Commentary Magazine


Topic: The Herald

Asymmetry in Lebanon

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

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How an Internet Myth Is Born

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

Further to my post from yesterday casting more than a little doubt on the veracity of the report about an imminent attack on Iran (J.E. Dyer backed me up  here with some hard facts), I’ve done a little more digging about the three sources quoted in the Scottish Herald article. Of Dr. Daniel Plesch of the University of London and his recurrent predictions of an imminent American attack on Iran, I have already written extensively here. The other two sources also deserve some scrutiny. Ian Davis heads a think tank called NATO WATCH. He also has his own “consultancy,” which seems to amount to a webpage with his own writings. His think tank does not seem to be too crowded with experts — Ian Davis appears to be the only guy, though there is a long list of associates and a history of cooperation with outfits that curiously stand for nuclear disarmament.

NATO WATCH’s address is also more than a little odd — Strath 17, by the Gairloch Loch, in the Scottish Highlands. Pretty place it must be, but you’d think that a think tank dedicated to being the watchdog of NATO might be closer to the alliance’s headquarters, no? Then again, the website says that NATO WATCH is a virtual think tank, so who am I to find it a bit more than suspicious that, to produce an unsubstantiated accusation that America is about to go to war against Iran, a Scottish paper turns to NATO WATCH for reasons other than it happens to be in the neighborhood. Funny also is the fact that two of the quoted experts/sources are also in Scotland (aside from Ian Davis, there is the CND local guy, Ales MacKinnon). And all three of them happen to have campaigned for or written in favor of nuclear disarmament, are on the record as hostile to American policies in the Middle East, and in the past expressed some degree of support for Iran’s claims.

All this, of course, is speculation. But I hereby propose a theory. A Scottish paper with an anti-nuclear editorial line (and all the baggage that comes with it) chooses to spin a news item to accuse America of warmongering — again. To back it up, the paper calls three ideological fellow travelers who supply the backup for the story – not the facts, but the backup, by which I mean the spin and the gravitas that goes with their titles. The paper publishes the story. And the global media, going into a frenzy, reprints it without basic fact-checking. You can examples of this rush to judgment, devoid any effort to question the veracity of the story, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here just to start.

Even Rick Moran, at the American Thinker’s blog, having read the story in reputable media sources, took it for granted that the information was plausible. Having quoted the Times of India’s verbatim reproduction of the Herald story, Moran goes on to say that “along with other signs of increased activity, one analyst who has been tracking US preparations believes that at the very least, President Obama will have the option of striking Iran” — and then quotes Dan Plesch. Moran then goes on to offer his take.

What’s my point? Aside from thinking that this is some high jinks by three pranksters and a complicit journalist backed by a complacent editor, my point is that the global media did not do its homework. Nobody fact-checked a story that had not been fact-checked to begin with, because they did not want to hold off reprinting disseminating it — either due to time pressures (the Internet is SO fast!) or other constraints.

Curiously enough, one news outlet seems to have gotten it at least half right — or to have let the truth slip out, at any rate. It’s — believe it or not — Russia Today, which titles their piece “Disarmament activist warns of new war.” It then proceeds to quote extensively Alex MacKinnon from CND Scotland (yep, same guy as above) and to interview Paul Ingram, from BASIC — NATO WATCH’s partner! It seems all pretty well coordinated to me.

And so it goes – this is how Internet myths are born.

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RE: Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran? Check the Source First

Emanuele Ottolenghi’s instincts are spot-on regarding the Scottish Herald report of bunker-buster bombs going to Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia is a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean where the U.S. has maintained storage and communication facilities for decades. The island is a hub in our global network of prepositioned supplies and ammunition; shipments to and from the island occur far more often than we go to war.

The bomb shipment discussed in the Herald item isn’t of a kind that happens frequently, but it’s exactly the sort that happens as a result of long-term contingency planning. The Pentagon parks ammunition in certain spots around the world to support the operations we may have to undertake. Standing policy drives these preparations most of the time.

The bombs in question — assuming the Herald got their nomenclature right — aren’t our most impressive bunker-busters anyway. The BLU-110 and BLU-117 bombs described in the report are 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs, respectively: weight classes we have used since the early 1990s or before. Fitting these bombs with modern guidance packages and improved penetration capability has given them more punch, but it doesn’t place them in the same category as our premier weapons.

For comparison, the bunker-busters we sold to Israel in 2005 are 5,000-pound weapons. In the U.S. inventory we have an 18,700-pound bunker-buster and a newer 30,000-pound penetrating bomb. Without turning this into “Bomb 101,” the point to take away is that we move the little bombs, which are the workhorses of our inventory, on a more routine basis than we do the big, exotic bombs. Presidents since Bill Clinton have wanted the military to be prepared to attack Iranian targets if it should become necessary, and having the right bombs staged forward is part of that effort. We can deduce from the shipment to Diego Garcia that the military is updating CENTCOM’s inventory and that Obama hasn’t ruled out a military approach to Iran. But there are no grounds to conclude that a strike must be imminent.

Emanuele Ottolenghi’s instincts are spot-on regarding the Scottish Herald report of bunker-buster bombs going to Diego Garcia. Diego Garcia is a British-owned island in the Indian Ocean where the U.S. has maintained storage and communication facilities for decades. The island is a hub in our global network of prepositioned supplies and ammunition; shipments to and from the island occur far more often than we go to war.

The bomb shipment discussed in the Herald item isn’t of a kind that happens frequently, but it’s exactly the sort that happens as a result of long-term contingency planning. The Pentagon parks ammunition in certain spots around the world to support the operations we may have to undertake. Standing policy drives these preparations most of the time.

The bombs in question — assuming the Herald got their nomenclature right — aren’t our most impressive bunker-busters anyway. The BLU-110 and BLU-117 bombs described in the report are 1,000- and 2,000-pound bombs, respectively: weight classes we have used since the early 1990s or before. Fitting these bombs with modern guidance packages and improved penetration capability has given them more punch, but it doesn’t place them in the same category as our premier weapons.

For comparison, the bunker-busters we sold to Israel in 2005 are 5,000-pound weapons. In the U.S. inventory we have an 18,700-pound bunker-buster and a newer 30,000-pound penetrating bomb. Without turning this into “Bomb 101,” the point to take away is that we move the little bombs, which are the workhorses of our inventory, on a more routine basis than we do the big, exotic bombs. Presidents since Bill Clinton have wanted the military to be prepared to attack Iranian targets if it should become necessary, and having the right bombs staged forward is part of that effort. We can deduce from the shipment to Diego Garcia that the military is updating CENTCOM’s inventory and that Obama hasn’t ruled out a military approach to Iran. But there are no grounds to conclude that a strike must be imminent.

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Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran? Check the Source First

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

Mistrust the press — that is one important lesson from Max Boot’s post about Mark Perry’s sensationalist (and sensationally inaccurate) attribution of the U.S.-Israel fallout to General Petraeus.

Elsewhere in the news, be prepared for more instances of the mass media’s inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. Take the report that the U.S. is seemingly getting ready to bomb Iran. The Herald, the Scottish daily, notes that a shipment has left California with military supplies for Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean. This shipment includes huge quantities of bunker busters. Now all this may be true — but their news story is that these supplies are in preparation of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

The source of this analysis?

Professor Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

According to the Herald, Plesch said:

They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran … US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours … The preparations were being made by the US military, but it would be up to President Obama to make the final decision. He may decide that it would be better for the US to act instead of Israel … The US is not publicising the scale of these preparations to deter Iran, tending to make confrontation more likely …

How many times has Professor Plesch claimed this before?

OpenDemocracy, March, 21, 2005, “Iran, the coming war“:

So when might the attack on Iran occur? The Bush administration has, from its perspective, allowed the Europeans and the non-proliferation diplomats enough time to fail. They will certainly use the UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament from 2-27 May 2005 as an opportunity to grandstand.

For US domestic political purposes a “crisis” in spring 2006 when the EU and the UN can once more be confronted with their alleged failures, and challenged to support US leadership, would be timely for mid-term elections in which the ultra-conservative coalition will wish to consolidate its gains and eliminate any nascent moderate or realistic Republican candidate in good time for the 2008 presidential election.

The Guardian, “Are we going to war with Iran?” October, 21, 2005:

A new war may not be as politically disastrous in Washington as many believe … For an embattled President Bush, combating the mullahs of Tehran may be a useful means of diverting attention from Iraq and reestablishing control of the Republican party prior to next year’s congressional elections. From this perspective, even an escalating conflict would rally the nation behind a war president. As for the succession to President Bush, Bob Woodward has named Mr Cheney as a likely candidate, a step that would be easier in a wartime atmosphere. Mr Cheney would doubtless point out that US military spending, while huge compared to other nations, is at a far lower percentage of gross domestic product than during the Reagan years. With regard to Mr Blair’s position, it would be helpful to know whether he has committed Britain to preventing an Iranian bomb “come what may” as he did with Iraq.

New Statesman, February, 19, 2007, “Iran — ready to attack”:

American military operations for a major conventional war with Iran could be implemented any day. They extend far beyond targeting suspect WMD facilities and will enable President Bush to destroy Iran’s military, political and economic infrastructure overnight using conventional weapons.

Four predictions in five years — and no war so far.

Professor Plesch does not seem to have his fact-checking machine and his sources up to date, tuned in, and reliably informed. It may not matter to some media outlets, which will probably continue to publish on ideological rather than factual grounds.

Still, journalists should remember that a good news story cannot rely just on the sensation of the message but must also ensure the credibility of the messenger. With Professor Plesch, it seems, this is just not the case.

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Zimbabwe: Don’t Hold Your Breath

Across the world yesterday, hope was rife that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe would actually step down, rather than try to steal the election he had just lost. Such news made the front page of today’s New York Times. Things have become so bad in Zimbabwe that, amidst the dizzying good news of election returns in the opposition’s favor, rumors of Mugabe’s departure began to spread. But as with so many reports of Robert Mugabe’s imminent demise, these too were greatly exaggerated.

Today, The Herald, a state-run newspaper, says that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission will report that no candidate gained a majority in the presidential race. The ZEC will also certify a tie in the parliamentary elections between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition MDC, thus triggering a runoff between Mugabe and his main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai. Yesterday, there was speculation that Mugabe would step down rather than submit himself to the humiliation of a runoff. But this speculation was baseless: losing at the polls is far more humiliating for a dictator who has served for nearly three decades than giving election theft a second try.

The New York Times reports:

A Zimbabwean businessman with close links to the ruling party, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the nation’s military and intelligence chiefs discussed several options with the president after the vote appeared to go badly. These included the outright rigging of the election, going to a runoff and even the “elimination” of Mr. Tsvangirai. [Emphasis added]

Yesterday’s optimism was unfounded. This is not the sort of regime that allows anyone else to win elections.

Across the world yesterday, hope was rife that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe would actually step down, rather than try to steal the election he had just lost. Such news made the front page of today’s New York Times. Things have become so bad in Zimbabwe that, amidst the dizzying good news of election returns in the opposition’s favor, rumors of Mugabe’s departure began to spread. But as with so many reports of Robert Mugabe’s imminent demise, these too were greatly exaggerated.

Today, The Herald, a state-run newspaper, says that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission will report that no candidate gained a majority in the presidential race. The ZEC will also certify a tie in the parliamentary elections between the ruling ZANU-PF and opposition MDC, thus triggering a runoff between Mugabe and his main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai. Yesterday, there was speculation that Mugabe would step down rather than submit himself to the humiliation of a runoff. But this speculation was baseless: losing at the polls is far more humiliating for a dictator who has served for nearly three decades than giving election theft a second try.

The New York Times reports:

A Zimbabwean businessman with close links to the ruling party, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the nation’s military and intelligence chiefs discussed several options with the president after the vote appeared to go badly. These included the outright rigging of the election, going to a runoff and even the “elimination” of Mr. Tsvangirai. [Emphasis added]

Yesterday’s optimism was unfounded. This is not the sort of regime that allows anyone else to win elections.

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U.S. “Magic” Is Fini!

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has come to a decision: Regarding America, says M. Kouchner, “I think the magic is over.”

C’est fini? The Herald Tribune reports:

Asked whether the United States could repair the damage it has suffered to its reputation during the Bush presidency and especially since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Kouchner replied, “It will never be as it was before.”

You mean Americans will never enjoy the reputation we had amongst the French before 2003? Say it isn’t so. Oh yeah, and the funny thing about that U.S.-led invasion in 2003 is that Kouchner was, how-do-you-say, for eet:

The sovereignty of states can be respected only if it emanates from the people inside the state. If a state is a dictatorship, then it is absolutely not worthy of the international community’s respect.

So, what is he for now?

Asked whether there is a way to engage Hamas, which is supported by a significant minority of Palestinians, Kouchner appeared to hold out hope of contact, saying: “I’m looking for a diplomatic way to say yes.”

Looking for a way to be diplomatic about saying you want to be diplomatic can take a Frenchman a while. Perhaps this time is best used to consider Kouchner’s place in that rich European tradition of predicting America’s demise. There were all those German thinkers like Hegel and Nietzsche who knew our decadence would do us in. Needless to say the Nazis picked up where they left off and had us pegged for goners. Marx, too, knew of the inevitable American downfall, and the Soviet leaders killed millions of their own while relishing the prospect of America’s end. More recently, the European Union, (which actually seems historical, too) was poised to take the place of the world’s debauched and dying superpower.

Though things didn’t go as they all predicted, I’m sure that this time Bernard Kouchner is right. And I’m sure what he says has nothing to do with what he said a few years ago in defense of his pro-American invasion stance: “In my country it’s not easy at all. If you are a pioneer you are a target and if you are the winner you are more targeted than before.” Nah, can’t be that.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has come to a decision: Regarding America, says M. Kouchner, “I think the magic is over.”

C’est fini? The Herald Tribune reports:

Asked whether the United States could repair the damage it has suffered to its reputation during the Bush presidency and especially since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Kouchner replied, “It will never be as it was before.”

You mean Americans will never enjoy the reputation we had amongst the French before 2003? Say it isn’t so. Oh yeah, and the funny thing about that U.S.-led invasion in 2003 is that Kouchner was, how-do-you-say, for eet:

The sovereignty of states can be respected only if it emanates from the people inside the state. If a state is a dictatorship, then it is absolutely not worthy of the international community’s respect.

So, what is he for now?

Asked whether there is a way to engage Hamas, which is supported by a significant minority of Palestinians, Kouchner appeared to hold out hope of contact, saying: “I’m looking for a diplomatic way to say yes.”

Looking for a way to be diplomatic about saying you want to be diplomatic can take a Frenchman a while. Perhaps this time is best used to consider Kouchner’s place in that rich European tradition of predicting America’s demise. There were all those German thinkers like Hegel and Nietzsche who knew our decadence would do us in. Needless to say the Nazis picked up where they left off and had us pegged for goners. Marx, too, knew of the inevitable American downfall, and the Soviet leaders killed millions of their own while relishing the prospect of America’s end. More recently, the European Union, (which actually seems historical, too) was poised to take the place of the world’s debauched and dying superpower.

Though things didn’t go as they all predicted, I’m sure that this time Bernard Kouchner is right. And I’m sure what he says has nothing to do with what he said a few years ago in defense of his pro-American invasion stance: “In my country it’s not easy at all. If you are a pioneer you are a target and if you are the winner you are more targeted than before.” Nah, can’t be that.

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A Warm Welcome

Last week James D. McGee, the new American ambassador to Zimbabwe, formally presented his diplomatic credentials to Robert Mugabe. This will not be an easy assignment, and Harare is a place where diplomats earn their chops. McGee’s predecessor, Christopher Dell, is the new Deputy Chief of Mission to Afghanistan. Amidst all of Mugabe’s paranoid rantings about supposed British and American plots to overthrow him, Dell quipped on his way out that the Zimbabwean government was “doing regime change to itself.”

Welcoming McGee to Zimbabwe was Caesar Zvayi, the political editor of the Herald, the state newspaper. He begins his column by stating that McGee, who is black, “is one of our own, at least as far as skin color is concerned.” This is but the least of Zvayi’s offenses to reason (never mind prose style). He writes that Zimbabwe “hope[s] he will not shame the ancestors in whose loins he crossed the Atlantic to his adopted home” and that McGee “should never forget that he is descended from slave ancestors and those who enslaved his forebears are the same people trying to preserve ill-gotten colonial gains in Zimbabwe today.”

Zvayi’s piece really ought to be read in full, for there are not many countries left in the world in which the official newspapers contain such openly racialist propaganda.

Last week James D. McGee, the new American ambassador to Zimbabwe, formally presented his diplomatic credentials to Robert Mugabe. This will not be an easy assignment, and Harare is a place where diplomats earn their chops. McGee’s predecessor, Christopher Dell, is the new Deputy Chief of Mission to Afghanistan. Amidst all of Mugabe’s paranoid rantings about supposed British and American plots to overthrow him, Dell quipped on his way out that the Zimbabwean government was “doing regime change to itself.”

Welcoming McGee to Zimbabwe was Caesar Zvayi, the political editor of the Herald, the state newspaper. He begins his column by stating that McGee, who is black, “is one of our own, at least as far as skin color is concerned.” This is but the least of Zvayi’s offenses to reason (never mind prose style). He writes that Zimbabwe “hope[s] he will not shame the ancestors in whose loins he crossed the Atlantic to his adopted home” and that McGee “should never forget that he is descended from slave ancestors and those who enslaved his forebears are the same people trying to preserve ill-gotten colonial gains in Zimbabwe today.”

Zvayi’s piece really ought to be read in full, for there are not many countries left in the world in which the official newspapers contain such openly racialist propaganda.

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