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

The murders are the first sign of organised Iraqi opposition to Sadr’s presence a apr 29, 04

those who thought Sadr represented a mass movement among Iraqis were seriously mistaken. [May 5, 04]

ANOTHER BAD DAY for the increasingly irrelevant Sadr. [May 26, 04]


Demonstrators shouted chants denouncing al-Sadr, including one that equated him with deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. [Sep 3, 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.

21 thoughts on “The Kingmaker, Part II

  1. In “The Age” today the US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said that US aid to the Iraqi regime was threatened if the parliament could not form a “national unity” government.

    Maybe he had al-Sadr in mind.

    I thought early on in the war that the Coalition should have supported the partition of Iraq into separate Kurd, Sunni and Shiite nations. I still think this is the only way out of the current mess.

  2. “He goes on to call, rather forlornly, for a better media.”

    I’m not sure that would help. The media covers what people want to hear about and I honestly don’t think the intricacies or details of the new Iraqi government are all that interesting to most Americans. I think what most Americans will actually care about is the fact the a new government is forming, but not necessarily who is or isn’t part of it.

    “I think the real lesson is that the US is, for good and ill, too self-absorbed to be a successful imperial power. ”

    Certainly that’s true of the people in the US. We don’t even care who runs Canada or Mexico, most Americans couldn’t name the leader of either. If you get away from political chatrooms, people just aren’t talking about various Iraqi politicians. Just like the don’t talk about pols in most other nations. It’s a rare American who knows as much about politics outside the US as most people outside the US know about American politics. We just aren’t that fascinated by it.

  3. The idea that Sadr is Iraq’s Dick Cheney may be just too seminal for most. Somebody has to carry the ball and it looks like you have it at the moment.

  4. If only American ignorance were confined only to foreign political leaders:

    This about a survey conducted by National Geographic in 2002:

    “National Geographic tested 18-24 year olds from 9 countries about various topics related to geography, and America finished second to last, ahead of only Mexico. Many of them couldn’t identify the Pacific Ocean or New York state. 83% couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map. Only 25% could pick the population of the United States on a multiple choice test. (The most common answer given by Americans was 1-2 billion.) Needless to say, our woeful ignorance of geography probably explains why most Americans aren’t qualified to talk about international issues, much less consider them when voting.”

    Perhaps the National Association of Anatomists might conduct a survey to discover whether of not Americans are as far down the food chain when it comes to finding their bums with two hands.

  5. I think it’s less ignorance of geography than it is simple disinterest. We’re very focused on our own lives and life in the US. It may be a result OF our geography, most of us don’t live anywhere near a foreign neighbor and we don’t HAVE many neighbors.

  6. For information: no one lives in the Pacific (the one on the left) or Atlantic (the one on the right) Oceans. And, regardless of what Republicans may hope and pray for, New York State is one of the contiguous 48 states of the United States of America (i.e., NOT a foreign country from the perspective of Americans.)

    We Australians have NO neighbours, if you exclude Queensland. (It’s a joke JQ).

  7. This is depressing but unexpected for us moonbats who were given a dressing down when a few people threw flowers at some GIs a little while back.

  8. Actually New York state is quite red if you just a bit out of the city, which is, of course, very blue.

  9. “Actually New York state is quite red if you just a bit out of the city, which is, of course, very blue.”

    As is the case with nearly all states. The red/blue divide is very much a city/suburban-rural phenomenon. “Red” counties cover at least 90% of the surface area of the US.

  10. It’s more a coastal city vs suburban rural phenomenon. If you get much off either coast, you find less division between cities and suburban/rural areas.

  11. I wonder what the water does to the American brain? Does living on the coast correlate with an increase in IQ?

  12. The election result by county map at this U of Michigan page (fourth map on the page) gives the lie to the “coastal” argument.

    The cartograms, which adjust for population density are worth a look, too.

    Note to avaroo: This isn’t directed to you. Don’t reply to me.

  13. ‘We Australians have NO neighbours’

    Waddyamean? I got me a map here says you have Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. Don’t try and pull one over me!

  14. You omitted Lichtenstein.

    More evidence of geographical ignorance?

    Or do you American mice have “size issues”?

  15. Depends on whether or not you live on the coast, Pingu. My guess is that people in Texas and Chicago would count themselves among the “smartest” Americans. Especially the Texans.


  16. Don’t try and draw me into conversation, Mr Katz, you and your fancy Frankenstein stuff. Guess what, wise guy, I found out what lingo you critters speak over your way, and then I looked up ‘Katz’. Don’t think I haven’t heard about internet predators!

  17. NPR in the Seattle area ran a piece on Sadr’s political position that echoed JQ’s sentiments and carried the same degree of alarm.
    The spokesperson did not use the phrase ‘Sadr is Iraq’s Dick Cheney’ but only because the country is in mourning for his terrible marksmanship. [No, that’s not it: only because it is just understood here that the VP is the guy that does all the heavy lifting and the other guy just reads the lines.]

  18. Then, Herr Maus, you’ll know that we antipodean feline germanophone murinophobes don’t talk to four-fingered freaks. We talk at them. Verstehen?

  19. John,
    Please have your bloggers to vote for who should be the next mayor of New Orleans.

    Just click onto and they can join in with people from around the world who have opinions on who can settle the problems of Hurricane Katrina. Thank you

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