Hard News by Russell Brown

Back to the Future?

NATFORT - Nationals for the Treaty - might just turn out to be a naïve venture from the fringes of its party, or it might be the tip of a broad-based attempt to get National back on track. Either way it's an implicit challenge to the present leadership.

The left-bloggers are, perhaps understandably, more overtly interested in this than than their kin on the right. Jordan Carter blogged about it yesterday, and Frog had a crack as well. I don't think they're doing it out of schadenfreude, which would hardly be warranted at present. But when your campaign schtick is to carry the torch for "mainstream New Zealand" and you get fewer votes than the other crowd, perhaps it's time for a new schtick.

And personally, given that short of a stunning reinvention by Labour (or an equally stunning collapse on National's part), National will be in government in three years' time, I feel I have every interest in that party's withdrawal from the politics of resentment and rediscovery of modernity. That is: Key as the leader and McCully nowhere near the campaign strategy. And some more thoughtful policy development.

It's not that these ideas should be verboten (check out Keith's conclusion that the Maori seats are a bad thing today), but the manner of it all. Anyway, Simon Pound is very interested and is trying to line up a NATFORT interview for his 95bFM Wire show on Thursday, which ought to be interesting.

Going to a right-wing blog, observing that Iraq's a bit of a shambles and getting called a Saddam-lover almost qualifies as a unique cultural experience these days. It's sort of quaint. Things were proceeding according to traditional practice in an Iraq thread over at Chez Farrar yesterday, although it did take a worrying 12 comments posts for the phrase "Saddam apologist" to be uttered. And then someone calling themselves Ms Marple sailed in with this:

Ed, no one is saying Saddam is a nice chap who should have been allowed free dominion over his murderous ways. The invasion was premised on mendacious justifications. The invaders took a holier-than-thou attitude, not just to the Hussein regime, but to anyone who thought invasion was a bad idea, and then they turned out to be crass and human and fallible. Sure, not anywhere near as horrible as the regime they were overthrowing, but horrible none-the-less and amplified by their own self-righteous rhetoric and their historical hypocrisy. That stuff pisses people off. And not just bleeding heart liberals in the West, but also a significant number of Iraqis and Arabs and Muslims. Which is, of course, totally counter-productive to the stated US intentions in Iraq. The only people who didn't see the chaos that wracks Iraq now were those too blinkered by faith or ideology or hatred to step back and take a look at the religo/ethnic dynamic within Iraq, the regional power paradigm and fact that together, Bin Laden and Bush had together ignited a fundamentalist war that was always going to find a flash point in an occupied Iraq (it was even the rather farcical contention from the White House, dismissed by every intelligence chief, that Iraq was one of it's homes). The process of the invasion saw the utter decimation of Iraqi infrastructure. The aftermath of invasion demonstrated a dismal degree of planning for the inevitable post-war realities. All of that pisses people off. It doesn't make them love Saddam Hussein. It makes them dislike the US administration for forcing a war, lying to them, planning the post-war poorly and giving the "War on Terror" another breeding ground for its terrorists.

And then when you take another look at it, you can see now lost, real promise for a more sustainable solution to the Iraqi regime. Iraq was an increasingly pariah state in the Middle East, even within the Arab League who traditionally supported Saddam against all-comers. The regime had a limited life-span without decimating the country and making large scale militancy (if not civil war) inevitable. You can argue the semantics of the nature of what that change would have been and how it would have affected US/Western strategic and cultural interests. But in the end, that's probably the most beguiling thing about Saddam Hussein, George W. and the Iraqi invasion, there is no position that is not bad for someone. There is no real or potential solution that avoids violence and tragedy and bullshit. And there never was. The reality is that the US did a whole lot of bad stuff in terms of inventing its invasion justification, in terms of managing the post-war situation, in terms of being a complete hypocrite. They will no doubt rest on the laurels of their achievement, but it is right that they should be called on what they did wrong. Calling someone a Saddam apologist because they attack the failings of a country that strives to be the exemplar of righteousness is kind of lame.

Which I thought was rather good …

But it's not funny. I've been wary about the idea that an immediate withdrawal - cutting and running - from Iraq is a good idea. Surely, having started this mess, the coalition of the willing owes the Iraqi people some attempt at the preservation of order. But Juan Cole, who was of similar mind, is now calling for troop withdrawal, "For the good of Iraq. For the good of America." If you read nothing else on the wires today, read that post.

Also, Billmon makes the same transit, and Riverbend offers further translation of the draft Iraqi constitution, the effect of which is not at all reassuring.

So I just don't know. But what I do know is that I am angry at the American government for its lies and its grotesque incompetence, I am angry at the terrorists who have found their opportunities on Iraqi soil, and I am angry at the right-wing bloggers and their stupid "Good News from Iraq" press-release fantasies.

Crossing now to the "premium content" wars, here's a great example of the New York Times breaking something that worked. For the past few years, a guy called Bobby has run what amounts to a Paul Krugman fan site, The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive. It collects work by and information about the economist and New York Times columnist. It's nicely ordered and remarkably comprehensive: links, multimedia, interview transcripts, chapters (with permission) from Krugman books. It even has a little community going.

But a couple of days ago, Bobby gets an email from Krugman to say the Times has become aware if his site ("I think too many bloggers gave the link") and asked him to ask Bobby to stop posting his NYT columns, which provide the pulse of the website. Presumably, this has only become a problem since "premium content" came along.

Yes, I know that it's a Times copyright and he really has no right to re-publish the columns on his tidy little website. But would the Times ever make an archive for one of its marquee columnists with the love and care and earnestness shown here?. Never. Sometimes, content owners, across the news and entertainment media, need to think more about the value added to their properties by those motivated individuals, the fans.