It used to be called the Powell Doctrine. Yesterday, it sounded pretty doctrinaire. The thesis: Overwhelm your adversaries. Never fight a war you won’t prevail in. And so, Overwhelming force was the mantra again yestrday at the UN as the New York Times notes, we saw a replay of that approach yesterday in his 79 minute non-stop sales pitch at the United States. He didn’t end up wearing a wireless mike, perhaps because of the interference it would cause all the TV cameras and audio visual toys that helped him pound his points buttressed by an accretion of detail, facts he called, them that makes war more likely. He piled it on winning support in predictable corners, but did it change minds which was its goal? As a skilful in presentation, it may have won an A, but as an exercise in persuasion it was not the home run the Administration hoped for.
First there was the response from the people he was selling to, the other permanent members on the Council, the mighty P-5 as they are known. 3/5ths of them said P-U and took the “evidence” as a rationale for more inspections, the very approach Powell was questioning. China called for more inspections. France for even more inspectors. And for the moment, Russia, ditto. Iraq, of course rejected Powell’s points, with only 15 minutes to respond to the avalanche of accusations he unleashed. Baghdad promises a more thorough refutation later today besides its much-quoted comment that his was an “American show with stunts and special effects.” The stolid Swede Hans Blix sat there with a blank face listening and later said he learned a few things he didn’t know before. He and his fellow Chief Inspector are now in London, meeting as I write with Tony Blair, one of the Bush administration’s few faithful followers.
The US media ate it up, regurgitating his claims uncritically, and featuring endorsements from political leaders. Just to make sure every point was clear, Condoleeza Rice, in bright Green was on with Larry King to praise Powell to the media skies and repeat in Palovian parlance that we are running out of time, running out of time, running out of time as it was a chorus for a rap song. (No insult to hip hop intended.) Switch the dial, and there she was again on with Ted Kopple repeating the same phrases and expressions. Line the two interviews up on a split screen, and you had the feeling that she was reciting a script. In the New York Times op ed page, where skepticism reined a day ago there was the mighty wurlitzer in action with Bill Safire in the Amen corner. “‘Irrefutable and Undeniable’ was his sum-up, arguing “Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has laid out hard evidence that would convince any jury that there has been a huge Iraqi cover-up.”
DID POWELL PERSUADE?
Needless to say the rules of evidence in any court would require that more than one side make a case. The British historian Timothy Garton who is always eloquent says that Powell has left him unsure of where to stand: “After watching Colin Powell’s riveting performance at the UN security council, with its crackling phone intercepts, satellite photos and carefully crafted televisual moments, I asked myself: what does this change in your view of the Iraq war? The answer is: not much. I remain unconvinced by the case for – and doubtful of the case against.
“Most people admire decisiveness and despise vacillation. Adversarial party politics demands the immediate taking of stands and the exaggeration of minor difference. The media, fiercely competing for viewers, listeners and readers, cry out for strong, polarized positions: Bush v Saddam, Benn v Thatcher, Hitchens (C) v Hitchens (P). It makes better television, you see.
THE AIR WAR BEFORE THE AIRWAR
Better television is key. There will be more of TV airwar to prepare the public for the real one to follow. The Administration is taking to the tube to try to get more Americans on board. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Powell associate Richard Armitage will now criss cross the country to appear on local TV stations to win hearts and minds in the heartland. Last night Richard Perle the hawkish “defense intellectual was on Charlie Rose on PBS as part of this media offense.I didn’t see any critic. He was followed by an actress
Watching Jay Leno last night suggests that they have their work cut out for them. He did one of his “Jay Walks” in which he asks average citizens what they know about their government. ‘How many members of the Senate?,” he queries one woman. “I am having a blonde moment, she replies. “I don’t know.” He takes a picture of Dick Cheney and waves in front of one young man. Who is the vice president, he asks. He looks at the photo and answers “Al Gore.”
This anecdotal investigation seems to buttress more in-depth surveys which show that most Americans are clueless about the world, no doubt because television, their poison of choice, doesn’t report on it. (A recent National Geographic survey found that only 13% of young people could find Iraq on a map.) Don’t laugh, this problem of cultural illiteracy assures that far more Americans will be watched the interview with and film about Michael Jackson than watched Colin Powell. (It is Colin Powell’s son, Michael, who is about to do even more damage to the public’s right now to know when the FCC, the Commission he heads, deregulates TV ownership rules further. But don’t look for much media coverage about an issue so much in the interest of media companies)
CNN: PUBLIC OPINION BARELY AFFECTED
In any event, CNN found that public opinion was not moved much by the talk. Only a 7% jump in favor of war. Much of the press in America is lining up for war. The “liberal “Washington Post editorialized to support the Administration yesterday in the morning before Powell’s speech. I pulled out Daniel C Hallin’s study, “The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam” (Oxford Press) to see how the Post did on a conflict that later became an embarrassment for the US. It reports that neither the Post or the Times reported at the time critical of the pretext of the war, the so-called Tonkin Bay incident in which tiny North Vietnamese PT boats were said to have fired on a huge US war ship. It was a bogus claim, but it nevertheless became the basis of a congressional resolution that sent millions to the death in a bloody war that still shames our county.
Viewers of Bill Moyers Now program last Friday were shown a clip of President Bush claiming that the international energy agency had issued a report warning that Iraq was about to build a nuclear weapon, was some six months away., That claim was part of the pretext for the current Congressional resolution giving the Administration a blank check in its build up. The Washington Times later refuted the facts, noting that there was no such report. And so the beat goes on, across decades of deception.
WHERE TO FIND A CRITIQUE
Where is the critique of Powell’s speech in the US media. Not there as far as I can see, Contrast that to The Guardian in England which today “gives over the front seven pages to the threat of war, going through each of Powell’s assertions one by one and garners reaction from experts and the international community. In its leader, the paper says the “battle over Iraq is far from finished”. “The way forward must now be expanded, intensified inspections equipped with this new evidence, as France proposes. The US and Britain must not jump the gun,” it concludes.”
The Independent’s Robert Fisk was, according to summary of British press reaction “unsurprisingly, unimpressed by Powell’s performance at the UN. “One recalled the same room four decades ago, when General Powell’s predecessor Adlai Stevenson showed photos of the ships carrying Soviet missiles to Cuba. Alas, today’s pictures carried no such authority. And Colin Powell is no Adlai Stevenson.”
In New York the far right New York Post blares (or blaired) “PROOF” on its front cover hailing Powell’s talkathon. In London, The Daily Mirror, now on the left, turns the claim around: “Dodgy tapes, grainy videos, great rhetoric, but where’s the PROOF Colin?” above the banner headline: “Not Enough”. Inside, it devotes four pages to picking apart Powell’s arguments one by one and wheeling out author Simon Reeve and Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens to denounce his reasoning. “As a piece of dramatic theatre, US secretary of state Colin Powell’s performance was pretty good”, said the Mirror leader, but added: “As a former American presidential candidate once asked: Where’s the beef? There wasn’t enough evidence to convict someone of shoplifting. Let alone the killer facts that might condemn thousands to death, some of them British servicemen.”
And so the debate continues as more and more troops are called up, and significantly Turkey opens its bases to American forces. (See Adam McConnel on Gvnews.net) I don’t have time or skill enough to scrutinize every claim, and can only wonder why if we are such believers in resolution 1441, all this intelligence was not showered on the inspectors earlier to help them do their jobs. A day before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix told the Guardian: “there was no evidence of mobile biological weapons laboratories or of Iraq trying to foil inspectors by moving equipment before his teams arrivedÅ ..Dr Blix said he had already inspected two alleged mobile labs and found nothing: “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found.”
THE ISRAELI ROLE
None of this may in the end matter because positions seem polarized and not very open to accepting arguments or facts they don’t agree with. This can change of course as the US inches towards the war that everyone expects will come. Incidentally-and I saw this reported no where else-The Israelis claim some of Powell’s “proof” came from them Ha’aretz reports: “Israeli defense sources” expect the U.S. to attack Iraq before the end of the month, reports the Israeli daily “Ha’aretz.” The same sources also expect little or no threat from Saddam towards Israel: “this won’t be a situation of rocket launches at us every afternoon, like in the last Gulf War. At most, we’ll experience one or two rocket attacks – and even that’s unlikely.”
Speaking of Israelis, Pacific News Service’s Yoichi Clark Shimatsu Has some more detail on just why Israel was so involved in the recent shuttle flight. (NASA is now saying it is ruling out the tile insulation theory as the cause of the Columbia crash even after just about every media outlet seemed to endorse it.” PNS reports information absent elsewhere
“Within the tragic destruction of the space shuttle Columbia is another story. While many Americans see the shuttle program as a high-minded program of scientific discovery, some abroad speak of a “Nexus” of U.S. and other countries joined for geopolitical and military purposes. NASA is not simply a civilian space agency devoted to the high-minded cause of scientific discovery. The agency that originated as an extension of the Air Force has persisted in its often-disguised mission of military research. Columbia’s tragic last mission was no exception, and was watched keenly by much of the world precisely because of its geopolitical and military significance.”
This article then discusses Israeli astronaut Illan Ramon’s alleged role: “Ramon was a living symbol of Israeli-American aerospace cooperation, which has included the Arrow interception technology incorporated into Patriot missiles (used in the Gulf War) and the sale of U.S.-built F-16s and helicopter gunships sent by the Ariel Sharon government to attack Palestinian villages in the West BankÅ .
“His military role aboard Columbia went beyond symbolic value. Ramon’s research mission involved dual-use technology, an Israeli-built multi-spectral camera that probes the effect of sandstorms on climate change. The all-weather camera is also a key technology for military spy satellites and unmanned drones searching for targets obscured by dust, smoke and clouds. These murky atmospheric conditions exactly fit the scenario of the looming war against Iraq.
“Israel is midway through a drive to establish a space program, much of it devoted to military purposes. So is India, the birthplace of the other “international” astronaut, Kalpana ChowlaÅ .” Did you know all of this? I hadn’t seen any of this discussed in the endless shutle coverage.
I loved Jay Leno’s line that the show biz news shows are beginning to look like COPS what with all the charges against fallen Hollywood heroes. Ted Turner was on 62, as staffers call the mid week 60 minutes show. He spoke of being a big loser of late because the value of AOL Time Warner stock plummeted: “From the [share price] high to the low, [I lost] seven or eight billion [dollars]“. Ted Says he is quitting the company to devote his time to his charitable pursuits.
Tonight is Michael Jackson night on two networks with competing shows. The Gloved one is enraged about a British film made by ITV’s Martin Bashir calling it a “gross distortion of the truth”. The man who rode the waves of media adulation for years now says he is a media victim and is “devastated and utterly betrayed” by the interviewer’s portrayal of him.:
“I trusted Martin Bashir to come into my life and that of my family because I wanted the truth to be told. Martin Bashir persuaded me to trust him, that this would be an honest and fair portrayal of my life and told me that he was ‘the man that turned Diana’s life around’,” he said. “Today I feel more betrayed than perhaps ever before; that someone who had got to know my children, my staff and me, whom I let into my heart and told the truth, could then sacrifice the trust I placed in him and produce this terrible and unfair program.”
A statement issued to the media says he felt he had obtained their assurance that his children would not be featured in any way in the broadcast program Michael repeatedly asked Bashir to stop filming his children, and was promised by him that the footage of his children would be taken out in the final edit but, Bashir said, shooting should not be stopped because “it would break the continuity of filming”.
Ah yes, “continuity,” a line I have used myself. I have to break mine now because I am out of time.