- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

To understand the chasm between mainstream media and the blogosphere, Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” is a helpful guide. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, they are not. But they are frequently fact and factoid (an invented fact taken to be true because of its appearance in print). And many blogs have achieved the status of print since countless millions get their news online. The average age of a newspaper reader is 55. Onliners? Try 30.

Sen. John McCain and his independent (formerly a Democrat) fellow traveler Sen. Joe Lieberman wound up their most recent Mideast foray in Israel where the Republican candidate for the presidency got a little help from the man widely tipped to be his choice for vice president in adjusting his yarmulke. For many Middle East bloggers, the yarmulke gesture was proof Mr. McCain would be even less inclined than President Bush to coax/cajole/pressure Israel into the kind of concessions that would make a Palestinian state possible.

Mr. McCain also fueled the speculation when he said Jerusalem was to remain the indivisible capital of the Jewish state and Israel must not be asked for anything that might jeopardize its security. Without a Palestinian capital in Arab East Jerusalem, no Palestinian leader could sign a peace agreement — and expect to stay alive.

Anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic epithets flooded the blogs, a lethal blend of extremist outbursts from far right to the far left: “Hitler saw the tremendous danger posed to Germany by communism” and “although Jews formed less than five percent of Russia’s population, they formed more than 50 percent of its revolutionaries.”

Or, “The major role Jewish leaders played in the November [Russian] Revolution was probably more important than any other factor in confirming [Adolf Hitler’s] anti-Semitic beliefs.” Holocaust deniers, and those who say the 6 million Jewish victims of Hitler’s death camps were wildly exaggerated, get a free ride in the blogosphere.

Another free-fire zone among the millions of blogs is the notion Mr. Bush will have one last throw of the geopolitical dice by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Vice President Dick Cheney, on his most recent trip to the Middle East, left little doubt he believes the Iranian mullahs have resumed their nuclear quest after a brief interruption following the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Tehran ran scared in spring 2003 and concluded Iran might be next on Mr. Bush’s hit list. That fear subsided quickly as the insurgency, stoked in part by Iranian Revolutionary Guard agents, spread all over Iraq. Mr. Cheney indicated clandestine lethal aid from Iran was still continuing.

Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, went one better when he said the Easter Sunday rocket-and-mortar barrage against Baghdad’s Green Zone was made possible by Iran providing the rockets — in complete violation of promises made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts.

And if Mr. Bush doesn’t order the bombing of Iran, bloggers write matter-of-factly Mr. McCain, as president, will not hesitate. Both Mr. McCain and Mr. Lieberman have said on separate occasions there is only one thing worse than bombing Iran — and that’s Iran with nuclear weapons. Bombing thus becomes the lesser of two evils.

Blogs also speculate on whether one Iranian nuclear weapon against Tel Aviv would knock out the state of Israel. Blog opinion is evenly divided between those who say Israel could not survive such a blow and those who say Iran would be pulverized by nuclear retaliation from Israel and the United States, and the Western world would coalesce around an Israeli reconstruction effort.

Important pieces of the Mideast jigsaw fail to make it into mainstream media but can be found online. The United Arab Emirates-based newspaper Gulf News said last week that, with George W. Bush in office, Washington is effectively maintaining low-intensity warfare with Iran and the potential exists to ratchet it up to more open hostilities. Recurring visits by Dick Cheney and John McCain to Iraq and Israel, added Gulf News, are “surely not ‘coincidences’ but a means to ensure Israel remains fully in the picture for any plans the U.S. could have against Iran.”

The latest iterations about Iran’s nuclear ambitions are seen by Arab blogs as a pretext for fresh adventurism in the region, bearing in mind that Iraq has now suddenly taken a turn for the worst and Afghanistan isn’t faring well either. Arab media speculate the Bush administration may feel engaging the U.S. militarily in Iran is its only option for seeing a Republican president elected in November. Blogs — factoid or fact? — quote a Cheney aide saying the United States will need the cooperation of Oman, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey to mount air attacks on Iran.

Blogs, newspapers, radio, television, all in fierce competition, Al Jazeera’s forced competition in the Iraqi war zone, imams double shifting as spies, thousands of volunteer Pakistani spooks for temporary duty in Afghanistan, and it soon becomes multidimensional chess. Reporting these days requires speed reading — and what Ernest Hemingway called a bullfeathers detector.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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