More Niger Nonsense - October 7, 2003

Times Watch for October 7, 2003

More Niger Nonsense

Sunday's front-page story by Elisabeth Bumiller, "C.I.A. Chief Is Caught in Middle by Leak Inquiry," looks at how CIA director George Tenet is handling the controversy over who leaked the identity of Joseph Wilson's wife. Once again, the Times gets a key fact flat wrong.

Bumiller writes: "In the summer, the conflict broke into the open when Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said that Mr. Tenet had been primarily responsible for not stripping from the president's State of the Union address an insupportable claim that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger."

Wrong. What Bush actually said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Journalist Andrew Sullivan has picked up on this media trend of claiming Bush referenced Niger in his address.

The distinction isn't merely a matter of lazy journalism or ethnocentric conflation of one country in Africa with the entire continent. As liberal media critic Bob Somerby points out, the British intelligence Bush referred to in the State of the Union focused on the Congo as the possible source of Iraqi uranium, not Niger.

Somerby adds: "The American National Intelligence Report of October 2002 seemed to support the idea that Iraq sought uranium from African nations other than Niger. 'Reports indicate Iraq also has sought uranium ore from Somalia and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo,' the NIE said. 'We cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources. Reports suggest Iraq is shifting from domestic mining and milling of uranium to foreign acquisition.' True or false? We simply dont know. But if you got the impression from recent reporting that the Brit intel was all about Niger, you just may have been snookered again."

For the rest of Bumiller's story on the Joseph Wilson investigation, click here.

Africa | George W. Bush | CIA | Elisabeth Bumiller | Iraq War | Niger | Joseph Wilson

Times Ethicist Goes Bananas

Randy Cohen, the Times resident ethicist, once again takes up the class-warfare cudgels in response to a question rather loosely related to the subject.

A reader searching for advice sends this query to Cohen's Sunday magazine column: "My dermatologist, one of Manhattan's best, is well paid for his work. When he referred me to an internist, I assumed this doctor was, too. I went for a routine physical knowing he did not accept insurance, but not that his fee would be $500 for 25 minutes spent with me. I say charging $500 is unconscionable, but do I have an ethical leg to stand on?"

Cohen responds: "There's nothing discreditable about asking to be well paid for your work. But while the doctor's doing so is not unethical, the consequences can be undesirable, contributing to a system that allocates medical resources on the basis of a patient's income, not his need, and thus reinforcing a societal drift toward great disparities of wealth and poverty. The solution lies less in individual rectitude than in civic virtue. The medical community must devise ways to deliver health care equitably. And the entire nation must consider the consequences of income distribution akin to that of a banana republic."

For the rest of Randy Cohen's column, click here.

Class Warfare | Randy Cohen | Columnists | Ethicist

Syria Spotless, Israel to Blame

Tuesday's front-page story from Beirut by Neil MacFarquhar is a sympathetic look on how Syria (on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism) feels about Israel's strike on a terrorist training camp in Syrian territory. In "Arabs' Fear: A New Crisis-Wider Conflict Seen After Israeli Airstrike," MacFarquhar takes Syria's point of view, and for good measure, melodramatically portrays Iraq as "teetering on the brink of bedlam."

He opens: "Behind a seemingly calm facade, with Damascus toothless to respond militarily to the deepest Israeli air raid in Syria in three decades, the Arab world was reeling Monday from the idea that yet a third major conflict could erupt in the Middle East. Already, the region is traumatized by the open wound that Israeli-Palestinian clashes have become and by an American-occupied Iraq teetering on the brink of bedlam."

That last sentence begs the question: If Arab nations like Syria truly are "traumatized" by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, why do they coddle and sponsor anti-Israel terror groups like Hezbollah?

"On a day when Israel was quietly observing Yom Kippur, senior Arab officials and analysts listed what they saw as three basic reasons behind Israel's decision to strike at what it described as a training center for Islamic Jihad northwest of Damascus, and which Syria said was a long-abandoned camp, hidden in the depth of a dramatic ravine. First, after three years of tit-for-tat attacks, the Arab analysts said the Sharon government was running out of targets within the occupied territories to hit after each new suicide bombing, the latest killing 19 people in addition to the bomber in Haifa on Saturday."

MacFarquhar's phrase "tit-for-tat attacks" is an odd way to describe the pattern of Palestinian suicide bombing and Israeli counterattacks. Arab officials may indeed claim such a moral equivalence, but that's not how the victims or most Americans feel.

MacFarquhar passes on more talking points from Arab officials: "Second, the United States declared war on terror, and its invasion of Iraq has abruptly made more feasible the idea of reaching across borders to smite any enemy. Third, with the Palestinians clearly unable to stop the suicide attacks carried out by militant groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, bombing Syria was seen by these Arab analysts as an effort to exert pressure on the larger Arab world to play that role."

Who says the Palestinians are "clearly" unable to stop suicide attacks? Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat claims he can, when it suits him politically, at least.

Then MacFarquhar suggests (again, through Arab talking points) that Israel's defensive fight against terror avoids its own culpability in the Arab-Israeli conflict: "Ultimately, though, there remains a widespread sense that Israel and, by extension, the United States, through all their antiterrorism slogans and other accusations pointed at various Arab capitals, are ignoring the larger, older issue-ending the 36-plus years of Israeli occupation of Arab lands."

Without challenging the Arab leaders' self-serving assertions, MacFarquhar follows up: "Analysts believe that if Syria does respond it will be indirectly-the young president, Bashar al-Assad, following the pattern of his late father-either through one of its proxy forces like Hezbollah in Lebanon, or perhaps by making life more difficult for American forces in Iraq." "Making life more difficult" is apparently MacFarquhar's euphemism for killing American soldiers in Iraq.

He continues: "The problem, many Arab officials and analysts believe, is that Israel wraps its attacks in the colors of the campaign against terrorism. 'Since Sept. 11, the Israelis have been able to introduce all this as part of the antiterror campaign and it's not,' said Mustapha Hamarneh, director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. 'They are two separate things. Al Qaeda is one thing, and the West Bank and Gaza are something else.'" Though MacFarquhar leaves that assertion (as well as all the others) unchallenged, there are plenty of Syrians who disagree with Hamarneh.

Here's a March 28 excerpt from the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (courtesy of the Shark Blog): "Syria is granting free passage across its border with Iraq to volunteers who wish to join the fight against the U.S. and British forces. Thus far, dozens of volunteers, primarily Palestinians from the refugee camps in Lebanon, have crossed over into Iraq through Syrian-controlled border posts." Some Palestinian terrorists seem to think there's a rather strong connection between the "West Bank and Gaza" and al Qaeda-one they're ready to kill and die for. If they make the link, why shouldn't Israel and the United States?

For more of Neil MacFarquhar's musings on Arab opinion, click here.

Arabs | Iraq War | Israel | Neil MacFarquhar | Palestinians | Syria | Terrorism

Israel Attacks a Terror Camp? Blame Bush

In his Monday story from Baghdad, "Wider Violence Will Follow Israeli Attack, Arabs Warn," Patrick Tyler writes on Israel's attack on a terrorist camp in Syria: "There was an added measure of disquiet in the Middle East as Israel's strike deep into Syrian territory crossed new boundaries. It underscored how little progress the Bush administration has made in developing or enforcing a strategy to reduce violence and provocation by Palestinians and Israelis."

While placing rather a lot of responsibility regarding Israel's actions onto Bush's shoulders, the passage also reveals a double-standard at the Times regarding foreign policy. While the Times often bashes Bush for unilateralism and excessive interference in other countries affairs when it comes to Iraq, when the subject turns to Israel, suddenly it becomes Bush's responsibility to interfere for the sake of Mideast "peace."

For the rest of Patrick Tyler's story on international response to the Israeli action, click here.

George W. Bush | Israel | Palestinians | Syria | Patrick Tyler