The Region: Dopes of the day

It is embarrassing to see Western journalists and officials fooled time and again by Middle Eastern radicals.

By BARRY RUBIN
January 2, 2011 22:07
BARRY RUBIN

BARRY RUBIN. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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I’ve recently written about how easily fooled Western politicians, officials, journalists and academics are by Middle Eastern radicals and I’m going now going to provide some outstanding examples.

In Lebanon, while other newspapers are in decline or starved for funds, one called Al-Akhbar is curiously expanding. The New York Times reporter who recently wrote about the newspaper fell for the foolish notion that it is some model of independence.

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In fact, it’s no secret in Lebanon that it’s a hard-line, Syrian-backed newspaper that repeatedly slanders moderate forces and is a mouthpiece for Hizbullah.

And that’s where the money comes from.

So the Times is cheering a Syrian propaganda operation just as, not long ago, The Guardian went into rhapsodies about a supposedly wonderful publication in Turkey that is a front for Islamists, producing false material that enabled the regime there to throw innocent people into prison on trumped-up charges of conspiring to overthrow the government.

Any serious investigation should have shown the true nature of Al-Akhbar but the reporter couldn’t even find anyone to quote on this point, apparently not even trying to produce a balanced article, much less an accurate one.

Instead here’s what we get: “It was the latest coup for a five-year-old paper that has become the most dynamic and daring in Lebanon, and perhaps anywhere in the Arab world. In a region where the news media are still full of obsequious propaganda, Al-Akhbar is now required reading, even for those who abhor its politics.”



But perhaps this free advertising for a Hizbullah and Syrian parrot can be explained by the article’s lead: “Ibrahim al-Amine, the hawk-eyed editorial chairman of Al-Akhbar, describes his newspaper’s founding ambitions this way: ‘We wanted the US ambassador to wake up in the morning, read it and get upset.’” Right, so it’s anti-American, isn’t that recommendation enough? But I don’t think Amine would want the Syrian or Iranian ambassador to get upset. If they did, they might cut off his funding (and maybe some parts as well).

It is like the old Cold War joke about the American insisting that the US had freedom of speech and the Soviet Union didn’t. “After all, I can go in front of the White House and shout, ‘Down with Reagan!” “Oh,” replies the communist, “we have just as much freedom of speech! I can go in front of the Kremlin and shout, ‘Down with Reagan!’ any time I want.”

SPEAKING OF free advertising, Al-Akhbar needs ads even though it seems to prosper while not running any! Let me suggest the Jammal Trust Bank, an institution that launders money for Hizbullah, funds a TV station that supports it and is directed by one of Al- Akhbar’s editors (Jean Aziz). The bank also helps pay the newspaper’s bills. The Times reporter didn’t notice those details. One can compile a long and publicly known set of links connecting Al-Akhbar with Hizbullah and Syria, as well as writers who tend to follow the lines set forth by them.

To present such an enterprise as wonderful is shameful, especially since several honest journalists in Lebanon have been murdered or had to run for their lives, while better newspapers are collapsing for want of financing.

Yet it’s the totalitarians that get kudos from The New York Times. Oh, and Politico’s Laura Rozen had to chime in about this truly wonderful newspaper which is an example to all Arab media! I guess the proposed example is: support revolutionary Islamist terrorist groups, get backing from Syria and only criticize America and those moderates opposed to Iran and Islamism. If there’s a Pulitzer Prize for terrorism, then Al-Akhbar might be in the running for it.

Meanwhile, it seems increasingly likely that an international investigation will show that Hizbullah was involved in the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. I guess that will be one story Al-Akhbar won’t cover.

Speaking of Syria, while the Saudis are so worried about the US being too soft on Syria and Iran that they are trying to cut their own deal surrendering Lebanon to the Syrians, what does President Barack Obama do? Why, of course, he is in such a hurry to name a US ambassador to Syria that he bypasses Congress and does a recess appointment, even though he has gotten nothing from Syria after two years of ‘engagement.’ What this technique does is shield the Syrian dictatorship from criticism by Congress, since if there had been confirmation hearings for the proposed ambassador, there would have been a lot of questions about Syria’s backing of terrorism, especially against US troops in Iraq. If the administration had more sense, it could have used the harder line from Congress as a rationale to get tougher on Syria. But instead of a “good cop/bad cop” approach, we get a Keystone Kop approach.

But there is also a remarkable and highly revealing quote from an administration official on this matter: “We have implemented our commitments, and we expect Syria to [do the same]. The ball is now in the Syrians’ court.”

That statement will stand as the perfect memorial for the administration’s foreign policy (including on the “peace process”): We’ve done everything for you, now it is time for you to do something for us.

No, you don’t give all the concessions first and then hope that your enemy will do something. That’s dopey. You use leverage and threats and credibility and sometimes even force. You take advantage to some extent of being stronger. You make the other side give something too.

The administration has argued that sending an ambassador to Syria is not a gift to that dictatorship (which is helping murder Americans in Iraq, sponsoring Hamas and Hizbullah, and helping Iran in every possible way), but a necessity in order to communicate with Damascus. But since this US government only wants to communicate flattery and concessions, it’s hardly worthwhile.

Indeed, have no doubt that everyone in the Arabic-speaking world will interpret this as a Syrian victory.

That’s why these actions are worthy of a Dopes of the Day award.

Oh, tremble, all of you who depend on the US as an ally and protector. And tremble, too, if thou doth depend on The New York Times for your understanding of the world.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.

www.rubinreports.blogspot.com

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