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"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

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"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

March 02, 2006

Can You Call It "Victor's Justice" If We Haven't Actually Won?

I've been reading a book from 1986 called Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam. It's by Robin Wright, who now works for the Washington Post and is one of the better reporters on the Middle East. Here's an excerpt:

After the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Middle East had begun witnessing a virulent new strain of terrorism that spread like an infectious virus...

The early targets were not Western. Many incidents were spectacular and well publicized: the 1981 plot to overthrow the government of Bahrain and install an Islamic republic; sabotage and assassination attempts over an extended period against the President of Iraq; the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and uprisings that year and the next in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia; the assassination Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Did you notice that sentence in the middle? Let's look at it again:

...sabotage and assassination attempts over an extended period against the President of Iraq

I hope you did, because we've put Saddam Hussein on trail and will almost certainly execute him for his response to this "virulent terrorism"—specifically, ordering the executions of 148 people after a 1982 assassination attempt against him in the Iraqi town of Dujail.

And Sacred Rage is par for the course. From 1982-90, the New York Times mentioned Dujail exactly zero times, while very occasionally saying things like "[Saddam] has survived a number of assassination attempts." (Don't even ask about U.S. television.)

By contrast, Nexis shows 386 references to Dujail on TV and radio since we invaded Iraq. Paula Zahn did a long segment on one witness.


BEFORE SADDAM DISOBEYS ORDERS: Not only does the U.S. media maintain total silence about Saddam's ghastly deeds in Dujail, on occasion they actually adopt his perspective—i.e., that he's dealing with "virulent terrorism."

AFTER SADDAM DISOBEYS ORDERS: Great wailing and gnashing of teeth about his hideous crimes in Dujail, filled with details about the suffering of people whose lives (all of a sudden) have some value.

You can understand why Saddam may be a little bitter about this.

SPECIAL HISTORY BONUS: There once was a similar sitution in the Soviet Union—a purported plot against Stalin by high ranking military leaders seeking to kill him and make an alliance with Germany. Stalin had 4,000 officers liquidated.

Here's what Winston Churchill later said, while Russia was Britain's ally: "Stalin was thoroughly justified. These officers were acting against their country."

Paula Zahn has yet to comment.

Posted at March 2, 2006 05:14 PM | TrackBack

Maybe if we could run a script to search Nexis for bloody and violent events NOT mentioned in the NYT for the last five years we could accurately predict the location of our future trauma in, say, 10 years. And then like any good prediction machine, we'd use it to change the future by getting those places *into* the NYT, thereby breaking the curse.

Posted by: Saheli at March 2, 2006 06:05 PM

Disobeys orders? His invasion of Kuwait was hardly disobeying orders, since the US ambassador gave him, at least arguably, a green light a few days earlier. I guess he disobeyed orders by staying in Kuwait once Bush 41 decided he was worse than Hitler, and by not dismantling all of his WMD programs immediately (what was it, a year or two?). I guess he denied W's orders to bring his non-existent WMD's for show and tell in a parking lot, and he refused to leave the country on 72 hours notice. I also suspect he didn't do everything Reagan asked back in the 80's.

But I don't think the '91 war, the sanctions, the bombings, the inspections, the current war, or his being on trial had much to do with him disobeying orders. He was convenient to our "leaders" as an ally for a while, after which he became more useful as an enemy.

I wonder if Bushareff is taking notes.

Posted by: Bob at March 2, 2006 07:38 PM

A perfect example of the REVERSE MEMORYHOLE except the fact we were paying Saddam to do our dirty work over there. Sometimes it's not cheaper to do it yourself. Let's through MORE MONEY at the situation, maybe it'll all go away. For sure the money will.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 2, 2006 07:58 PM

paging 'victor' davis hanson.

HAHAHAAHAHAHHAHA kneel before my brain-numbing jokes pewny hoomanz!

Posted by: almostinfamous at March 2, 2006 08:22 PM

This is a great blog. First-time reader. Please excuse me for not having a response to the subject piece that is as funny and clever as comment #1 is. Maybe next time.
The comments are great. Wow. Just when I thought that I might have to go back to reading cable-tv crawls. I'll be coming back. And I don't understand how there ever was a time when permission had to be obtained to change the price of a burger. Is there still a Price Commission? Does it control gasoline?

Posted by: The LateUnpleasantness at March 2, 2006 08:59 PM

This isnt a new pattern. Other examples are as numberous as they are similar. In the end, being a stable buisness friendly state is more important to privalaged elites than actually respecting human rights or chemical weapons bans, and the media has what seems to be an on/off switch in these instances.

If any foriegn leaders happen to be reading this blog, take that to heart.

Posted by: Kawika at March 3, 2006 01:50 AM

Fantastic excerpt from Yergin/Stanislaw's book: I'm ashamed that I didn't remember Nixon's wage-and-price control experiment. I was right in the thick of it, running out of money to pay tuition at Cal.... Wouldn't cross the picket line at Ray Kroc's franchise for a job, and couldn't even afford to eat one of those pricey burgers. The experiment was over in Berkeley, anyway, so we left Berkeley for more affordable communal living in the high desert above Palm Springs until we could save enough money, picking tomatoes at $1.25/hr, to go to the cheaper state university in San Luis Obispo. We didn't have access to television or radio, or computers, of course, so I missed out on both Bonanza and the Bonanza preemption. I need to read more history and less blogs!

Posted by: The LateUnpleasantness at March 3, 2006 10:11 AM

Okay, I’m a Canadian. So none of you have to listen to any of this. Not being an American, I’m not likely to believe that my opinion matters.

(Insert additional facetious comments here)

Saddam Hussein was certainly a soldier in the employ of the United States military establishment. And as I understand it, soldiers who disobey orders are given a court martial and shot. The fact that it took an adventure to find the guy and bring him to trial in order to shoot him is incidental.

What exactly is the problem? Is it that you, America, hired a murderer and then later you’re put in the inconvenient position of having to execute him? Is it that you would like to stop hiring foreign murderers to do your dirty work? Is it that the foreign murderers should just stay on their leashes and not put you into these difficult positions? I’m sorry, I’m baffled.

It is American policy to hire, use, then discard foreign bastards…it has been for something like 160 years, since America’s first clumsy efforts in Mexico. Need I remind you of the Philippines, or Cuba, or the banana states, or Cambodia, etc., etc., etc. Please stop acting like these events with Hussein are SO amazingly profound and unexpected.

The reverse memory hole is so complete that it is conveniently forgotten that every administration since Pierce has had its collection of Noriegas, Husseins and Diems. What, the system isn’t working for you? Getting a little squeamish in your old age?

Considering the history of your country, exactly what moral high ground are you standing on?

Posted by: alexis S at March 3, 2006 11:06 AM

alexis S, there are not a lot of people in spaces like this claiming any moral high ground. in fact, kawika and the proprieter of this here establishment have both mentioned in this thread that it's a 230-year pattern of making the world safe for business interests. while other first-world beneficiaries (such as canada) of these policies have a little more high ground than we americans do, it's not much of a high ground unless you're really into relativism. the system is working for canada, isn't it? or have your government and people refused to partake in the spoils of slaughter?

Posted by: joe_christmas at March 3, 2006 12:04 PM

Hey Joe,

Don't forget to mention how you won the war for us.

I don't pretend to any high ground. I am sickened. I love Jon because he says the sooth. Not of lot of it out there.

And yes, sometimes I comment from the hip before I read all the comments.

Posted by: alexis S at March 3, 2006 12:58 PM

Man, Americans are assholes.

Good job with Stephen Harper, by the way.

Posted by: Sully at March 3, 2006 01:06 PM

Compatriots! Please, settle down. In my capacity as sooth-teller, I hereby stipulate that (1) some proportion of Americans are power mad assholes, yet (2) this proportion is no higher than it would be in any other group of humans who found themselves in similar circumstances.

I realize #2 is not much consolation to those at the wrong end of the fist, however.

In any case, Alexis' question -- Considering the history of your country, exactly what moral high ground are you standing on? -- is the right one. The problem is not that America is worse than every other country. We're not. The problem is our ignorance and preening self-delusion that we're better than everyone else. A little moderation and self-knowledge would be extremely helpful.

We can look for these qualities being adopted by America just as soon as China cuts our line of credit.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at March 3, 2006 02:20 PM

What Jon says is good. He wants to cut off a futile dispute. But I'm still going to travel with a Canadian flag on my backpack and act like a self-satisfied jerk wherever I go. I'm sorry about that. I can't help it. I got started doing that back in the eighties and it's been a damn fine wheeze ever since. Opprobrium and the opportunity for a broken nose should be shared selflessly, even if it afflicts some people who don't deserve it.

Posted by: J. Alva Scruggs at March 3, 2006 06:16 PM

My nose bleeds easily, please don't break it. Opproprium, on the other hand, I can handle. Usually.

Jonathan, if you hadn't been so cheap when they were selling vowels this blog could have been about bubblebaths and chocolate and hot stone massages. Instead you had to get in on the Ides of March action.

Posted by: Saheli at March 3, 2006 08:08 PM
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