Wednesday, January 14, 2004

This is another compare-and-contrast exercise.  Let's look at three articles that describe the same event: the publishing of a paper by professor Jeffery Record, entitled Bounding the Global War on Terrorism.  This comparison is made more interesting, because the original subject of the articles is available online.  The first article I came across was at Aljazeera.net; the second, at the Washington Post; the third, at The Times Online (London).  The direct links to the Al-Jazeera and WP articles are http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/574158A5-02A7-43E2-9A8B-B6399AD3E9EA.htm and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A8435-2004Jan11.html, respectively.  The Times article was found using their search service, which produces the result using a javascript pop-up, so I can't give the direct link.  I looked for other articles on this subject.  Most were versions of the WP article.  Many major papers apparently did not pick up the story.  I found no references to it in my usual haunts (Japan, Germany, Israel, Russia, China etc).  There was a brief reference to it, contained in an article on something else, in the Straits Times (Singapore). 

Report blasts Bush 'war on terror'

Tuesday 13 January 2004, 6:47 Makka Time, 3:47 GMT

A respected American defence college has delivered a blistering assessment of President George Bush's "war on terror".
The recent US Army War College study called the Iraq invasion "unnecessary", and said it has robbed resources and attention from the fight against al-Qaida.  The report by Jeffrey Record, a veteran defence expert, urged US leaders to refocus Bush's war to target Usama bin Ladin's network.
Record criticised the Bush administration for lumping together al-Qaida and President Saddam Hussein's Iraq "as a single, undifferentiated terrorist threat".

Study Published by Army Criticizes War on Terror's Scope

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 12, 2004; Page A12

A scathing new report published by the Army War College broadly criticizes the Bush administration's handling of the war on terrorism, accusing it of taking a detour into an "unnecessary" war in Iraq and pursuing an "unrealistic" quest against terrorism that may lead to U.S. wars with states that pose no serious threat.

The report, by Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, warns that as a result of those mistakes, the Army is "near the breaking point."

It recommends, among other things, scaling back the scope of the "global war on terrorism" and instead focusing on the narrower threat posed by the al Qaeda terrorist network.

"[T]he global war on terrorism as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly . . . its parameters should be readjusted," Record writes. Currently, he adds, the anti-terrorism campaign "is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate U.S. military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security."

January 12, 2004

US Army report attacks Bush's War on Terror

President Bush's global War on Terror is "unrealistic" in its aims, and could drag the US and its allies into more wars with countries that in reality pose no threat, according to a report published today by the US Army War College.

Jeffrey Record, the author of Bounding the Global War on Terrorism, argues that the White House should instead be focused much more narrowly on combating the specific threat posed by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

What caught my attention in this comparison is that I found myself, contrary to my expectation, concluding that the Al-Jazeera article was written better than the other two.  The Times article went back and forth talking about the Jeffery Record article and Paul O'Neill's recent revelations about the Bush administration.  This lack of focus detracts from the effectiveness of the article.  The Post article is more focused (good) but includes a lot of pejorative adjectives (bad) that have the effect of intertwining the author's objective reporting and his own opinions.  I find this style of writing to be particularly irritating.  The Al-Jazeera article contains only two such statements: "Report blasts..." and "...a blistering assessment..."  Other than that, the article is mostly a collection of direct quotes from the original report.  Having read the report, I can say that the quotes selected by Al-Jazeera provide a fair characterization of the entire article. 

The Washington Post gets an honorable mention because their author included information on how to get the original report.  I consider this to be an essential part or reporting.  Notice that most serious bloggers these days take pains to include appropriate links.

Another observation, of interest to me, is that the WP article mentions prominently 'warns that as a result of those mistakes, the Army is "near the breaking point." '  This quote implies that the American people are at risk because of their government's ill-advised military venture.  I've pointed out before how the US media seem to have a penchant for finding any indication that their readers might be at some kind of risk, and mentioning that risk early in the article.  I guess this is a variant of "if it bleeds, it leads."  Call it "you're gonna bleed, so you better read."