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Saturday, July 23

Schroeder, al Qaeda, and accurate reporting on GWOT: let us eat cake

I received a letter in response to my post Schroeder making it easy for al Qaeda and Tehran. The reader asked about Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's motive for sticking to bashing the US invasion of Iraq after the 7/7 massacre: was he doing it out of pure political expediency or did he have some sympathy for al Qaeda's position? Here is my fix on the situation:

He might have sympathy for al Qaeda's stand on Israel and their desire to evict American forces from the Middle East. But there is much to suggest that any such sympathy is not a determining or even contributing factor in this case. There's also much to suggest that political expediency is not the sole factor in Schröder's continued harping on the Iraq war.

As I see it, the key situation is that the 7/7 London massacre landed Schröder's political party between the devil and the deep blue sea.

I believe AQ planners and their advisors in Tehran misread the situation in Germany. They were thinking along the lines of Spain -- the Madrid massacre helping to tip the voters. There is indeed a tipping going on in Germany in the wake of 7/7 -- but it's tipping in Oskar Lafontaine's direction.

That's the guy whose platform includes telling foreigners to think of immigrating anywhere else but Germany and calling for immigrants now in Germany to be fully assimilated; e.g., speak German.

Lafontaine has the same chance that Ralph Nader had to win the 2000 US presidential election but in the wake of 7/7, he's surely having to restrain himself from taking out full-page ads that say, "I told you so." (Although I wouldn't be surprised if he did this.)

The Germans don't need such remarks to know that Lafontaine's 'fringe' appeal struck a deep chord after 7/7. He now stands to peel even more votes from Schröder's party if the snap election occurs in September.

There are still some legal hurdles to be cleared for the election to take place, but right now it seems almost guaranteed of occurring -- unless Schröder's party realizes that his bold move to call for an early election has backfired in the wake of 7/7.

At this point Angela Merkel seems a shoo-in, if the election takes place. But I do not underestimate Schröder, his party or his business backers. The bottom line is Germany's balance of trade figures. Germany has outpaced Near and Middle Eastern countries among Iran's trading partners.

Bilateral trade between Germany and Iran is booming and growing at a fast pace. In 2004 German exports to Iran totaled 3.6 billion euros ($4.31 billion), 33.4 percent more than in 2003.

Top sales from Germany are machines, cars and electronics. Germany's expertise at installing oilwells is also heavily exported. From the Iranian side, sales (mostly oil, pistachios and rugs) to Germany rose 35% in 2004 to 391 million euros ($468 million).

And less than a month before 2005 the 'election' in Iran, a 25-member group of German business owners was preparing to visit Iran to study opportunities for investing in Iran's tourism trade. The Iranian military's coup against the clerics might have put a small brake on German investor interest but the investors are scrambling to compete with Spanish counterparts for lucrative deals at Iran tourist spots.

Meanwhile, China is Germany's top export partner. German industrialists know that Beijing is unwilling to do anything to offend the Tehran regime because of China's trade with Iran.

The Joker card has always been information flow, so it's played a huge factor in the war on terror and Europe's response. Schröder reads many of the same intelligence reports Bush does, so he's got to know of the connection between AQ and Tehran.

However, he also knows the German public is unaware of the connection. They are very poorly informed about GWOT and related issues, such as the UN Oil for Food investigation. Their local media has very little coverage of such issues.

And globalized media that the German public can easily access; e.g, CNN International and the BBC, mirror the US Democrat-leaning media in their depiction of war issues. That's to say much information about war related issues, and the AQ-Iraq/Iran connections, has been treated by the mainstream media only in the attempt to downplay or dismiss it.

It helped him in his last election, so Schröder's view was that if he had to call for a snap election in a last-ditch attempt to keep his job -- why not remind German voters that he'd saved them from putting troops in Iraq?

Yet this time around, bashing the Iraq war was met with yawns from the German public and Germany's chattering class. They saw it as a desperate attempt to revive old glory for a public that was now focused on domestic concerns.

However, Schröder's 'manifesto,' which included bashing the US operation in Iraq, was announced on July 1st. Then came the July 7 massacre in London. So then he was in a pickle. If he suddenly shut up about Iraq, that would raise eyebrows.

The last thing Schröder needs right now is the German public asking for a review of his government's position on the AQ-Iraq connection. Such questions would lead straight to questions about Tehran.

People aren't stupid. If you give them enough reliable data, they can put two-and-two together. So from the beginning, which we'll count as Schröder's break with Bush over Iraq, the name of the game has been Control of Information Flow. That's been the same for Germany as it's been in the USA.

However, the Germans were weighted to believe Schröder's line on Iraq. There are sound reasons for this:

Bush's 'go out and meet the enemy' approach to al Qaeda combined with the preemption doctrine understandably traumatized the majority of Germans, as it did the majority of Japanese. Then came the Axis of Evil speech, with its obvious reference to the Nazis. Then came the rising tide in America of comparisons between Osama bin Laden and Hitler and the Muslim terrorists and Nazi fascism.

So put yourself in the place of a German. From that view, the Americans were irresponsibly raking up Germany's past mistakes in order to justify an invasion of Iraq.

And even many Americans were (and remain) a tough sell when it came to drawing connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. This would include the most powerful factions in the CIA and State Department at that time.

As for connections between Tehran and al Qaeda, the question was not even on the table for the US mainstream media in 2003.

The truth about both connections will eventually out in Germany, as it will everywhere else. But for Schröder to fall on his sword would be useless at this stage. The German public might appreciate such an act of courage but the majority would still want to vote him out "yesterday" if they get the chance.

If you ask whether the German focus on domestic concerns isn't dangerously shortsighted -- my guess it that Lafontaine's famously known position about immigrants would tend to brake attempts in Germany to portray 7/7 as the fault of George W. Bush for invading Iraq.

However, I suspect the German people are trying reason blind -- or half-blind -- about what everyone else in Germany is thinking. I say this because of a situation that John Terrett (a British journalist) reported to John Batchelor a few nights ago about the reaction in the UK to 7/7:

Terrett recounted that the 'Brit in The Pub' (the Person in the Street) is asking, "Maybe we've been too soft with our Muslim immigrants, maybe we've gone overboard with liberalism" -- but that this view was not being reported in the British media.

Money says the 'German in the Wine Bar' is now asking the same questions with regard to their country and that the major German media are not leaping to report this.

So we could see an echo of the reaction to the Non vote. People on this side of the Pond were surprised as the poll numbers in France turned against the EU Constitution. Then they were stunned at the thumping French rejection of the Constitution and all that it said about their view of the European Union.

Why the shock? Because the French media and the entire Brussels-leaning media in Europe were not providing an accurate picture of how the majority in France were really thinking during the year running up to the vote.

If that sounds familiar -- the public in the USA was stunned by the appearance of the Red Map after Bush won reelection and Europe was stunned. Even the Republicans were stunned. That's because the US mainstream media and global media such as CNN International and BBC were not doing their job.

They were not even trying to accurately report how the majority of Americans were thinking during the runup to the election. They too busy trying to block Bush's election to remember what the term "news reporting" means. So of course Europe nearly fainted from shock at Bush's reelection and the sight of that Red Map.

Once again, the Joker Card is on the table. Yet whenever they are called out on their utter lack of responsibility, the guardians of America's news media take the Marie Antoinette approach to dealing with complaints from the rabble. Ditto for the guardians of Europe's news media.

So, yeah, it's dangerous for the German public not to realize that right now the most important issue is going after the state sponsors of terrorism. That's if they want to have domestic issues to worry about down the line. But to berate them for not seeing the critical issue would be akin to berating Americans for not thinking like intelligence analysts when they consume American news reports.

I deleted some paragraphs from yesterday's essay because while I considered them relevant, they took away from the central point. I will include them here in closing because the observations are central to what's happening now in Germany.

The news consuming publics in democratic countries are aware of the issue of bias in news reporting. Yet bias is just one facet of the problems that news consumers face today, if they want to be reasonably well informed. I have written about this issue many times since starting Pundita blog.

I wish there was a Magic Source -- one newspaper, one website, journal, broadcast or cable program, search engine or subscription service that would relieve the public of the chore of thinking like an intelligence analyst. But here is the choice we face today:

The journalism profession is in such disrepair that either we learn to think like an intelligence analyst when approaching news stories, or risk being so misled that our understanding of critical international situations is badly skewed or just plain wrong.

That is the way things are at this time. This shouldn't be cause for despair -- or paranoia. What we're seeing today in the news reporting profession is a train wreck situation: many factors that converged with the modern era of communications and the post-Soviet era, and which the news media didn't properly address.

To see the problems is to work toward a solution. So a new day in news reporting is slowly forming but until it crystallizes, a pioneering spirit is required of news consumers, and a willingness to invest time and brain sweat in analyzing news stories as data.

That shouldn't have to be our job, but to leave the job in the hands of today's journalism profession is asking not to understand the modern era, including the threat from state sponsors of terrorism.

The tragedy is that there are many ethical reporters and investigative journalists the world over who are very good at their job. But often their reports are edited out of recognition -- or filed but never published or aired. The hope, and the goal, is that by the end of this decade we'll see major news media outlets emerge that appreciate the value of such professionals.
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