mr. Brown’s provocation. It is expected that if the EU follows the British Prime Minister’s suggestion and retracts Mugabe’s invitation, the entire summit will collapse due to African states’ boycotting the event. European diplomats, unwilling to take any step that would cause offense or discomfort to dictators, are already busying themselves condemning Mr. Brown to the media.
I have a compromise solution to this seemingly intractable quandary. Brown should at once rescind his opposition to Mugabe’s attendance at the Lisbon summit, and instead express his giddy anticipation at greeting the Zimbabwean president in Portugual come December. The EU should officially waive the travel ban it placed on Mugabe in 2002 and ceremoniously grant him a visa. When Mugabe steps off his plane (AirZimbabwe’s only international jet, which Mugabe regularly commandeers on a whim, throwing the national carrier’s schedule into chaos), he will be greeted by a Hague-appointed prosecutor serving him an indictment for crimes against humanity. The Portuguese police will then take him promptly into custody. I hope this is an idea Brown is already contemplating.