The New York Times’ Search for Missing Friends

by Kim Petersen
April 8, 2004

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he flagship US newspaper the New York Times has opened itself to further ridicule and scorn in the face of a widening offensive front in Iraq. It is not surprising seeing as the plans of the chickenhawks haven’t unfurled as intended. George Bush, the proud self-declared “war president,” is actually a coward president. Surely there is no pride in sending young people to kill starved people. The empty boast of being a war president in a war against an abstraction is risible. Bush is a deserter who still has done nothing to credibly refute this grave charge against him. Yet this coward commander-in-chief gives special meaning to paradox by sending American youth to fight and die against a self-created and taunted enemy. Meanwhile Bush and his corporate cronies continue to usurp the wealth of the Iraqi booty -- all financed by the American taxpayer.

The editors at the Times pose a question, remarkable for breaching new bounds of audacity: “Americans watching the frightening escalation of combat across Iraq must be asking themselves where, exactly, are our Iraqi friends?” (1) What kind of minds could ask such a question?  Most Americans are watching from afar. The Iraqis are living the horrors of violence and occupation. If someone litters your landscape with depleted uranium, imposes crippling economic sanctions against you for a dozen years, and then unleashes a barrage of cruise missiles, more depleted uranium, and morally repugnant weapons such as daisy cutters and cluster bombs, takes over the country’s resources while allowing the plunder and destruction of the history of a land known as the cradle of civilization, establishes an arrogant occupation on people now with a dysfunctional power grid, sullied water supply, debased sewer system, and deprived of jobs and a once vaunted social and health care system, installs a US-appointed leadership council at the veto-wielding whim of an American viceroy, then what does one expect from people subjected to such suffering? Friendship? The Times wonders where its Iraqi friends, besides the convicted swindler Ahmed Chalabi, are!?


The Times laments the lack of “reassuring answers” to the missing Iraqi support while US occupation forces bomb and shoot Iraqis -- never mind desecrating their holy religious sites -- and hunting a “rebel Shiite cleric” who just happens to belong to a respected familial line of religious martyrs.


The Times states the obvious when it notes “Bush is in serious danger of overplaying his hand and creating a broader Shiite rebellion.” It is worse than that. In what is perhaps an act of colossal buffoonery, the US-led occupation, which has been laying the foundations for an internecine war between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds, has incited a backlash of monumental proportions: a solidarity-triggering event triggered by a rejection of Bush’s own vainglorious love of freedom. Viceroy Paul Bremer ordered the shutdown of the newspaper al-Hawza belonging to Shi’a leader Moqtada al-Sadr, a denial of freedom of expression.


The Times evinces its selective comprehension of the killing in Iraq when it states “It is understandable to want to avenge the hideous murders of four American security guards” killed in Fallujah. By the same logic then it must be understandable that the Iraqis seek revenge for the slaughter of hundreds-of-thousands since 1991. 


Further selectivity is revealed by the Times: “It is understandable that average Iraqis are simply trying to keep their heads down in this time of crisis.” This is a most regrettable use of language by the Times. Noam Chomsky has written in detail of the Israeli effort to force Palestinian Arabs to keep their heads down.


The key feature of the occupation has always been humiliation: they must not be allowed to raise their heads. The basic principle, often openly expressed, is that the “Araboushim” -- a term that belongs with “nigger” or “kike” -- must understand who rules this land and who walks in it with head lowered and eyes averted. (2)


The Times observes tellingly that the Iraqi Arabs now maintain a low gaze under another US-backed occupation.


At the very least, the Times expects the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council could be exuding more friendship to the US instead of its inexcusable “stunning passivity,” especially that embodied by the impotent and indebted Ahmad Chalabi.


The US media has touted Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as the most influential and pragmatic Iraqi Shi’a leader. It is hard to gauge a man so reclusive. While al-Sistani has sat back and waited for events to unfold, al-Sadr has intrepidly seized the moment and has done much to push events forward to their current parlous state. Al-Sistani’s response is to lend tepid sympathy to al-Sadr and his followers. It may well be that al-Sadr serves as the lightning rod for aggrieved Iraqis to express their displeasure at life under the brutal US-led occupation.


With Saddam Hussein and his sons effectively removed from active participation in Iraq, the Americans no longer had an arch villain to focus US public sentiment against. Al-Sadr was an easy target to provoke. A year later the corporate media portrays a demonized murderer sought by the Americans. Even the self-proclaimed “objectivity” of the usually balanced and informative Power and Interest News Report (PINR) adduced elusive. (3) It couldn’t refrain from referring to al-Sadr’s “rabid anti-Americanism,” “fiery anti-American rhetoric,” and his “anti-American tongue lashing.” Such inflammatory language is hardly in keeping with its stated goal of “leaving the moral judgments to the reader.” As for objectivity in this case, one wonders why the occupiers are never described as anti-Iraqi in any PINRs? A Google search comes up with 107 results for “PINR anti-American” and zero results for “PINR anti-Iraqi.”*


The Times editorial, to its credit, refrained from fiery criticism of al-Sadr. It acknowledges the US’s “responsibility to the Iraqi people to stay and establish a free and stable government.” Now the US has a responsibility; this is inescapable. But it is not for the Times to designate what responsibility the US bears. Whether the US should stay in Iraq is for the Iraqis to decide. The Americans can satisfy their compensatory obligations without trampling upon the right of the Iraqis to express themselves democratically. The US is, however, responsible for providing a secure environment so that the Iraqis can decide on their representatives free from US-government meddling. This has not been the case up to now. 


The Times would do better to vent its anger at the occupying powers that brought about the bloodbath instead of the victims of it. It is far from a balanced perspective to rebuke non-existent Iraqi leaders for unwillingness to oppose “extremism” and the non-participation of the UN to “give the effort international legitimacy and a credible exit strategy.” Extremism best describes the US-government policy of starving a people in what amounts to genocide. That the genocide was under UN imprimatur undercuts any legitimacy the world body may have had in the eyes of Iraqis. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization reported in 1995 that over half-a-million Iraqi children had perished clearly because of “economic collapse with plummeting wages, soaring food prices, poor sanitation, lack of safe water, and inadequate provision of health care.” (4) Besides, Bush had already ruled out early on the involvement of the “irrelevant” UN and it is an abject volte-face that he beseeches such the organization for assistance now.


The Times editorial ends on an abysmal low. It is considered that “Bush needs to tell the American people in detail what his plan is for uniting Iraq” but no explanation was demanded for the Iraqi people. The victims aren’t deserving of an explanation or even input to deciding their fate. Such is the lot bestowed upon the Iraqis by the moral warriors Bush and his British sidekick Prime Minister Tony Blair.  But that is not all; the Times, in its journalistic wisdom, wants Bush to tell “who exactly the tough new leaders are going to be and how he intends to create a strong enough government to at least offer the possibility of ending the occupation someday.” A decision by Bush of who will govern Iraq is hardly indicative of bringing enduring freedom to Iraq. All the lies are unraveled. There never were any weapons-of-mass-destruction; the US never intended to confer freedom to the Iraqis (as if the US ever had the right to grant such to the people of a sovereign nation); and they always intended to set up permanent military bases in Iraq and take over the natural resources.


Why would Iraqis want friends like this?

* Postscript: The PINR was subsequently corrected, see reference 3 below.


Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: kimpetersen@gyxi.dk.




(1) Editorial, “Friends Missing in Action,” New York Times, 8 April 2004


(2) Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (South End Press, 1999), p 489


(3) Erich Marquardt, “What To Do With Moqtada Al-Sadr,” PINR, 8 April 2004


(4) L Al-Nouri and Q Al-Rahim, “The effect of sanctions on children of Iraq,” Archives of Disease in Childhood, 2003


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