The Kingmaker, Part II
Peter Beinart runs a TNR piece with a theme implicit in my post on the Sadr interview, the fact that Sadr’s rise to power in Iraq has attracted almost no media attention. Not having access to US TV, I didn’t realise how completely this has been ignored (Technorati suggests the same is pretty much true for the blogosphere). It’s behind their paywall, but I can’t resist quoting the first few paras
Something important happened this week in Iraq. The United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia Islamist coalition that won a plurality of seats in last December’s elections, chose Ibrahim Al Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister, which means he’ll almost certainly get the job. Jaafari was already Iraq’s interim prime minister, but few thought he’d keep the post in a permanent government. After all, Sunnis accused him of allowing Shia militias to run roughshod in Iraq’s Interior Ministry. Kurds and other secular Iraqis considered him a closet theocrat who had tried to undermine women’s rights to inheritance and divorce. And just about everyone considered him indecisive and ineffectual–not a great quality when your government is fighting for its life. Yet he got the job. Turns out ineffectual and theocratic is just what some members of the United Iraqi Alliance wanted in a prime minister. In particular, Moqtada Al Sadr pushed for Jaafari’s selection in a deal that could give his followers four or five Cabinet posts. It’s quite possible, in fact, that Sadr will emerge as the most powerful figure in Iraq’s new government. You remember Sadr–the guy the United States accused of murdering a moderate Shia cleric just days into the war. The guy who recently visited Iran and Syria to express solidarity with their anti-American dictators. The guy whose militia (which we tried–and failed–to disarm several years ago) periodically attacks British troops in the Iraqi south. Yes, that Sadr. Well, he’s now Iraq’s Dick Cheney.
Jaafari’s selection sparked a lively debate on U.S. talk shows. Hosts asked their guests how it affected their views on troop withdrawal. Regional experts tried to explain the murky political dynamic within the Shia Islamist coalition. Pundits raised alarms about Sadr’s new power. Talking heads speculated about how the Kurds and Sunnis would respond.
Actually, none of this happened. In reality, Jaafari’s selection sparked little discussion in the broadcast media. It made the front page of Monday’s New York Times and Washington Post, but, in the mysterious alchemy that converts print news into network news, the Jaafari story almost disappeared. According to transcripts, it received less than a paragraph of text on ABC’s “World News Tonight Sunday” and “Fox News Sunday.” And those were the responsible outlets. CBS’s and NBC’s Sunday evening broadcasts didn’t mention Jaafari’s selection at all.
Beinart goes on to point out that, since this event can’t easily be fitted into the liberal vs conservative, domestic political pointscoring format of cable TV, it’s just ignored. He goes on to call, rather forlornly, for a better media. I think the real lesson is that the US is, for good and ill, too self-absorbed to be a successful imperial power. Mind you, the British, who were professionals at imperialism, found Iraq pretty hard to handle when they had the mandate.
Update I couldn’t find much blogospheric reaction to Sadr’s rise, so I thought I’d check at Warblogger Central. I couldn’t see anything recent, but Instapundit has followed Sadr’s career, which apparently follows an uninterrupted trajectory of decline (he notes, in this respect, the incisive analysis of the Belmont Club). Some samples
SADR’S DECLINE CONTINUES [Jun 17, 04]
Bush has successfully mitigated the perils of having to grapple with two insurgencies simultaneously– through a nuanced combination of sophisticated counter-insurgency efforts and attendant political machinations contra Moktada al-Sadr. [Nov 1, 04]
Sadr seems to drop of the Instaradar screen after that, at least as far as my Google skills can detect, and maybe he was quietly rehabilitated in the course of 2005. Oceania has, after all, always been at war with Eastasia.