Did Bush really suggest bombing al-Jazeera?

The news of the "al-Jazeera Memo" in the UK is a transcript of a meeting between Prime Minister Blair and President Bush in April 2004. The subject of a Freedom of Information Act request in Britain, the release of the memo (that has been officially acknowledge as existing) is the subject of a case going before the court tomorrow. Two men in the UK are charged with violating the Official Secrets Act.

The memorandum is actually a five-page transcript stamped "Top Secret." It describes a meeting at the White House on April 16, 2004, between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. At that meeting, which took place while desperately hard fighting was in progress in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, Bush mooted the idea of taking out the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar. The network’s correspondents inside the city had been transmitting lurid footage of extreme violence. The exchange apparently puts Blair in a good light, in that he dissuaded the president from any such course of action and was assisted in this by Colin Powell, who was then secretary of state.

Slate also reports that Colin Powell may have had some difficulty later on in remembering the meeting, which BlairWatch digs on. Based on Powell’s profile and past soldierly commitment to the Chief, I would suggest that either he honestly did not remember or did not want to remember because anything he could have honestly said would have reflected poorly on his boss. The still diplomatic answers he gave a recent BBC interview continues to confirm this.

A little background on where al-Jazeera is:

The state of Qatar, which though a Wahabbi kingdom has a free press and allows women to run and to vote in elections, has not been the host of just Al Jazeera since the network’s predecessor was kicked out of Saudi Arabia. It has also been the host of United States Central Command, and of many American civilians.

This memo, if it comes out to be a)existant and b)accurate would fit in with a growing opinion of the Bush Administration’s "unitary executive" methodology in all things it does.

The Spivak Conspiracy

Hmmm… a public relations campaign that could easily explode. The foreign press, if they picked up on this or will pick on similar cases in the future, will distort and blow up the misguided and foolish attempts to boost an exec’s year-end bonus. In light of the expanding Abramoff scandal today is a story a few months old called the Spivak Conspiracy:

A pharmaceutical consultant secretly commissions a novel about terrorists poisoning Americans with medicine from Canada, then backs out and inadvertently spawns a thriller pillorying his own industry.

This is no pulp-fiction farce. Call it bookgate, an impossible-to-make-up public-relations disaster now dogging the pharmaceutical industry.

Its real-life cast includes a deputy vice president of the country’s drug lobby, a celebrity divorce lawyer, a tell-all book publisher, and even former New York Times fabricator Jayson Blair in a cameo.

"It’s a nightmare beyond nightmares," admitted Mark A. Barondess, the consultant who initiated the book deal and now calls it a mistake.

Media Influence and Misinformation

An example of how disinformation becomes reality from the WashingtonPost.

A White House official said last night the administration was confident that press reports changed bin Laden’s behavior. CIA spokesman Tom Crispell declined to comment, saying the question involves intelligence sources and methods.

The article demonstrates how OBL’s use of a cell / satellite phone was in the public domain before 9/11 and before the "press blew the lid".

Britain: imperial nostalgia

Link: Britain: imperial nostalgia.

Britain not only conveniently still forgets the crimes of its imperial past, but it has also again begun to romanticise its colonial achievements and declare them a proper source of pride.

Without spending too much time on various Western — I am thinking of French, German, Belgian, Dutch, and British here — protestors disengaged the present from the past, I would like to remind them of Africa, the ‘Middle East’, and their involvement then and today.

Chinese and the Horn of Africa

News from the Horn of Africa is diverse and found along many paths. To start, US troops in the Ogaden area rescued two abused and endangered cheetah cubs late last month (Nov 2005) while the Taipei Times is reporting the Chinese navy is "flexing its soft power" as part of an "assertive foreign policy…connecting Chinese seaports with the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Its strategy: to build up sea power, measured in ships, bases and alliances. Energizing a populace accustomed to thinking of China as a land power is one crucial element of Beijing’s new maritime diplomacy." The sea-based public diplomacy is integral to Chinese expansion in the Middle East region as Iran seeks to seal a deal with China next month (Jan 2006):

Continue reading “Chinese and the Horn of Africa”

Chinese Public Diplomacy via UN Peacekeeping

The Chinese state media has highlighted an interesting point as part of their growing public diplomacy campaign to win the hearts and minds of the world, and not least of the impovrished and non-G8 that have important resources China needs. In the last six months, China has had generally 1,000 troops or police on United Nations peacekeeping missions.

A Chinese scholar said Tuesday that China has sent out more than 3,000 troops and policemen to United Nations peacekeeping missions since the late 1980s, reflecting its firm support of the UN’s role in maintaining world peace and security. 
"China has contributed the largest number of troops to UN peacekeeping operations among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council," said Yang Mingjie, a Chinese researcher in international relations…

Chinese peacekeepers have won extensive accolades because of their
strict discipline and high work efficiency. In January 2005, Chinese
peacekeeping riot police in Haiti were awarded a UN peace medal for
their outstanding performance in the crisis-torn country, the highest
honor granted by the UN to peacekeeping missions. [emphasis added]

By the way, the Chinese seem to prefer to participate in African PKOs (peacekeeping operations).

Public Diplomacy by Proxy

Go Trojans!The Los Angeles Times story on Private Security "Guards" (companies) in Iraq largely stems from the recent AEGIS "trophy video", but is largely an emotional reaction to larger and deeper issues that is barely touches on. Perhaps that is the limitation of the mainstream media, especially for an above the fold story like this one, but is the door into the larger debate over appropriateness and inappropriateness of private military forces.

A recent public opinion
poll shows an increasing concern that Washington is too quick to use a
military response, including private security companies that augment
"real" military force, to foreign policy challenges in lieu of soft
power alternatives. Falling outside of normal legislative oversight,
private military forces are contracted, deployed, managed, and paid
through the civilian leadership of the Defense Department and State
Department and other civilian departments (CACI, the Abu Ghraib
interegators came in through a Department of the Interior contract).

Much of what the article says has already been written about here on this site, including

  • "Security firms operating in Iraq have been cited for fraud and have clashed with U.S. forces" … see Zapata Engineering story (additional here) for one example (there are more)
  • "critics say, the contractors are expensive, reckless mercenaries who complicate the U.S. mission in Iraq" … see Consequences
  • "The private guards’ sometimes aggressive behavior has created a wellspring of anger at the U.S. presence in Iraq….Countless Iraqis have had to endure the humiliation of being forced to stop or pull off the road as a convoy of unmarked SUVs races past, filled with men waving guns and making threatening gestures…."This is not a particularly effective way to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis," said Joshua Schwartz, co-director of George Washington University’s government procurement program. "The contractors are making the mission of the U.S. military in Iraq more difficult." … see Potential Cost and the rest of the Private Military company section on this site.

Afforded perceived deniable accountability back to the White House for private military activities allows a freer hand in engagement policies extending military options in foreign policy without Congressional or public oversight. Clumsy attempts by the civilian leadership to use private military forces as indirect ambassadors and instruments of American foreign policy are paid back with public and embarrassing actions such as those portrayed in the Los Angeles Times article, among many now appearing with increasing frequency in mainstream media.

This Administration really does not get it, as this story about how undersecretary of state for public diplomacy Karen Hughes "believes that how we treat prisoners in the ‘global war on terror’ is unlikely to have a serious adverse affect on how people think of the United States." The war, as the Morocco Times puts it, "has entered a new phase":

The US and its allies must learn to separate al-Qaeda from its base of support. I am referring to the base that is not made of terrorists but of millions of ordinary Muslims and Arabs who feel disfranchised and marginalized in their own societies while the US happily supports and makes deals with their oppressors. If it really wants to win over this base, the administration must change its terms of engagement with the Muslim world and begin an honest dialogue. Washington must make serious efforts to alter the common view of decades-long of American exploitation and manipulation….

The administration has systematically ignored the multiple root causes of terrorism and as a result the US will end prolonging the war indefinitely at a terrible and debilitating cost. For this reason, the administration must begin immediately an earnest campaign, as extensive as is necessary, to win the hearts of the masses who now form the essential support for al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. Concurrently, the administration must establish a time-table for complete withdrawal from Iraq and in doing so abandon the illusion that it can bring order there or cripple any terrorist group operating there before it permanently departs.

This should be on Hughes’ reading list, but it probably isn’t. It should be on Rice’s too, but she clearly is not concerned with other points of view, believing foreign policy stems for isolated national interest and “not from the interests of an “illusory international community”

How do we promote our beliefs if we pick and choose very selectively?

When having a secret meeting, keep it a secret

When conducting secret negotiations, make sure both sides are entirely clear about what they can disclosure. Do the arm twisting up front. Then again, maybe it was simply posturing on the other side but what could he gain by backtracking? From UPI: Paracha Changes Story on Hughes Meeting:

Paracha initially confirmed that he met last Friday with U.S. State Department Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes and U.S. military officials at Islamabad’s Serena Hotel, according to GEO Pakistan News. The Daily Times reported that following a telephone call from "American officials in Islamabad," Paracha subsequently changed his account of what transpired and said, "I met U.S. businessmen who were visiting Pakistan in connection to the Oct. 8 earthquake. "There was no U.S. government official at the meeting. I was told was that U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes was also staying at the same hotel. I did not meet her, but saw her from close."

Blair ‘convinced Bush’ not to launch strike at Al-Jazeera

From the Scotsman.com website comes an extremely disturbing headline that is likely to cause a huge furor in the United States, Middle East, Europe, and the rest of the world: Blair ‘convinced Bush’ not to launch strike at Al-Jazeera.

TONY BLAIR had to persuade US President George Bush not to launch a military strike on the studios of TV station Al-Jazeera.

New reports claim the two leaders debated an attack on the station which has broadcast video messages from al-Qaida head Osama bin Laden and leaders of the insurgency in Iraq, as well as clips of dead British and US soldiers.

This possible revelation (subject to proven authenticity) would validate (unfortunate) long held beliefs of the targeting of al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi and other press services. The harm to use public diplomacy is going to be beyond compare if this story is not countered with facts. Attacking the media, regardless of the offices being housed in a friendly country, Qatar, is a heinous and reprehensible statement on the democratic tradition of free media. A dichotomy that will not be lost on "America’s enemies" (and friends).

Worse, this story will be more congruent with audiences with the recent public attacks and counter-attacks over charges of intelligence manipulation and increasing revelations and awareness of poor war and post-conflict planning. The Murtha exchanges and the "reprehensible comments" (MSNBC, LA Times, WashingtonPost) will simply make this story resonate all the more with an on the fence or other side of the fence audience.

Going right along with the sinking ship of the Bush Administration’s credibility is the recently (17 Nov 05) announced investigation of Douglas Feith "of manipulating information".

Where does the buck stop?