Fit to Print? The NY Times on Iraq

Abdul Mahdi good; Jaafari bad, says
the paper of record. They should know

Sometimes, it’s hard to read the New York Times on Iraq without laughing out loud on the subway. First, there was Sunday’s editorial, which blithely parroted the Bush administration’s spin on the hapless Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari. “The head of the government is the ally of a radical anti-American cleric who leads a powerful private militia that is behind much of the sectarian terror,” it warned. Uh, yeah: Moqtada’s men do their share of sectarian terrorizing, no doubt, but so do the militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose candidate the U.S. (and the Times, by extension, in this editorial) are supporting to replace Jaafari. (And SCIRI, of course, like Jaafari, is also a close ally of the anti-American clerical establishment in Iran.)

But the Times editor marches disengenuously on: “One vital goal is to persuade the Shiites to abort their disastrous nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Mr. Jaafari is unable to form a broadly inclusive government and has made no serious effort to rein in police death squads….If his nomination stands and is confirmed by Parliament, civil war will become much harder to head off.”

Oh. He’s unable to form a broadly inclusive government, is he? Does the Times really believe that the reason Iraqis can’t agree on a “broadly inclusive government” is because Jaafari won’t rein in the sectarian thugs of a police force that happens to be run by the militia loyal to his rivals in SCIRI, which the U.S. is now backing to replace Jaafari?

In a rant that might as well have been penned by Condi Rice, the Times notes that despite the sacrifices of Amreicans, “Shiite leaders have responded to Washington’s pleas for inclusiveness with bristling hostility, personally vilifying Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and criticizing American military operations in the kind of harsh language previously heard only from Sunni leaders.” Uh, um, well, exactly! (Maybe harshly criticizing the Americans will bring them closer together!)

“It was chilling to read Edward Wong’s interview with the Iraqi prime minister in The Times last week,” the editorialist continued, “during which Mr. Jaafari sat in the palace where he now makes his home, complained about the Americans (how dare he!) and predicted that the sectarian militias that are currently terrorizing Iraqi civilians could be incorporated into the army and police.” That kind of born-yesterday incredulity may be the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from Rummy and Condi, but not from the Times: Of course the militias will have to be incorporated into the Iraqi security forces. Who do you think makes up the best units of those security forces right now? And where else do you think the militias are going to go? You’d think the Times might at least be aware of the international trend in this respect, in which angry young men under arms are almost always incorporated into national armies and police forces as a way of drawing them into a new consensus. Jaafari’s position that the Times greeted with such outrage is simply common sense.

But the “born yesterday” ethos continued a day later with this delightful observation on why the U.S. is backing Adel Abdul Mahdi of SCIRI to replace Jaafari:
“Mr. Mahdi visited Washington last fall and was believed to have the backing of the Americans at the time. A rotund, bearish-looking man, he is a Western-educated proponent of free market economics, having disavowed earlier Maoist beliefs. He owns a house in the south of France, and American officials hope his exposure to the West tempers Islamist ideals honed by years in Iran.”

A Maoist-turned-free marketeer Islamist with a house in the south of France? Pretty clear where he’s coming from, then, isn’t it? A friend always laughs at the suggestion that exposure to the West moderates Islamist radicalism. “Haven’t they heard of Qutb?” he asks. (The father of the modern Islamist movement was radicalized by a sojourn in the U.S.) And the idea that having a residence in France may temper Islamist ideals honed by years in Iran seems oddly ironic when you consider that it was in Paris that Ayatollah Khomeini spent his years in exile. The truth is, nobody has any idea of what to expect from Abdul-Mahdi. He’s just another roll of the dice, and repeating the spin they’ve been spoonfed on him simply makes the Times sound as gormless as their sources.

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