NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: August 9

Old media dethroned

When John Edwards admitted Friday that he lied about his affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter, a former employee of his campaign, he may have ended his public life but he certainly ratified an end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism.

From the start, the Edwards scandal has belonged entirely to the alternative and new media. The tabloid National Enquirer has done all the significant reporting on it — reporting that turns out to be largely correct — and bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion.

Editor’s Comment — That John Edwards finally had no choice but to engage in what has become a pro forma act of “coming clean” – the up-close-and-personal prime-time confession – was really among the least interesting of the ways in which he could have revealed himself. What would have been far more telling would have been for him to share the calculations he must have been making in late 2006.

Did he really believe he could make it all the way through a presidential campaign without this story coming out? Or was he holding in reserve a Clintonian back-up plan to engage in the kind of damage control that helped Bill and Hillary save their first run for the White House?

Ironically, confessing to his infidelity seems like the lesser of the confessions Edwards could have made.

Reticence of mainstream media becomes a story itself

For almost 10 months, the story of John Edwards’s affair remained the nearly exclusive province of the National Enquirer — through reports, denials, news of a pregnancy, questions about paternity and, finally, a slapstick chase through a hotel in Beverly Hills.

Political blogs, some cable networks and a few newspapers reported on it — or, more accurately, reported on The Enquirer reporting on it. Jay Leno and David Letterman made Mr. Edwards the butt of jokes on their late-night shows, but their own networks declined to report on the rumors surrounding him on the evening news. Why?

A number of news organizations with resources far greater than The Enquirer’s, like The New York Times, say they looked into the Edwards matter and found nothing solid enough to report, while others did not look at all.

New evidence suggests Ron Suskind is right

If Ron Suskind’s sensational charge that the White House and CIA colluded in forging evidence to justify the Iraq invasion isn’t proved conclusively in his new book, “The Way of the World,” then the sorry record of the Bush administration offers no basis to dismiss his allegation. Setting aside the relative credibility of the author and the government, the relevant question is whether the available facts demand a full investigation by a congressional committee, with testimony under oath.

When we look back at the events surrounding the emergence of the faked letter that is at the center of this controversy, a strong circumstantial case certainly can be made in support of Suskind’s story.

That story begins during the final weeks of 2003, when everyone in the White House was suffering severe embarrassment over both the origins and the consequences of the invasion of Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. No evidence of significant connections between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the al-Qaida terrorist organization had been discovered there either. Nothing in this costly misadventure was turning out as advertised by the Bush administration.

Plucky little Georgia? No, the cold war reading won’t wash

For many people the sight of Russian tanks streaming across a border in August has uncanny echoes of Prague 1968. That cold war reflex is natural enough, but after two decades of Russian retreat from those bastions it is misleading. Not every development in the former Soviet Union is a replay of Soviet history.

The clash between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia, which escalated dramatically yesterday, in truth has more in common with the Falklands war of 1982 than it does with a cold war crisis. When the Argentine junta was basking in public approval for its bloodless recovery of Las Malvinas, Henry Kissinger anticipated Britain’s widely unexpected military response with the comment: “No great power retreats for ever.” Maybe today Russia has stopped the long retreat to Moscow which started under Gorbachev.

Has Georgia overreached in Ossetia?

Whether or not the effect was intended, Moscow now appears to be using Saakashvili’s strategic overreach to teach a brutal lesson not only to the Georgians, but also to other neighbors seeking to align themselves with the West against Russia. Saakashvili is appealing for Western support, based on international recognition of South Ossetia as sovereign Georgian territory. “A full-scale aggression has been launched against Georgia,” he said, calling for Western intervention. But given NATO’s previous warnings, its commitments elsewhere and the reluctance of many of its member states to antagonize Russia, it remains unlikely that Georgia will get more than verbal support from its desired Western protectors. Saakashvili appears to have both underestimated the scale of the Russian backlash, and overestimated the extent of support he could count on from the U.S. and its allies. The Georgian leader may have expected Washington to step up to his defense, particularly given his country’s centrality to the geopolitics of energy — Georgia is the only alternative to Russia as the route for a pipeline carrying oil westward from Azerbaijan. But Russia is not threatening to overrun Georgia. Moscow claims to be simply using its military to restore the secessionist boundary, which in the process would deal Saakashvili a humiliating defeat.

Although its outcome is yet to be decided, there’s no win-win outcome to the offensive launched by Georgia with the goal of recovering South Ossetia. Either Saakashvili wins, or Moscow does. Unless the U.S. and its allies demonstrate an unlikely appetite for confrontation with an angry and resurgent Russia in its own backyard, the smart money would be on Moscow.

‘Invasion of Georgia’ a ‘3 a.m. moment’

When the North Caucasus slid into war Thursday night, it presented Senators John McCain and Barack Obama with a true “3 a.m. moment,” and their responses to the crisis suggested dramatic differences in how each candidate, as president, would lead America in moments of international crisis.

While Obama offered a response largely in line with statements issued by democratically elected world leaders, including President Bush, first calling on both sides to negotiate, John McCain took a remarkably—and uniquely—more aggressive stance, siding clearly with Georgia’s pro-Western leaders and placing the blame for the conflict entirely on Russia.

The abrupt crisis in an obscure hotspot had the features of the real foreign policy situations presidents face—not the clean hypotheticals of candidates’ white papers and debating points.

Iran, the US and the post-Cold War world

The American-European-led international diplomatic minuet with Iran is the most interesting and significant political dynamic in the world today. What happens on the Iran issue will determine power relations for years to come, far beyond Iran’s immediate neighborhood, because some critical issues are captured in the Iranian nuclear question. These include global energy flows, the credibility and impact of the UN Security Council, the limits of economic and political sanctions, the capacity of determined regional powers to defy greater global powers, the interplay between Israeli, Western and global interests, the coherence of political Europe, and the spirit and letter of international law, conventions and treaties.

Domestic political posturing in Iran, the United States, Israel and Europe aside, three core issues are at stake here: Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for verifiably peaceful purposes; Israeli concerns that an Iranian nuclear bomb would be an existential threat, which Israel will never allow to happen; and Western fears of Iran’s military power, nuclear capabilities, and radicalizing political influence around the Middle East.

Pakistan army to ask Pervez Musharraf to resign

Pakistan’s all-powerful army chief will ask President Pervez Musharraf to resign from office within a week, a senior government official claimed today.

The claim was supported by a former military aide to the president who said that the army’s leadership wished Mr Musharraf to be spared the humiliation of impeachment.

The civilian government intensified an attritional, seven-month long power struggle with the presidency when it announced earlier this week that it is to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr Musharraf on Monday.

Close Musharraf allies say he has no plans to resign under pressure

President Pervez Musharraf will stage a spirited defense against impeachment charges that the governing coalition is pursuing against him, and has no intention of resigning under pressure, his key allies said Friday.

Mr. Musharraf, who has been president for nearly nine years, faces the first impeachment proceedings in Pakistani history, after the leaders of the two major political parties in the coalition announced Thursday that they would seek to remove him.

The grounds for impeachment included mismanagement of the economy, along with Mr. Musharraf’s imposition in November of emergency rule and the firing of nearly 60 judges, the party leaders said.

A US withdrawal deal with Sadr?

Shi’ite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr stepped back into Iraq’s political fray Friday with an offer that (if genuine) Washington would be hard-pressed to refuse: Set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and the Mahdi Army will begin to disband. “The main reason for the armed resistance is the American military presence,” said Sadr emissary Salah al-Ubaidi, who spoke to reporters in Najaf Friday. “If the American military begins to withdrawal, there will be no need for these armed groups.”

Sadr in the past has vowed to expand the humanitarian work of his movement but promised to maintain fighters from his Mahdi Army militia, which has fought against both the Iraqi government and U.S. forces. Al-Ubaidi’s remarks effectively offered the strongest assurances yet that the Mahdi Army is willing to stand down entirely in Iraq, if American military forces back away.

In Iraq, regional politics heats up

A growing number of Iraqi groups are choosing to pursue their agendas through politics instead of bloodshed, a trend that has helped bring down levels of violence. But as Iraqis leave behind the sectarian cataclysms of recent years, ethnic and regional political disputes in several parts of Iraq are becoming more pronounced.

In the south, ruling Shiite parties are vying for electoral power against loyalists of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Shiite tribal leaders. In the west, Sunni tribes are challenging the political control of established Sunni religious parties. And in the north, ethnic Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens are in a struggle for control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

“What we have now is people who know how to use weapons and who now want to play politics,” said Mithal al-Alusi, an independent Sunni legislator. Even so, some leaders seem unable to decide whether to trust their fortunes to the ballot box.

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1 thought on “NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENT: August 9

  1. Carol Elkins

    I have been opposed to this war of aggression ever since George Bush hinted at it in his “foreign policy” debate with Al Gore in 2000.

    However!

    If it ends up by making Iraqis more inclined to use politics than war, it won’t have been all bad.

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