By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Saddam Hussein

Iraq, Saddam Hussein and the rise of the Islamic State

The Washington Post today fronts a horrifying story by Liz Sly showing how the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime are pulling the strings of the Islamic State. We will be paying for the hubris of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era for many years to come.

As Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

First as tragedy … then as more tragedy

I’m reading Fred Kaplan by way of Josh Marshall on the Bush administration’s encouraging Georgia to stick its finger in Russia’s eye in recent years, only to find itself powerless to help now that Vladimir Putin has decided he’s had enough. (Not that that’s stopped the bellicose rhetoric emanating from the White House and the McCain campaign.)

It reminds me of President Bush’s father, who encouraged the Shiites in the southern part of Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein in 1991, only to stand by as they were slaughtered.

What’s happening now is a tragedy, but at least Russia isn’t Iraq. And Putin isn’t Saddam. This isn’t our fight, and it’s a shame we led the Georgians to think we would do more than we could. It’s a mistake we’ve made over and over again. (Hungary in 1956, anyone?)

How false becomes true

Dan Gillmor blasts the media for a recent New York Times/CBS News poll finding that one-third of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He writes:

The continuing scandal is that media organizations are doing so little to correct the record. Because it is not enough to run an occasional story debunking the lie.

I don’t disagree, but it’s also more complicated than that. Last Friday, NPR’s “On the Media” ran a fascinating interview with the Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam, whose reporting suggests that the harder you try to debunk a falsehood, the more people are likely to believe it. Here’s Vedantam, talking about what happened after the subjects of a University of Michigan study read a flier produced by the Centers for Disease Control debunking myths about vaccines:

[A]bout 30 minutes later, older people started to remember some of the false statements as true, and three days later, very large numbers of older people and significant numbers of younger people also started remembering increasing numbers of myths as true.

The true statements did not suffer the same kind of deterioration with time. In other words, over time we tend to remember false things as true but not true things as false.

This doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t at least try to educate the public in an ongoing way. But it does mean that it’s likely a significant minority of Americans will continue to believe whatever they like, whether it’s about 9/11 or the (non)-existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

After all, as Vedantam points out, majorities in Arab and Muslim countries continue to believe the United States and/or Israel were responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center. You can only do so much to set the record straight.

Vedantam’s original Post story is online here.

Just, but smart?

Saddam Hussein deserved what he got. But wouldn’t it have been better if his execution hadn’t looked like just another chapter in the sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis? This account, by John Burns and Marc Santora of the New York Times, describes Saddam’s hanging as the moral equivalent of a roadside bombing.

Update: Here is the video of the actual hanging. (Via Little Green Footballs, whose proprietor, Charles Johnson, pretends to think there’s a functional difference between posting the video and posting a link to the video. His acolytes share his phony outrage.)

Saddam’s last minutes?

It looks like Saddam Hussein will hang not long after this item is posted. Though I’m personally opposed to the death penalty, such opposition strikes me as ridiculous in the Iraqi context. Still, I’m of a mixed mind.

On the one hand, it seems a shame to execute him while he’s still on trial for far greater crimes than those of which he’s been convicted. Accountability is important, and this short-circuits that process.

On the other, from my safe perch at Media Nation Central it seems as though some segment of the Iraqi population is still afraid that Saddam will return to power — and that the Sunni insurgency is actually hoping he’ll come back. In the end, that might be even more important than formal accountability. (I say “formal” because it’s not as though we don’t know what he’s done.)

Thus, now is probably as good a time as any.

Photo by Alessandro Abate and used under the terms of Creative Commons (cc). Some rights reserved.

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