Iraq, Iran, Katrina and the Ever-Bubbly Fred Barnes

A forward-thinking Swiss magazine shows us the potential of citizen journalism, while others report on Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the South Lawn.

The latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine features the fascinating story of a forward-thinking Swiss magazine that sent a group of reporters to the French town of Bondy last year, as riots by groups of mostly Muslim unemployed young men flared throughout the community.

The magazine, L’Hebdo, sent several journalists to take shifts living in the community, while posting both online and for the print version, producing a “media outlet that was global (the Internet), Swiss (the magazine’s headquarters), and French (Bondy), all at the same time.” The magazine also set up a blog, and despite being tear-gassed by local thugs and pelted with stones, the blog’s staff “was able to capture the kinds of rich stories about daily life that are typically overlooked by the mainstream press.” The magazine went so far as to train eight young local volunteers in technology so that they might post to the blog themselves, and named a local school teacher as the blog’s editor-in-chief. It was a great idea, and given all the back-and-forth about “citizen journalism,” one that shows that with a little foresight, blogs can be much more than a rest stop for endless rounds of partisan sniping.

Speaking of foreign policy, in the July issue of Mother Jones, Laura Rozen revisits a piece of recent history that has largely been lost in the political chaos that reigned in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

Rozen writes about a secret December 2001 meeting in Rome between Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian expatriate she describes as an “arms dealer, intelligence peddler, and former military intelligence official in the Shah’s regime, [who] had been a key figure in the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal,” who met with Pentagon officials and Italian intelligence operatives.

The piece — which is a must-read — has direct relevance to the current crisis with Iran, and reads like a spy thriller. Rozen writes, “With a persona somewhere between a salesman and a Syriana-style operative, Ghorbanifar operates in a twilight world of exiles, international arms dealers, front companies, passports in multiple names and nationalities, and Swiss bank accounts. … For 25 years now, Ghorbanifar has been selling American conservatives on the promise of regime change in Tehran; at the same time, and with the tacit knowledge of his U.S. partners, he has operated as a freelance agent of that regime.” Good stuff. Check it out.

But before we turn our full attention to Iran, there’s the nagging little question of what the hell to do in Iraq. The New Republic’s Lawrence F. Kaplan has an excellent piece in the latest issue, reported from Iraq.

Kaplan writes that while the military creates its own reality in Iraq, “The one arena where Washington does [get involved] regularly is the numbers game. In fairness, the Bush administration has only bad options: It can either maintain force levels in Iraq and face political ruination at home, or it can bring the troops home and watch Iraq burn. Most officers have resigned themselves to drawdowns proceeding without condition and regardless of consequence. … In the Pentagon’s desire to hold up the deployment of additional brigades, [an American officer] says, one may glimpse the future of the country the Army now calls home. There is none.”

In more bad news, The Economist beats the drum about the danger that Pakistan poses, long after the White House has played make-up with General Musharraf, the military dictator who rules that country. The magazine says that almost five years after 9/11, terrorism’s “centre” still lies in “the training camps, madrassas and battlefields of northern Pakistan and south-eastern Afghanistan,” and “from neither place is there much good news.” It’s a sobering piece of reading, but hugely important, and the sort of thing we don’t see nearly enough of on the front pages of our dailies.

Finally, for a glimmer of optimism in the midst of all this grimness, take a look at Fred Barnes’ latest offering in the Weekly Standard. Despite the dangers of North Korea and Iran sticking with their nuclear programs, and with no discernable policy or direction evident in Iraq, Barnes sees reason for the White House to be optimistic. The president’s low approval ratings? Simply a matter of “persistent trouble in Iraq.” The ravages of hurricane Katrina and the government’s utterly inadequate response? Merely a pesky dose of “bad luck” for the president.

Incredibly, the blithe Barnes manages to make these two horrific disasters sound like the White House is wrestling with pesky patches of crab grass on the South Lawn, not with two ongoing fiascos that Bush’s policies have failed to ameliorate.

We’ll have what he’s having, bartender.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.