Saturday, February 12, 2005

Mixed Signals from the Almighty ?

During the final run-up to the 2004 election there was quite a stir created when, Pat Robertson (the televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition), made the claim on CNN that he had warned President Bush, just prior to the US invasion of Iraq, that the US was going to have considerable difficulties in the ensuing war.

Paula Zahn conducted the interview, and had asked Robertson, whether he thought the president had made mistakes, and whether he had admitted them. His response was as follows:
I met with him down in Nashville before the Gulf War started. And he was the most self-assured man I ever met in my life.

You remember, Mark Twain said, he looks like a contended Christian with four aces. He was just sitting there, like, I'm on top of the world, and I warned him about this war. I had deep misgivings about this war, deep misgivings. And I was trying to say, Mr. President, you better prepare the American people for casualties.

Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties. Well, I said, it's the way it's going to be. And so, it was messy. The lord told me it was going to be, A, a disaster and, B, messy. And before that, I had deep, in my spirit, I had deep misgivings about going into Iraq.

Press accounts from the Washington Post, and the USA Today, etc tended to concentrate on the fact that Mr. Robertson had claimed that the President had said "we're not going to have any casualties," and didn’t place a whole lot of emphasis on the other parts of Robertson’s responses.

The claim, that anyone believed that in a war there wouldn’t be any casualties is rather bizarre, in itself, and the fact that it came from one of Bush’s supporters made it newsworthy, even if there was no verification.

The Bush campaign responded, with several statements from campaign officials, who diplomatically explained that Mr. Robertson must have misunderstood. Bush’s chief political advisor, Karl Rove, stated that he had been present at the February, 2003, Nashville meeting, when the alleged comment was made, and that the President had said no such thing.

As would be expected, considering the timing of the flap (two weeks before the presidential election), the press concentrated on President Bush, and whether Pat Robertson’s claim was an accurate description of the President’s judgement. Under the circumstances, no one seemed particularly interested in investigating Robertson’s account of his own statements, or the claim that the Lord had told him that it was going to be "messy" and a "disaster". Examining his claims would be instructive, both because it would give an indication as to whether the claims regarding Bush might possibly have some validity, and because they might indicate whether Robertson himself has decent judgement on these matters.

Of course, for normal people, in the absence of a recorded transcript, trying to recall the precise words used in a meeting, which took place a year and a half prior, is rather difficult. And people, in general, tend to remember things in a manner that portrays themselves in the most favorable light.

However, one can still get a slightly better picture of what was probably said at a meeting by examining the statements (for which there is a record) which were made shortly afterwards. Memories tend to fade over time, and the memories that are preserved are usually those, which are most likely to re-enforce the notions, which have subsequently been borne out.

In a Feb 27, 2003 interview also on CNN, Robertson had been asked about the impending war, by Connie Chung:

CHUNG:Because I'm wondering if you believe the United States should invade Iraq without U.N. backing.

ROBERTSON:Connie, I have, over the last year or so, been quite concerned about entering into this war. We should have gone in after him in the Gulf War I.

This thing is fraught with danger. And I think we need to understand that. I told the president that just recently, that we have got to prepare the American people for civilian casualties, for possibly our casualties, for gassing, for various chemical weapons against them.

CHUNG: And, sir, in the last 15 seconds, do you believe we need U.N. backing?

ROBERTSON: Connie, I think the U.N., frankly, is a joke. And I think they're becoming impotent and I think they're becoming ineffective. And the dithering on this matter just proves it. So I don't think that's necessary. We've already got Resolution 1141 (sic – he obviously meant resolution 1441). That's all we need.

CHUNG: So are you saying to the president, go ahead, but warn...

ROBERTSON: I think that's it. We're too far along the way to stop back now. And you have no choice but to go forward, so be resolute, but please tell the American people to expect trouble and don't think it's going to be a cakewalk.

This obviously does indicate that Pat Robertson believed that there could be casualties, although he was also under the impression (mistaken as it turns out) that chemical weapons would be used. Furthermore, he gave no indication that President Bush had denied that there would be American losses, only that he (Robertson) had seen fit to warn him about the possibility.

Robertson also stated that he was “concerned about entering this war.” But this statement is hardly novel – everyone is, or at any rate should be, concerned about a war, precisely because everyone should know that it does, in fact, usually involve casualties. Nevertheless, his subsequent comment that “you have no choice but to go forward” makes it abundantly clear what his position was at the time.

It was only subsequently, after the occupation of Iraq began to go badly, that Mr. Robertson began to speak of the fact that the Lord had told him it was going to be “messy” and a “disaster”.

This can only lead one to question the timeliness of Mr. Robertson’s divinely imbued clairvoyance. Perhaps he was confused about when the signals were received from the almighty. Or, for some unknown reason, God may have waited to tell him about how much of a messy disaster it was going to be until after it had already become one.

Obviously, if God had told him that it was going to be “A) a disaster and, B) messy,” before we entered the war, he probably should have told someone about it, or perhaps even suggested that we not do it - unless, of course, it was all part of God’s plan which only the initiated, can understand.

Saying that we “have no choice but to go forward” and to “be resolute” without telling people that it was going to be a messy disaster might lead people to question whether he and God actually had our best interests at heart. It might even lead some of the more faint hearted to ask a question which would be considered blasphemous by some of Robertson's supporters: "Is God really on our side?"

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Déjà vu- The Historical Significance of the Iraqi Elections

With all of the euphoria over the recent Iraqi elections, the question arises as to how historically significant they really are.

Of course, the White House issued a congratulatory statement. (Cynics would call it self-congratulatory, since it was Bush who made the decision to launch “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, and the election was only made possible, or necessary, by that invasion.)

By and large, the press followed suit, and in spite of the violence from those opposed to the U.S. sponsored elections, gave laudatory accounts, and presented the mere holding of the elections as a great victory, and an indicator of the overall success of U.S. policy in Iraq.

But with all of the fulsome praise for the “historic elections”, some members of the subversive news network were skeptical, and made it a point to give an interesting historical perspective. It was pointed out that the US press had previously echoed the claims of the US government regarding other countries’ elections in somewhat similar circumstances.

The account of South Vietnamese elections from the Sept 4, 1967 edition of the New York Times, is worth reading in full.

'U.S. Encouraged by Vietnam Vote’

Peter Grose
The New York Times, Sept 4, 1967, page 2

United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting.

According to reports from Saigon, 83 percent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong.

The size of the popular vote and the inability of the Vietcong to destroy the election machinery were the two salient facts in a preliminary assessment of the national election based on the incomplete returns reaching here.

Pending more detailed reports, neither the State Department nor the White House would comment on the balloting or the victory of the military candidates, Lieut. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu, who was running for president, and Premiere Nguyen Cao Ky, the candidate for vice president.

A successful election has long been seen as the keystone in President Johnson's policy of encouraging the growth of constitutional processes in South Vietnam. The election was the culmination of a constitutional development that began in January, 1966, to which President Johnson gave his personal commitment when he met Premiere Ky and General Thieu, the chief of state in Honolulu in February.

The purpose of the voting was to give legitimacy to the Saigon Government, which has been founded only on coups and power plays since November, 1963, when President Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown by a military junta.

Few member of that junta are still around, most having been ousted or exiled in subsequent shifts of power.

Significance Not Diminished

The fact that the backing of the electorate has gone to the generals who have been ruling South Vietnam for the last two years does not, in the Administration’s view, diminish the Significance of the constitutional step which has been taken.

The hope here is that the new government will be able to maneuver with a confidence and legitimacy long lasting in South Vietnamese politics. That hope could have been dashed either by a small turnout, indicating widespread scorn or lack of interest in constitutional development, or by the Vietcong’s disruption of the balloting.

American officials had hoped for an 80% turnout. That was the figure in the election in September for the Constituent Assembly. Seventy-eight per cent of the registered voters went to the polls in elections for local officials last spring.

Before the results of the presidential elections started to come in, the American officials warned that the turnout might be less than 80 per cent because the polling places would be open for two or three hours less than in the election a year ago. The turnout of 83 per cent was a welcome surprise. The turnout in the 1964 United States presidential election was 62 per cent.

Captured documents and interrogations indicated in the last week a serious concern among Vietcong leaders that a major effort would be required to render the election meaningless. This effort has not succeeded, judging from the reports from Saigon.

Reflecting upon this particular press report from a previous military misadventure does not automatically lead to the conclusion that holding the elections in Iraq is necessarily a bad thing. But reading the article is downright spooky. One merely needs to substitute the phrases “Iraqi Transitional Government” for “Saigon government”, “Insurgents” (or "Saddam loyalists" or "Islamist fighters" or "anti-Iraq Forces" or whatever is the term du jour) for “Vietcong”, etc.

The similarities are striking, even down to the use of the term “terrorists” to describe the groups trying to disrupt the foreign (US) sponsored election process.

This article may not prove that history repeats itself, but it might lead one to believe that whenever there is a conflict, journalists simply re-publish old articles and substitute new names and places for old ones.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?