Thursday, May 06, 2004

All Apologies

First of all, I would like to say that President Bush's decision to submit to interviews by two Middle East television networks in order to show remorse for, and explain America's disgust at, the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners was a much needed and important gesture. It certainly will not significantly improve our standing in the Muslim world anytime soon, but it was still the right course of action.

Unfortunately, even this latest effort at diplomacy was fraught with error of judgment, and once again the blinders of ideology interfered with the efficacy of the message. As is his stubborn insistence, President Bush never uttered the phrase, "I'm sorry." Obviously Bush was not directly responsible for the prisoner abuse, but it happened under his watch as Commander in Chief, and, as he is all too fond of pointing out, he is a wartime President. Furthermore, these words out of the President's mouth would have made the appearance more effective in conveying this nation's contrition to the Muslim world, and restoring at least a sliver of credibility to the U.S. led effort in Iraq and abroad. If this administration is serious about its goals of creating a stable and democratic Iraq, bold action is needed, and a tepid show of remorse is not going to overcome the images emerging from this scandal.

In addition, the Bush administration made a big blunder by shutting Al Jazeera out of the equation. Acting on the administration's open animosity for Al Jazeera, and the belief that Al Jazeera has an agenda that runs counter to the administration's goals, the Bush team would not grant access to Al Jazeera, instead opting for two other Arab networks: Al Arabiya and Al-Hurra (the latter being a U.S. funded network broadcasting out of Virginia and enjoying very little credibility in the Arab world). The problem with this decision is that Al Arabiya and Al-Hurra combined reach 20 million homes. Al Jazeera, on the other hand, reaches over 25 million homes. While there is some crossover in the reach of each network, the point is that Bush could have disseminated his message to more homes had he allowed access to Al Jazeera.

Instead of trying to make a point, or sending a message to Al Jazeera, the administration should have decided that the goal of Bush's appearances was to improve our standing in the Muslim world at this most dire of moments, and that the best way to achieve this goal was to reach the most Arab households as possible. Leave the feud with Al Jazeera for another interview on another topic on another day.

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