Friday, March 21, 2003

Since around-the-clock television coverage, with its blurry videophone images and mysterious explosions, can bring as much befuddlement as clarity about what is going on in Iraq right now, I strolled through some other blogs mistakenly thinking I could gain some perspective.

I started with some right-wing blogs, where the story was this: The surprise strike on Saddam's bunker Wednesday night triggered a war that is going so smoothly and precisely that it's depriving military officials and the rest of the world of the element of suspense. Allied troops are marching in, confident as they are righteous, slowing only to accomodate Iraqi troops--who, absent a leader who may be dead or at least humiliated, are surrendering with the urgency of desert wanderers discovering water--and pausing to stoop and pat the heads of grateful children in liberated Iraqi towns, with expediency that justifies the effort and embarrasses critics (this is what turns me off about blogs--the number of warbloggers who are more interested in how the French, the U.N. Security Council, and peace protesters are looking foolish than in anything occurring inside Iraq).

Then I swtiched over to some anti-war blogs, where the story is just as stark: U.S. forces, in a ill-advised fit of bullying, are impetuously attacking a country that is not threatening it, each step they take a more emphatic demonstration of their defiance of international order and financial prudence, since no explanation of how to pay for this campaign has been offered, which only international leaders and peace protesters sagely understand.

In short, confirmation bias has set in--the epistemology that goes: what is going on is exactly what I thought would happen. Boy, the blogosphere sure does improve on old-fashioned "objective" reporting, doesn't it! Just once, I'd like to read one blogger say, Here's something I didn't expect, which may lead me to rethink some aspect of my views, or at least feel some healthy ambivalence.

This much seems to be true: as of Friday afternoon in the U.S., forces are about one third of the way to Baghdad, which has been weakened by a withering barrage of missile attacks. There are no clear signs Saddam Hussein is in control; the Wednesday strike, evidently a last-minute deviation from the plan (however sincerely it was disseminated) to start with an air-war phase and then send in the troops, seems to have kicked Iraqi leadership in the knees. The announcement by the Turkish government that they will send in their own troops at will to resist a potential flow of refugees, stranding U.S. forces in northern Iraq between the Turks and Kurds, may be the first of many signs that re-drawing boundaries in a Saddam-less Iraq will be a contentious process.

Random observations and snippets from around the Web:

How news producers think: If we fail to introduce news coverage of the war with radar-screen graphics and thumping war-movie music, viewers will fail to realize that the events we are broadcasting--namely, a world superpower attacking another country's capital city with missiles and bombs--is of significance. Show of hands in the control room here: who wants to call our coverage "America At War" and who likes "America Attacks"?

Says Dennis Miller:
- You can take this one to the bank: Saddam and bin Laden will NOT seek UN approval before they try to kill us.
- If you are anti war and even an outright "America Basher," to bin Laden you are still an "infidel" whom he wants dead.
- Be careful: if you believe in a "vast right-wing conspiracy," but not in the danger that Hussein poses, the only job you may be able to get is as an Ivy League college professor.

UPDATE: says this may not be from Miller

• I couldn't believe how tacky and tasteless this lead sentence was in yesterday's Wash. Post about TV Wednesday night's TV coverage.
The war has already claimed its first victim: ABC News. The network not only jumped into the story about 11 minutes behind ...

How shallow do you have to be to get this caught up in which-network-beat-which-by-how-many-minutes game at a time like this, much less to make light of war's victims with a lead like that?

• Some friends of mine on an e-mail list-serv, responding to this story about Montreal hockey fans booing the U.S. national anthem:

> No offense, Canucks, but this is an example of why, sometimes, my criticism of your country is sometimes slightly more serious than joking. On a related note, what's the general feel on the war from a Canadian standpoint? Is this booing indicative of the population at large?

> It's probably best not to criticize an entire country based upon the actions of a few morons. Plus, American hockey fans were booing the Canadian national anthem before Islanders games during the Stanley Cup playoffs last year (ironic, considering most of the players on the Islanders are Canadian). I think these occurances may be indicative of the lack of political savvy and tact on the part of hockey fans, rather than the country as a whole. As far as Canadian opinions on the war go, there's the usual irrational America-bashing, but there's also a lot of intelligent commentary. I imagine most Canadians are against the war, though. On a somewhat related side-note, I've been watching the CBC's coverage of the war, and I have to say that it's head and shoulders above the coverage given by CNN (and of course much better than FOXnews).

• This is what I linked to above from Tom Tomorrow:

When you need some money to pay for war--and you've already promised your rich contributors a huge tax break--well, you can always squeeze disabled veterans a little tighter:

"By a vote along party lines, the majority members of the House Budget Committee passed and reported for a vote by the House a budget resolution that would cut $844 million from veterans’ medical care next year and $9.7 billion over the next 10 years. In addition, the budget resolution would cut $15 billion from the disability compensation and other benefit programs over the next 10 years."

Support the troops, indeed.

• Surely, the most ardent of pro-war bloggers can agree this war is about reluctantly plucking Saddam from power, right? And securing the peace, right? Well ... here's Mickey Kaus:

I suppose it would be good to kill Saddam Hussein with the opening shot of the war. But it's not hard to imagine circumstances in which it would not be good ... What if the new leader actually turned over a whole bunch of chemical and biological weapons Saddam had been hiding? It might be very difficult to justify continuing an invasion in those circumstances -- and yet the job would once again be left half-done, or three-quarters done. ... Could we trust the new government? ... We might end up with the opprobrium of the world, but no crowds cheering us as liberators, no "prosperous and free" Iraq and no guarantee of disarmament.

Boy, what a bummer it would be to actually get rid of the guy we can't seem to get our minds off and have to stop this little tea party just when it was getting good, huh?. No, really, Kaus and others say, this war is a last resort, a desperate attempt for permanent peace!

This clip from the always incisive journalist James Lileks is being passed around the blogosphere:
5:17 PM News report: Hans Blix admits that he would have never have found all the WMD. Thanks, Hans. Much obliged. I’m guessing that he was paid by the week, not by the discovery; if we’d given him a bonus for Finding Stuff, and the bonus exceeded what he would have made in a year of desultory squinting, we might have had the material breach in week one.

... The local news said that many high school students had walked out and gathered at the U to demand that the war stop now - the King Canute Brigade, if you will. The most delicious line came at the end of the report, noting that the University itself was currently on Spring Break, but many students planned to leave class when they resumed on Monday.

God forbid you should leave St. Petersburg a few days early to assert your principles.

NOTE: Some week-in-review thoughts and links coming Monday in my B&C blog.

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