Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Comment is free, but facts are awkward; Richard Perle in The Guardian

"His unpaid debt to George W Bush. The withdrawal plan is right, but Obama should acknowledge both the surge's success and Iraq's progress to democracy"

From "Comment is free....."

by Richard Perle
guardian.co.uk, Friday 27 February 2009 19.00 GMT

"So, President Obama, who pledged a quick withdrawal from Iraq when many thought we were facing defeat there and crucial Democratic primary voters were demanding withdrawal yesterday, has decided on a slower, measured drawdown that will leave up to 50,000 American troops behind. They could remain until the end of 2011, the date on which the Bush administration agreed with the Iraqi government to complete the departure of American forces.

"The irony is that the success of the surge, which Obama predicted would fail, has put his plan well within the range of responsible policy. It is disappointing that the President is still yet to acknowledge this fully, when plainly it is that very political progress that has enabled this announcement. The reality, rhetoric aside, is that Obama's timetable doesn't look very different from what would have been a logical extension of George W Bush's departing view."

The complete quote from C.P. Scott's essay is, as noted on the Guardian website and given below: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred." Mr. Perle states as "fact" that an increase ("The Surge") in American troop numbers (also known in a previous and ignominious war as an "escalation") has been a "success". This sort of statement is not a fact, it is a contentious argument. An alternative hypothesis (the airing of which seems more in keeping with Scott's essay) is that of Patrick Cockburn, reporter for The Independent:

"The perception in the US that the tide has turned in Iraq is in part because of a change in the attitude of the foreign and largely American media. The war in Iraq has now been going on for five years, longer than the First World War. The world is bored with it. US network television maintains expensive bureaus in Baghdad but little of what they produce gets on the air. When it does viewers turn off. US newspaper bureaus are being cut in size. The result of all this is that the American voter hears less of violence in Iraq and might suppose that America’s military adventure there is finally coming good.

"An important reason for this optimism is the fall in the number of American soldiers killed. The 30,000 US soldiers wounded in Iraq are seldom mentioned. This has happened because the war which was being waged against the American occupation by the Sunni community, the 20 per cent of Iraqis who were in control under Saddam Hussein, has largely ended. It did so because the Sunni were being defeated not so much by the American army as by the Shia government and the Shia militias."

Or as I understand Cockburn's view, the carnage in Iraq decreased dramatically because the Shia won the Sunni-Shia civil war, and when the Americans withdraw it's going to be Open Season, and the Iranian government is going to hold all the cards.

As George Orwell said, Richard Perle's type of prose “falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details.”

Nowhere does Mr. Perle acknowledge any alternatives to his view of Iraq, a lack of interest in the truth that is the opposite of what Scott clearly intended for The Guardian. And of course there are many ways of not telling the truth, such as leaving out inconvenient, well, facts. And there are some facts in this sorry Iraq mess.

1. Iraq never possessed any weapons worth talking about.

2. Invasion of another sovereign country is a violation of Nuremberg Principle VI:

"Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;"

for any nation that has signed the UN Charter.

3. Horrendous damage has been inflicted on the Iraqi civilian population as a direct result of invasion and occupation.

4. The United States cannot afford a trillion dollar a year military-industrial budget.

So to go on with part of Mr. Scott's essay:

"Character is a subtle affair, and has many shades and sides to
it. It is not a thing to be much talked about, but rather to be felt.
It is the slow deposit of past actions and ideals. It is for each man
his most precious possession, and so it is for that latest growth of
time the newspaper. Fundamentally it implies honesty, cleanness,
courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community.
A newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first
duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the
gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply
is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give,
nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth
suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred. “Propaganda”,
so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less
than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly
subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even
better to be fair. This is an ideal. Achievement in such matters
is hardly given to man. Perhaps none of us can attain to it in the
desirable measure. We can but try, ask pardon for shortcomings, and
there leave the matter."