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Public’s Pro-Inspections Posture Is M.I.A. on TV

Memo To Talk-Show Bookers:


If You Want A Genuine Opponent Of Bush’s Iraq Policy, Steer Clear Of
Clinton And His Foreign-Policy Team
By Dennis Hans

The latest New York Times/CBS poll says 59 percent of Americans think Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei are on to something with these inspections. Give the dynamic duo more time, say the 59 percent. If Saddam is hiding WMD, let’s find those weapons and destroy them. If Blix and ElBaradei can certify in a few months that Iraq is “WMD free,” even better, as there’ll be no need to go to war to achieve President Bush’s stated goal of disarming Saddam.

Boy, are those 59 percent out of touch with America’s tough-talking talking heads. The latter have been downright depressed ever since Blix and ElBaradei’s Feb. 14 report slowed the rush to war.

One reason for the near-unanimity of talking-head opinion is that TV-show “bookers” often turn to a veteran of Bill Clinton’s foreign-policy team for an “alternative” perspective from the Bush administration. Makes sense, right? Bring on someone who supports the Republican president, and counter him or her with a former official of the recent Democratic administration.

But remember, Clinton is a self-described “new Democrat,” positioned halfway between Republicans and “old Democrats” like Ted Kennedy and John Conyers. As president, he was moderately liberal on some domestic issues but leaned right on international issues. His domestic team included genuine liberals such as Robert Reich and Peter Edelman (both of whom grew weary of losing policy battles with administration conservatives), while his foreign-policy players ranged from establishment centrists and conservatives to hard-right ideologues.

Here, in broad terms, are the Iraq-policy positions of the Clinton veterans who appear regularly on TV:

Unilateral superhawks: CIA director James Woolsey, drug czar and former SouthCom commander General Barry McCaffrey, Dr. Laurie Mylroie.

Multilateral hawks (Let’s get the U.N. on our side — even though we don’t legally need them — then let’s attack): Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her deputy, Jamie Rubin; National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and his deputy, P.J. Crowley; U.N. Ambassadors Bill Richardson and Richard Holbrooke; Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.

Smooth-feathered multilateral hawks (same basic view as the multilateral hawks in a kinder, gentler package): Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Michael O’Hanlon, Nancy Soderberg, Ivo Daalder.

Those who see diplomacy as a means of peacefully resolving the Iraq crisis, rather than as a means to bully and bribe other nations to support a military solution: Nobody.

You hear that, bookers? Nobody.

Not surprisingly, none of the Clinton veterans sought to slow the rush to war by poking holes in Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation; all gave him rave reviews.

Two weeks later Powell stands exposed the world over as a charlatan, his presentation a tissue of lies built on a discredited British dossier, photos that prove nothing, and the testimony of tortured captives and dishonest defectors. Powell hammered the final nail in his own credibility coffin when he misrepresented the latest Osama tape as proving a “partnership” between Osama and Saddam. Yet among Clinton and his aides, Powell still commands respect.

Consider the Clinton interpretation of U.N. Resolution 1441. While nearly all of our allies see a two-step process in the event of “material breach,” Clinton and his aides toe the Bush party line that 1441, together with previous resolutions, grants the U.S. all the authority it needs to invade Iraq without a follow-up resolution (though they say it’s in our own and Tony Blair’s interest to try to get one). “Old Europe” insists there’s no “automaticity” in 1441; the “new Democrats,” siding with Rummy on this question, say there is.

TV bookers who truly want to present a range of views representative of the public’s thinking — rather than merely the “appearance” of balance — should either exclude Clinton veterans or assign them the pro-war seat. If it’s a four-way debate, the Clintonian could join a Bush spokesperson against two articulate anti-war perspectives — maybe one liberal or progressive (e.g., Phyllis Bennis, Rabbi Michael Lerner, professors Glen Rangwala or As’ad AbuKhalil, congress members Sheila Jackson Lee or Dennis Kucinich) and one moderate, such as former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Edward Peck or General Anthony Zinni. (For documentation on the pro-war bias among talking heads, see my essay “The White Hawk Club”: http://alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=15068.)

Ambassador Peck is a personal favorite and perhaps the most effective critic of this rush to war. He’s an “old-school diplomat” who sees diplomacy as a means — get this — of resolving conflicts peacefully!

Clinton was a fine president in many respects. I’m glad I voted for him twice, and I sure wish Gore (who also got my vote) were in the White House today. But the makeup of Clinton’s foreign-policy team, whose members now man the talking-heads front line, has helped to push the range of respectable thought on issues of war and peace so far to the right that the “give inspections a chance” view of a majority of Americans is all but excluded.

It’s up to the bookers, producers and hosts at Meet the Press and all the other chat shows to immediately rectify this unacceptable situation — or stand exposed as willing participants in a cynical charade.

*************

Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com, Slate and The Black World Today (tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu


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