OxBlog

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

# Posted 8:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOP STORIES OF THE YEAR: Tim Russert opened up this past Sunday by asking his panelists to name the top story of 2005. Russert's question grew out of a poll taken by the Associated Press of its US editors and news directors, which listed Katrina as the top story of the year with the papal succession as a somewhat surprising second.

When I went online to look at what the AP account of its poll, I was blown away by just how unequivocal the vote in favor of Katrina was. Out of 288 ballots, 242 (or 84%) listed Katrina as number one, with no other story getting more than 18 first place votes (or 6%).

In some respects, the result shouldn't be a surprise at all. Katrina temporarily destroyed a major American metropolis. Nothing else since 9/11 has hit so close to home. At the same time, Katrina has more or less dropped out of the headlines in the NYT and WaPo. But one thing I've noticed by downloading the NBC Evening News to my iPod is that television journalists are still running with the story.

What accounts for the difference? My best guess is that television caters to a much broader audience with a more domestic focus whereas as the broadsheets have a more affluent, more educated and more internationally aware readership. Nonethless, I still think Katrina would be the #1 story of 2005 for the NYT/WaPo audience, although not by the same kind of margin.

Personally, I think Iraq was the most important story of the year. Why? Because Katrina won't change either American or international history. The storm was a tragedy, but if it's tragedy you're looking for, what about the earthquake that killed upwards of 80,000 people this year in Kashmir? That was No. 7 in the AP poll.

For relative optimists such as myself, the trifecta of successful elections in Iraq -- with increasing Sunni participation -- provide the best indication so far (along with the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon) that we may have witnessed the first great expression of popular democratic sentiment in the Arab Middle East. For the moment, we have no idea what will become of this democratic opening, The freedom tide prophesied by neo-cons? The collapse expected by their critics? Or an unexpected status quo in which the Middle East demonstrates that it can live half slave and half free?

To be fair, the election of Iraq as the top story of 2005 implies that the elections there were successful enough to merit consideration as a historical phenomena and not simply a curiosity. Given how pessimistic most coverage of the war is, one could hardly expect the journalists and editors polled by the AP to give Iraq their vote.

Yet even if one is anti-war liberal, there is a very strong case to be made for Iraq as number one. If you read the best of the liberal blogs or even the lesser ones, you will see far more posts and far more passion about Iraq than you will about Katrina. Moreover, if you approach Iraq through the prism of Vietnam, then there is an even stronger case to be made for its position as #1, since the legacy of Vietnam is felt to this very day in every great decision about war and peace.

Thirty years from now, will presidents and senators look to the lessons of Katrina in order to decide upon the great questions of the day? I don't think so.
(13) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
I think there is creeping terror among the liberals that a free, prosperous and self-governing Iraq will emerge soon, redounding to the glory of George W. Bush. With Katrina they can better maintain their Bush aversion, for everyone knows the federal response to Nawlins was disastrous, don't they?
 
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"For relative optimists such as myself, the trifecta of successful elections in Iraq..."

I'm not sure why you think the elections were successful. If you think that having them at all implies success, then you might be setting the bar too low.

First, Bush was opposed to elections until they were forced on him at which point he decided to take credit for them. The initial plan was for the great ex-patriot Chalabi to take over. Instead, al-Sistani led street demonstrations, calling for elections. And in the most recent election, Chalabi failed to win a single seat in the National Assembly but still managed to be named the oil minister. Democracy indeed.

Second, the Iraqi constitution enshrines sharia, Islamic law, as its basis. Just like Iran, Saudi Arabia, .... Secular democracy indeed.

Third, the big winner was Iran. They just lost a regional rival. Victory indeed.

But to the point, Katrina was the biggest story. Iraq was a continuing story filed under the subject heading "glory of George W. Bush," I mean quagmire.
 
Thank you for that nifty bit of alternate reality CS. Very entertaining and a welcome respite from David's serious posts.
 
That's very kind of you, but I sense a certain disbelief. I apologise on my part for not providing the references, but I would have thought that people remember these things.

1. Bush was opposed to Iraqi elections.

You might want to read this Washingon Post article from June 28, 2003 entitled "Occupation Forces Halt Elections Throughout Iraq"

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A42905-2003Jun27

2. Chalabi was Bush's guy. She was after all the First Lady's guest at the 2004 SOTUA.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040120-5.html
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/images/20040120-7_d012004-2-515h.html

The rest you can look up. I'm going to go watch USC kick the stuffing out of the Lady Longhorns. Its kind of a Blue State - Red State proxy war.
 
CS, your argument that the Iraqi elections were unsuccessful begins by noting that Bush did not allow elections immediately after invasion.

Does you mean that if Bush initially opposes a course of action, it can never be a success?

You describe Iraq as "just like Iran, Saudi Arabia" just after pointing out that the most respected religious authority in Iraq had called for popular elections. Who are Sistani's counterparts in the other nations?

Leaving aside the question of whether Iran is better off now that they share a border with the American-trained and supported IDF rather than Saddam's forces, what does Iran's geopolitical position have to do with the success of Iraqi elections?

Finally, I just finished watching what I thought was a great football game. You called it a 'proxy war'. If I think Texas winning b 3 implies success, am I setting the bar too low?
 
About USC, darn. But it was good game. The bar was actually 3 1/2 points. Honest.

About Iran being the real winner, recall that Iran and Iraq had an 8 year border war after *Iraq* attacked (with tacit US backing and support to Saddam). More than a million lost their lives. Yes, Iran is better off now. I don't think Iran fears an invasion now. This wasn't meant to be controversial.

FWIW, argueably China won the cold war. Look at China now and look at Russia (basketcase) and the US (biggest debtor country). And who do owe? China. Funny how these things work out.

Sistani's counterparts. The parallels are a little hard to draw. Iraq is a bit of work in progress and Saudi Arabia isn't a democracy. Sistani is more of a political force. Khomeini was a political force, but not a democrat.

"Does you mean that if Bush initially opposes a course of action, it can never be a success?"

I really have no idea what you are asking. The whole double negative thing.

I will say that Bush having opposed elections and then being in favor of them strikes me as cynical. And why they continue to back Chalabi is hard to fathom.

If we were *ever* going to be successful in Iraq, we should have allowed early elections and exited. Declared victory instead of mission accomplished.
 
CS,

You have yet to state a reason why the Iraq elections should be considered unsuccessful. Your first argument was the statement that Bush initially opposed the election. To say "Bush once opposed x" is not the same as saying "x cannot be successful" - is it? Nor is stating that the administration is cynical or unfathomable, or that the US owes China money, a reason why the Iraq elections should be considered unsuccessful.

On the other hand, noting that Saudi Arabia is not a democracy, and that while Khomeini and Sistani were both political forces Khomeini was not a democrat, veers close to conceding that Iraq is a democracy, even if a work in progress. For that to happen would require successful elections, yes?

To be fair, I should note the reason why I think the elections have been successful:

-groups in power have been voted out without contesting the result by force

...and that's enough. The Iraqi people have chosen their own rulers. That is what elections are supposed to do.
 
B, I never said they were unsuccessful. This is what I said:

"I'm not sure why you think the elections were successful. If you think that having them at all implies success, then you might be setting the bar too low."

And this is what you said:

"...and that's enough. The Iraqi people have chosen their own rulers. That is what elections are supposed to do."

I might even agree with this. Uh, why didn't we *allow* this in 2003? For mayorships?

Yes, I think Bush's 'idealism' is cynical.
 
Oh, come on. What's the difference between saying the elections were not successful, and saying you didn't know why someone would think otherwise?
 
Big difference. To be fair B, you did a good job in saying what successful might mean. My only quibble is that the Iraqi people *clearly* spoke and said they didn't want Chalabi. Clearly. And that falls under your point, "groups in power have been voted out without contesting the result by force." Chalabi is now minister of oil, yet his coalition failed to win a single seat. And yes he is there by force.

http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/news/special_packages/iraq/13535019.htm

Now it is up to *you* to reconcile Bush's use of military force to *halt* elections in 2003 with his 'support' for them now.

I see cynicism on Bush's part. And my point in asking what David meant by successful was to illustrate that.
 
If the difference between the phrases 'the elections were not successful' and 'I do not know why you think the elections were successful' is "big", please take more than two words to explain what it is. Or perhaps you misspoke, and while the elections were much later than you would have liked, and you think that demonstrates cynicism on Bush's part, you agree that the elections have produced more democracy than the Arab world has seen in 50 years at least and must be accounted a success.

Your link has no mention of the use of force to make Chalabi oil minister. What force are you talking about? He was appointed by the people who won in the election. What's the problem?

There was no military force used in 2003 to halt elections. I think the judgement was that the security situation in 2003 was too precarious. By 2005 it was possible to secure the entire country at least for a day at a time to allow elections to proceed. That timeline compares favorably with post-war Germany, Italy, Japan, and South Korea at least, and I would be surprised if Kosovo was any better.

I think your cynicism is idealistic - you find evidence of America's decline wherever you look, whatever you see.
 
B, I'm sorry about the Chalabi link problem. I try hard in my arguments to provide facts and links to back up my points. The link showed that he'd been named oil minister. In any case, Chalabi received about 32,000 votes in the election, not enough to win a single seat in the National Assembly.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/26/AR2005122600299.html

The 2003 elections *were* halted by our forces. Period. This is a use of force. There is no other reasonable interpretation.

"By 2005 it was possible to secure the entire country at least for a day ..."

Forget everything for second. Don't you think it would have been better to let the Iraqi's vote on their own, on their day? For mayors? I think it would have been a great thing, and I was opposed to the war.

"you find evidence of America's decline wherever you look, whatever you see."

I disagree. The Persian Gulf war was a success. We've been successful in Bosnia and Albania. I think we could have been a lot more successful in Afghanistan, but I hold out hope there. I think we've made a lot of progress with Libya. Difficult choices, imperfect results. But progress.

I am a realist. I look at evidence and I look for what works. With Bush, I see incompetence and corruption.
 
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