The games people play

Senator Ted Kennedy bellowed this week that Saddam's torture chambers never closed; they are just under new American management.  The comment was so outrageous that John Kerry tried to create some distance from Kennedy, saying he understood the sentiment but would have 'framed it' differently.

This is a game which has played out a few times already in the campaign. Remember the earlier Kennedy charge that the Iraq war was hatched in Texas on the ranch, and the decision was hidden from the Congress.  The game is for Kennedy to make a hateful, angry charge once he stumbles to the podium with his vast girth. This charge then opens the party's door to the Indy Media/loony left/Naderite crowd, who feast on America— and Bush—hate. John Kerry then plays the distancing game, without actually repudiating the over the top remark by Kennedy.  So Kerry shows some kind of maturity for the middle of the road and independent voters, and gives Kennedy the rope to lasso the leftist fringe.

This kind of distancing game is a familiar tactic in devious politics. It played out a few times in the Arab world this week.  Yesterday morning, Hizbollah, the Shiite Muslim mass—murdering Lebanese terror group, publicly stated that the beheading of Nick Berg was un—Islamic. Somebody at Hizbollah must have figured out that this despicable act would serve to diminish slightly (for a day perhaps?) the international media's feeding frenzy over the Abu Ghraib abuse story, which has pretty much wiped away all the other stories about Iraq, at least in the American press.  Why give a gift to America by tying al Qaeda to Iraqi resistance, and committing a single horrific act that overshadows the worst of what might have gone on in Iraqi prisons?

For the record, when did the Nightly News last lead off with any story about Fallujah, or al Sadr, or American casualties, or terror bombings in Iraq, or the preparations for the June 30 handover? Small details, presumably, or maybe everybody in Iraq stopped fighting for two weeks to watch the Congressional investigations of the Abu Ghraib events.  Hizbollah needn't have worried. The Berg decapitation may be only a one day story, except on Fox News.  

Even a few Palestinian Authority figures seemed to be embarrassed this morning by another lovely Islamic act —— Hamas' decision to showcase the head of a dead Israeli soldier for the camera, and its offer to trade other soldiers' body parts (spread out for the cameras on a brown paper wrapper) for Palestinian prisoners. Colin Powell is in Europe to meet with the PA's Prime minister—of—the—month, and this rare American Palestinian tete—a—tete might have been cancelled if the PA were publicly seen to endorse or accept the idea of playing volleyball with dead soldier's heads. 

So I don't put much stock in the appearance of Arab hand—wringing at Nick Berg's savage slaughter. Hizbollah has had no trouble killing Israelis, or Americans, or Jews in the past (the two bombings of Jewish facilities in Argentina in the 1990s were their handiwork).   Nick Berg, like the previously beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was Jewish.  Certainly Hizbollah is pleased that another Jew is dead. 

As for the Palestinian Authority's sudden reservations over Hamas' dead head display, their own police force assisted in the murder of two Israeli reservists in a station house in Ramallah in October 2000, and then tossed the bodies to a cheering throng which proceeded to tear the bodies into small pieces.  The PA has also been intimately involved in paying for, and coordinating suicide bombing attacks by its own Fatah—affiliated killing group, the al Aksa Martyrs Brigade. The PA uses the al Aksa Brigade's attacks to compete more effectively with Hamas and Islamic Jihad for the affections of the Palestinian street, whose members, after decades of training in hate, have been taught to respect and worship those who kill the most Jews.

Arab outrage was naturally never directed against Saddam's atrocities, or Sudan's today, or the Palestinian terror groups' child abuse, or the lethal brutality with which Syria, Algeria or Egypt put down their own Islamic insurrections through the years.  And, however embarrassing the Berg slaughter, or Hamas' trafficking in body parts, the last two days were joyous ones for most Arabs. For the Palestinians in Gaza 'succeeded' in murdering 11 Israeli soldiers in Gaza in two days, with roadside bombs and RPGs directed at Israeli vehicles.  This great victory was a source of pride for most Arabs, officially and otherwise. Palestinians believe that this two day death toll will accelerate the Israelis' departure from Gaza.

Gaza is a nightmare for Israel, and there are no easy or good solutions for dealing with this hothouse of terror and hate. Even a complete withdrawal will leave over a million Palestinians packed into a small land area, and Gazans, if left to their own devices, have shown little skill at any productive human activity other than weapons manufacturing, tunnel burrowing to Egypt, and creating very, very large families (this last activity being one that was quite openly encouraged as a political strategy by Yassar Arafat many times in the past).

Undoubtedly there are Arabs and Muslims who see evil in the Berg murder, and in Hamas' disrespect for the bodies of those soldiers they murdered.  Many fewer Arabs, of course, see anything wrong with murdering Israeli soldiers. From the official Arab world the best we will get is to hear expressions of political convenience on their latest set of atrocities.

But here in America, we should know better than to liken what happened at Abu Ghraib, with the horrors of Saddam's gulag, as Kennedy did.  Nobody here is proud of the prisoner abuse, and no one should have any reason to fear that the story isn't coming out. It was being investigated for months by the military, before CBS released its pictures to the world. 

Remember that April was sweeps month, which, for CBS, matters more than inciting an extra few thousand Muslims to violence against Americans abroad.  The prison abuse story could have been told without the pictures. But trashing Bush and the war in Iraq, while getting boffo ratings, is a nice trifecta.   Did CBS rush the Berg decapitation video onto Sixty Minutes Two this week?  Passed on that one, it seems.
We have learned of, and now witnessed, some truly awful things these past few weeks. Such events put a premium on the ability to create measured and reasoned responses, and to exercise that seemingly lost art of discretion. These are skills that are not required of US Senators, nor are they evidently taught in journalism schools.