Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Are indefensible opinions even worth airing on public radio?

NPR : Does Bush Deserve Credit for Latest Moves Toward Democracy?

No. And here's an example.

I enjoy National Public Radio, even though I am used to disagreeing with most of their commentary and many of their experts. The slant they put on their stories is usually to the left of my personal beliefs. But usually I can give the experts their due—they are, after all, experts. Not so with this story, about the amount of credit the Bush administration deserves in the recent events in the Middle East. The first expert interviewed, Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University, expounds the most unrealistic opinion: (note: this is a rough transcript from the audio file on NPR’s website—I tried to make it as accurate as possible)

Robert Siegel: “Has a Bush Doctrine put wind in the sails of Middle Eastern democracy advocates, or are we witnessing events in Lebanon, and Egypt, and elsewhere that would have been just as likely absent the war in Iraq and the election that followed?...Is there a Bush Doctrine that’s really animating the spirit of democracy in the Middle East today?”

Professor Rashid Khalidi: “I think there is some effect of the Bush admin pushing this, in some cases positive, in other cases really only in the nature of window dressing. I think that what we are seeing so far in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, are cases where very gentle Bush admin nudging has led to purely cosmetic changes, and it will be interesting to see whether there’ll be major changes. I would suggest that, as everywhere, democracy is an indigenous internal process. It can be encouraged, but it will be up to the Egyptians and Saudis and others”
[He then speaks about Lebanon briefly, commenting on their long history of parliamentary government.]

[Robert Siegel then asks about Iraq and Palestine, with their recent elections and “real parliamentary politics”]

Professor Rashid Khalidi: “In the case of Iraq, the Bush administration can take some small credit. I think Ayatollah al-Sistani is the one who really deserves the credit. He is the one who forced the Bush administration, after a year of pigheaded stubbornness, into doing the right thing. So if anyone really deserves the credit, it is the Iraqi people, and in particular those who forced the Bush administration to do this. In the Palestinian case, the Bush administration hasn’t done the slightest thing in its four and a half years in office to foster Palestinian democracy. That’s to the credit of the Palestinians themselves.”

Now, I’m not really in a position to debate the intricacies of this situation with him—I’m sure he is vastly more educated in this subject than am I. But his main point is indefensible: he claims that the Bush administration deserves little to no credit in the successful Iraqi elections, and the emergence of Iraqi democracy, and that the Ayatollah al-Sistani deserves the credit. I have no disagreement with the point that the Ayatollah deserves much credit, and the Iraqi people even more, but to say that the Bush administration deserves none is ignoring history. If the Bush administration had nothing to do with the emergence of democracy, then why didn’t it happen before the Iraqi war? Why didn’t the Iraqi people, led by the Ayatollah, overthrow Saddam Hussein during the last “election” he held? Surely Professor Khalidi cannot honestly believe that it is a coincidence that these things happened after the Bush administration overthrew Saddam? It’s a lot like believing that Kennedy and his administration, and Johnson and his administration, deserve no credit in putting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Sure, Kennedy and Johnson weren’t there, on the moon, with those men; they weren’t in mission control or at the laboratories making the spacecraft, but they certainly deserve some credit for this remarkable feat. And history isn’t shy about giving it to them.

As for the Palestinian elections and remarkable progress, it is ridiculous to say that the Bush administration “hasn’t done the slightest thing” in 4.5 years. By refusing to work through Arafat (who proved during the Clinton years unable or unwilling to deliver on his promises), the Bush administration left the Palestinian people to deal with the mess their leaders had made. By the time Arafat died, the Palestinian people were ripe for real change, and it seems they are demanding it. From the moment the new Palestinian government was elected, the Bush administration has been right there, offering help and encouragement, and trying to get the “roadmap” to peace back on track. I don’t believe that the influence the Bush administration has had on this particular process rises to the level it does in the Iraq situation, but, again, to claim they have done nothing is pure blindness.

The second expert interviewed (Professor Fouad Ajami from Johns Hopkins) took a much more moderate view on the situation. While he discusses the (huge) contribution the countries and people themselves are making (“this is an Arab drama”), he acknowledges that much credit must be given to the Bush administration for their actions in Iraq and encouraging Lebanon (“Every single Arab I speak to insists on the seminal role that the Bush administration has played.”). And, as is often the case, because I agreed with much of what he said, I don’t have much to say about it. I definitely encourage you to listen to the entire interview yourself.

But I can't say that I am impressed by NPR's broadcasting of Professor Khalidi's opinions. In this matter, he is so far to the left as to be out of the realm of the believable.

1 comment:

Bradley Ross said...

After some consideration, I think I can give Robert Siegel a little more credit. At the start of the interview, Khalidi sounds pretty reasonable. But at the end, he ends with these bizarre statements of blindness. The interviewer could have, I suppose, tried to call the guest of the carpet for his wackiness. Seigel didn't do that. Instead, he concluded the interview immediately and turned to his next expert. You'll notice that he spent 3 minutes with the first expert and 5 minutes with the second. Perhaps that gives insight into whom he found more credible.