World Opinion Roundup: Bush's People Power Problem
Tuesday, May 17, 2005; 1:00 PM
In his weekly discussion, washingtonpost.com staff writer Jefferson Morley conducts a freewheeling tour of the best of Internet news sites from Afghanistan to Beijing to Mexico City to Paris to Zimbabwe.
Jefferson Morley was online to answer your questions about the international media.
In this week's column, Morley writes about popular protests in Uzbekistan, the harsh response of its government, and Washington's cautious response. When People Power is a Problem.
Roundup brings the diversity of the global online media to your screen, presenting today's news and views from journalists, pundits and commentators from every continent. We'll talk about America in the eyes of the world, compare journalistic practices, analyze politics and perspectives, examine the nature of news and debate styles of journalism.
A transcript follows.
Jefferson Morley: Welcome everybody. It looks like we've got a lot of questions so let's get right to it.
Colorado Springs, Colo.: Why hasn't the media focused on the British note from the Bush administration stating that intelligence was being "fixed," for America to go to war with Iraq?
Why is the media allowing this government to continue to lie to the American people?
Jefferson Morley: I don't know why the press hasn't focused on the Times of London story. It shows clearly that the British government learned in July 2002 that the Bush administration had decided to go to war and was seeking to "fix" the facts and the intelligence so as to justify that course of action.
In my own case, I mentioned, and linked to, the story in my May 3 column but should have drawn more attention to it.
Here's a link to The Times story so you can judge for yourself.
Lyon, France: Do any of the protests in Uzbekistan have any connection to the flushing of Korans at Guantanamo by the Muslim detainees?
Jefferson Morley: No. There is no connection. The demonstrators in Uzbekistan who were killed by government troops were protesting the government's prosecution of 23 businessmen in the city of Andijon.
Arlington, Va.: Has there been any confirmation of the reports that the Uzbek government has boiled opponents ? I know this sounds pretty strange, but the rumor is out there and would be pretty gnarly if so. However, we must deal with many countries that do not have democracies, constitutions, the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and a whole host of other things we find objectionable - if it is in our interests. Either that, or change some of our interests and that can be inconvenient. Sure it would be great if everyone could be free, but sometimes that can be pretty risky to some of our interests. Cruel and unusual is somewhat ambiguous anyway. C'est la vie.
Jefferson Morley: I haven't heard about boiling but human rights groups both in Uzbekistan and abroad are consistent in reporting torture as a routine practice in Uzbek jails.
"C'est la vie" seems a callous reaction to a government's policy of torture. If you or your relatives were being tortured what would you say to someone who said "That's life?"
Cabin John, Md.: As a Korean American with an eye for history, I've been pretty wary about American presidents who talk about exporting "freedom" while supporting dictatorships. Korea's involvement with that started under Wilson with the March First Movement (which resulted in the Japanese crushing an independence movement) and included the later slaughtering of college students at Kwangju (Korea's own Tiananmen).
Though I feel for the Uzbeks, I would also caution others in the world to use a little skepticism when taking the word of an American president seriously.
Jefferson Morley: Thanks for your perspective on a historical event that I did not know of.
Yes, skepticism is in order in geopolitics where interests tend to prevail over ideals.
Arlington, Va.: Is Newsweek's back pedaling on its Koran-desecration allegations getting any coverage in the Arab press? Are Muslim press accounts of the story reflecting the notion that there now appears to be significant doubt as to whether this incident actually happened?
Jefferson Morley: The story is getting lots of coverage in the Arab press.
So far I'm seeing two themes in their reporting
1) Newsweek retracted the story under government pressure.
2) Desecration of the Koran may well have taken place.
See, for example, Islam Online's coverage.
Arlington, Va.: It's ironic to see a major press outlet like Newsweek displaying a conspicuous lack of cultural sensitivity, in its admitted failure to anticipate the angry Afghan reaction to its Koran story. As a remedy, perhaps Newsweek's editors and writers should be made to read your articles and chats. The views of the foreign press as presented here are consistently quite illuminating.
Jefferson Morley: Thanks. Next time I see my friends at Newsweek I will pass along your advice.
Oslo, Norway: With the start of the Al-Arian trial, is the U.S. preparing for the possibility of Hamas or other terrorist groups to attack?
Jefferson Morley: I'm not aware of any special preparations.
The man reason is that there is virtually no chance that Hamas will launch attacks in the United States.
Alexandria, Va.: Jeff-
How is the world reaction to the Newsweek Koran report/retraction?
Jefferson Morley: The world reaction is just starting to emerge.
Here's another example, from Agence France Presse.
Newsweek: So is Newsweek that widely circulated in Afghanistan?
Seriously, there have been reports for years about U.S. forces abusing the Koran in their interrogations, including a March 2002 hunger strike at Guantanamo because of it. Your own paper reported it in March 2003. Yet in the face of multiple sources and verifiable evidence, Newsweek rolled over and retracted an important, and demonstrably true, story.
The real news here isn't the story itself, it's the continued bullying of the U.S. press and their continued acquiescence to it. How is the foreign press handling this? Has the U.S. press become the new Pravda, in terms of credibility yet?
Jefferson Morley: The U.S. press has more credibility than Pravda but it certainly has a growing credibility problem in the eyes of the foreign press and foreign public opinion
Washington, D.C.: Newsweek can't take the blood.
Everything about the report of Koran desecration at Gitmo was credible until the rioting began. It seems like the responsibility for running the war has shifted from the government to the media. Why couldn't they quell the riots without Newsweek's patriotic intervention?
Jefferson Morley: I think you've discerned the administration's emerging strategy: to seize on Newsweek's mistake to shift responsibility for anti-American rage overseas from U.S. policies to U.S. media outlets.
Escanaba, Mich.: In response to your first questioner:
First, I want to say that I do not doubt the veracity of the Times story.
But I wonder, given the recent Newsweek debacle, is the media backing off of emotionally charged stories, even if they are true, for fear it may create more violence?
Personally, I don't think the violence was caused by that single Newsweek story. Even Gen. Meyers said as much. I think the Newsweek story was just the kettle boiling over from the 100,000 dead in the Iraqi war to reports of abuse at American prison camps throughout the world to the IRC's report that many detainees had committed no crime.
Thank you for listening and answering.
Jefferson Morley: I think the Newsweek debacle is going to make some more reticent about reporting on the American abuses of power. No news organization in Washington can long endure the political punishment that Newsweek is now suffering.
Takoma Park, Md.: Hello, re: Newsweek bad reporting
Is it because Newsweek is owned by The Washington Post, or that the false story was written by a former Post reporter, that it wasn't granted an editorial in today or yesterdays edition? It seems that every other newspaper in the country spoke about this in their Opinion or Editiorial pages. It would have been nice to see The Post be a little critical on this issue, don't you think?
Thank you for your time.
Jefferson Morley: No, I don't think it was because of the Post's ownership structure or Mike Isikoff's former employment that the Post editorial page didn't comment. They wrote the lead editorial today on the slaughter on Uzbekistan because, American self-absorption aside, that's a bigger story.
Also, I'm not talking out of school to tell you that Mike left the Post in a, let us say, conflictive staff situation.
Also, I know some of the editorial staff and I imagine they wanted to think about a fast-changing story for a day.
San Antonio, Tex.: "The cause of the rebellion, most online observers agree, is Karimov's authoritarian rule."
Jeff, you report today about the coverage of the Uzbek uprising by Scotland's The Herald. But in your own opinion, does Bush play fast and loose about selecting which democratic uprisings to support and which to ignore? How important is it to U.S. interests to have basing rights in Uzbekistan?
And a leftover question from me from one of your chats about eight weeks ago: Why is it so important for the U.S. to have military base rights in Iraq?
Jefferson Morley: The Uzbekistan clearly shows that the Administration's rhetoric about liberty is qualified by the imperatives of military strategy. The military base is important because it gives U.S. policymakers a secure platform from which to project power into the region. The U.S. can't do that from say Pakistan and, as the recent riots in Afghanistan show, its position there is not problem-free.
As for the possibility of U.S. military bases in Iraq, they would be even more valuable--closer to our antagonists in Iran and literally on top of Iraq's hundreds of billions of barrels of oil. If you control the ground over the oil, you can mightily influence the price, i.e.. keep it low for American voters.
That said, I think there is very little chance that the U.S. will secure permanent military bases in Iraq. That was one of the administration's pre-war illusions.
Washington, D.C.: Must be nice to pick and choose on this board which questions you wish to answer. Which are more suited to the way you lean politically. Might want to try being a little bit unbiased in these forums, not just in the questions you choose but the way you answer them as well. Just a thought.
Jefferson Morley: Thanks for the thought.
I especially like answering questions from people with points of view other than mine.
Submit a question and you will see.
Washington, D.C.: About the Uzbekistan government's boiling alive of political opponents, this story was reported in The Guardian in 2003 as "According to a forensic report commissioned by the British embassy."
Jefferson Morley: Thanks Washington.
Send that link if you have it.
Washington, D.C.: I agree that poster's "That's life" comment was pretty obnoxious. Unfortunately in the real world, utilitarian compromise is often necessary. i.e.- the U.S. didn't say anything about the protests because they let us use an airbase. The use of that airbase may save the lives of thousands (even taking into account the deaths of bombing targets).
Same as in Iraq- even if you accept the figure of 100,000 civilian deaths in 2 years, is that more or less than would have died from execution and/or illness and starvation from sanctions (and if someone counters to lift the sanctions to save lives, would those lives outnumber the potential casualties if Hussein developed a nuke)?
Jefferson Morley: Point well taken about utilitarian compromise.
I'm skeptical about the 100,000 civilians figure myself and no discussion of the Iraq war is complete without reckoning with the brutality of Saddam's regime.
The only point I would add is that the President did not cite Saddam's brutality as the reason for war.
Plymouth, Vt.: How are the international media viewing the prospect of John Bolton as our Ambassador to the U.N.?
Jefferson Morley: Dismally.
Quebec, Canada: This week, Palestinian leader Abbas commemorated the anniversary of independence of Israel as a "catastrophe for the Palestinian people." With Arab leadership that still promotes the ideal of Jews having their own state as such a grave injustice, why do the Israelis still waste their time trying to make peace with them?
Jefferson Morley: Because the Jews and the Palestinians have to live on the same land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. The alternative to peace is for Israel to drive the Palestinians off the land or to subjugate them by force, a choice that many Israelis find unacceptable. So, like many Palestinians, they seek peace
Rockville, Md.: On Monday, May 16 The Post reported that a Senate investigation had found that certain Russian people of influence were profiting from Saddam's oil. Are these the same Russians who convinced Putin at the start of the Iraq War that it would be prolonged and the U.S. would not achieve a quick victory? If so, how did they affect Russia's long term plans and actions at the start of the war? Also, has Bush or Rice addressed the issue of Chechnya lately as it too is a center of oil and terrorism?
Jefferson Morley: That's a good question and I don't think we have a clear answer yet.
The most prominent Russian accused in the oil for food scandal, Vladmir Zhirinovsky, is not a man who has much influence on Russian foreign policy decision making.
Greenville, S.C.: Last week a poster accused Victor Davis Hanson of "fraud" for minimizing the importance of the Red Army in World War II. You did not rebut the fraud allegation and instead said that Hanson wrote the referenced article in the Wall Street Journal to advance a pro-American agenda. While that article is not available free online this article is.
You may wish to link to this so that your readers can determine if it is fraudulent or a needed corrective to the picture painted of the war in the media.
Jefferson Morley: Thanks for the link Greenville. Letting people decide for themselves is usually a good idea.
Washington, D.C.: You really don't know why The Post hasn't focused on the Downing Street memo? We had a raging debate in this country about whether the administration had mislead the country into war in Iraq. Now apparently there is a high level government official (anonymous so far) on this side of the Atlantic who says the Downing Street memo is dead on. If the Post were to follow the advice of its own ombudsman and investigate the memo's allegations perhaps it would lead to grounds for impeachment or raise people's awareness of the deceit that has resulted in over 1,600 American deaths in Iraq. And that would make the Administration angry at the Post and THAT'S why The Post is studiously refusing to focus on the smoking gun memo. It is amazing that the Post can still call itself an independent news organization while turning a blind eye to the implications of the memo.
Jefferson Morley: I don't know that fear of administration anger is the reason. If it is, it is pathetic rationalization and, as you say, a failure of independence.
San Antonio, Tex.: "The military base is important because it gives U.S. policymakers a secure platform from which to project power into the region. The U.S. can't do that from say Pakistan and, as the recent riots in Afghanistan show, its position there is not problem-free."
Jeff, perhaps I'm missing something, but WHY is it so important for the U.S. to project power into the region by having a military base in Uzbekistan? Is it geographically important to control Afghanistan from Uzbekistan, or to control Pakistan and Musharraf? Or is the strategic geographic role towards the USSR or China? I would deeply appreciate you explaining just a bit more...
Jefferson Morley: The Bush administration's goal is "strategic dominance," the deployment of military forces to preclude any other state or group of states from deterring its pursuit of U.S. interests. Military bases in the Middle East and Central Asia are the means to that end. Oil and friendly governments are the prize.
Athens, Ga.: The Bush administration says the Newsweek retraction is "a start". What else do they what Newsweek to do? What else can it do?
Jefferson Morley: It can toe the administration line on its treatment of Muslim detainees. That is the purpose of the administration's offensive against Newsweek.
Herndon, Va.: Here's the Link to the Guardian article mentioned before:
Jefferson Morley: Thanks
Kennesaw, Ga.: Mr. Morley: To your knowledge, is the genocide in Darfur widely discussed or covered in Arab-language media? In what terms?
Jefferson Morley: In much the same terms, we discuss it: As an unfolding catastrophe that the world can't quite bring itself to do anything about.
There are also some apologetics for the Sudanese government and criticism that Washington seeking to attack another Muslim regime. The Bush administration's fallacious claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction have gone a long way toward discrediting the possibility of U.S.-led humanitarian intervention.
The Bush administration has rightly criticized the near genocidal practices of the Sudanese government. But the foreign press has been picking up the recent L.A. Times story documenting how, in the name of counterterrorism, the U.S. is collaborating with the Sudan intelligence agencies who are, at the very least, acquiescing in the savage violence directed at the people of Darfur.
Many in the Arab press see this tragedy clearly.
Arlington, Va.: Why was Russian food-for-oil allegations front page news yesterday and yet America's food-for-oil allegations not today?
For example: In fact, the Senate report found that U.S. oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together.
Jefferson Morley: Good point.
If the offense in the oil for food scandal was putting $$$ in Saddam's pocket. U.S. oil companies were the biggest offenders.
Silver Spring, Md.: Re: Newsweek
I'm glad that the White House pressured Newsweek to correct a story that was based on one unidentified source. The White House brain trust is expert at bad information leading to many deaths.
Jefferson Morley: Touche
Fairfax, Va.: Newsweek is, at least, culturally tone-deaf. I am also suspicious of its motives (did it believe, or want ever so much to believe that our government/military/administration is all out horrible).
Nevertheless, the Muslim masses who riot and kill each other bear the most responsibility for the carnage. They ought to think of praying for their detractors, who know not what they do.
Jefferson Morley: "Turn the other cheek" is perhaps the hardest religious dictum for Christians to observe. Its even harder for Muslims.
Re: Uzbekistan's torture practices: Google "Muzafar Avazov" for more information on this.
In a related issue, is Uzbekistan one of the nations to which the U.S. has been rendering prisoners of war?
Jefferson Morley: According to the New York Times, yes.
Worms, Germany: It is a worthy goal to promote democracy around the world, but is it not disingenuous to suggest that this will be done under any circumstances and that those, who rise to demand it, can count on American (or Western) support? Are these not complex decisions that are made because of a variety of reasons? If western governments think of a situation as too risky, too uncertain, too costly or if they fail to perceive any gain that would be the result of an intervention, they will not mind the death of millions, as the people of Rwanda can testify. Is it not true that in a case like Uzbekistan, when we really do not know who is demanding what for what reasons, we will more likely wait and see who wins, especially if the regime in power happens to be an ally in the war on terror, who claims that Islamist terrorists are behind the unrest? Is this not a perfect example that when it gets serious these decision suddenly get awfully complicated and idealistic statements are quickly forgotten?
Jefferson Morley: It is indeed a perfect example of the reality of geopolitics.
Anonymous: Mr. Morley, a comment:
I'm amazed at the feeding frenzy directed at the U.S. and NEWSWEEK for "instigating" this terrible loss of life over the desecration of the Koran.
Excuse me ... NO ONE appears to note that the religious fanatics who aided and abetted the rioting are as culpable -- if not more so -- than some silly MSM organ.
If Islam wants my kindly consideration, it might do well to EARN it. This doesn't help the cause. What shameful excess. Next time I hear the pabulum, "They don't value life as we do ..." I might be inclined to agree.
--former bleeding-heart liberal
Jefferson Morley: "A silly MSM organ"
That strikes me as a little ungenerous to Newsweek but your point that the rioting is the story, not the media, is well taken.
C'est la vie: Real life is that you can't get something for nothing, although Americans seem to think you can. Nothing is more ridiculous than a gas-guzzling SUV with a "War is not the Answer" bumper sticker - Well, yes it is if you want the oil needed to drive that thing and live 30 miles from where you work. I wish we had different behavior at home that would not cause us to elect people that have such detrimental policies abroad, but other than living a good life, voting and stirring the pot in the public square I'm not sure what else I can do. The media has more power and therefore more responsibility which they are shirking at the moment it seems to me. You may be an exception Mr. Morley.
Jefferson Morley: On that kindly note, I will sign off.
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Jefferson Morley: See you next week.
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