Nov. 16, 2004

Condoleezza in Charge

It’s official: Condi Rice will be the next secretary of state. I don’t subscribe to the who’s-in, who’s-out clichés in this case because Colin Powell is never out. He’s not going to vanish into obscurity, and nobody — no-body — better understands Washington’s Byzantine byways than Secretary/General Powell. Hmm. I like the sound of that: Why not make him Secretary General of the United Nations — and put a quality person in that position for a change?

The local D.C. illuminati see the Rice appointment as a shift to the “hard right,” which is Washington-talk for moving away from the belief that principles are fungible to the conviction that they are fundamental. Rice takes a somewhat tougher stance than Powell on such things as Palestinian freedom fighters, but she also will have to deal with an often querulous diplomatic corps that can subvert even the cleverest Secretary of State. This would explain why the president was so solicitous of Colin Powell, and why Rice was so kind about the foreign- and civil-service employees of the agency. Read their comments here.

Meanwhile, members of the international community are speaking out. Israel is happy; Palestinians are, um, skeptical. European leaders are penning panegyrics to Powell and waxing snarky about his successor. India, which does not bridle at the idea of female leaders, seems happy, while French President Jacques Chirac is more concerned with driving a wedge between Tony Blair and George W. Bush. All things considered, the new secretary seems to be making the right friends — and the right enemies.

Atrocity — on Whose Part?

Embedded NBC reporter Kevin Sites and his crew capture video of a U.S. Marine shooting a wounded Iraqi in a Fallujah mosque. The networks quickly ran with the footage, as did al Jazeera, and many people concluded immediately that a G.I. had been caught in the act of committing an atrocity. The Marines are investigating, while the Marine’s colleagues are coming to his defense. It’s worth noting that the American in question had suffered a gunshot wound to the face the previous day and returned to battle; that the incident took place just as a booby trap was detonating a block away, killing three Americans; and that “insurgents” have taken to doing such things as booby trapping the bodies of people they have murdered along the way. None of those other “atrocities” seem to have been captured on tape, nor have their effects been photographed by American networks or al Jazeera.

Sites and his guys were right to roll tape on what they saw. But news organizations have an obligation in such cases not just to show sensational tape, but to place it in perspective. We’re in a war in which enemies have made the unthinkable routine. We have just learned, for instance, that the “liberators” have slaughtered Irish-born Margaret Hassan, a human-rights worker who has spent most of her life in Iraq and has an Iraqi husband, who opposed the war and ostensibly supported the aims of her captors — and nevertheless was murdered with the sick glee we have come to expect of the Zarqawi brigades. Naturally, the killers made Hassan beg for her life first, and subjected her to endless torments. (And yes, al Jazeera is airing this bit of porno-violence as well.)

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