EVERY WEEK, NEWSWEEK SPAMS ME with press releases about its new stories. I usually ignore them because by the time they're out they're already old news to blogosphereans. But this piece, with its combination of blatant bias and factual inaccuracy, seems so typical that it's worth a comment. Excerpt:
Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.
Er, maybe because the Iran-Contra scandal had to do with overthrowing the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, rather than the guerrilla war in El Salvador? I mean, I know all those people look alike to the folks at Newsweek, but this is either inexcusable sloppiness, or simply a stretch to try to bring in more stuff that might make it look bad.
The whole piece is like that, and it's unfortunately typical. I don't know whether this sort of thing is a good idea or not -- I can see arguments both ways -- but this story goes out of its way, as usual, to get the digs in before getting around to mentioning the actual arguments.
I guess I should be glad, though: Usually it's all about Vietnam. At least this story is bringing things 20 years closer to the present.
UPDATE: This article from StrategyPage is, as usual, much more useful and complete than the Newsweek treatment, and suggests that the El Salvador parallel isn't really apt. And Silent Running offers more corrections. Finally, reader Ron Wright notes this rather different parallel with the El Salvador experience:
Conditions were horrible when Salvadorans went to the polls on March 28, 1982. The country was in the midst of a civil war that would take 75,000 lives. An insurgent army controlled about a third of the nation's territory. Just before election day, the insurgents stepped up their terror campaign. They attacked the National Palace, staged highway assaults that cut the nation in two and blew up schools that were to be polling places.
Yet voters came out in the hundreds of thousands. In some towns, they had to duck beneath sniper fire to get to the polls. In San Salvador, a bomb went off near a line of people waiting outside a polling station. The people scattered, then the line reformed. "This nation may be falling apart," one voter told The Christian Science Monitor, "but by voting we may help to hold it together. . . .
The elections achieved something else: They undermined the insurgency. El Salvador wasn't transformed overnight. But with each succeeding election into the early 90's, the rebels on the left and the death squads on the right grew weaker, and finally peace was achieved, and the entire hemisphere felt the effects.
As we saw in El Salvador and as Iraqi insurgents understand, elections suck the oxygen from a rebel army. They refute the claim that violence is the best way to change things. Moreover, they produce democratic leaders who are much better equipped to win an insurgency war.
UPDATE: Various lefty emailers, and some lefty bloggers are calling me an idiot for not recognizing that the struggle against communists in El Salvador and the struggle against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were connected. Of course they were, and it's nice to see people admit that there really was a global struggle against communism, something that wasn't so readily admitted back in the day. But my point, as should be obvious, is that the Newsweek piece goes out of its way to drag in Iran/Contra, which had nothing to do with the El Salvador "death squads," which themselves have a rather tenuous relationship, at best, to what's going on in Iraq, so as to make Bush look bad. If the Newsweek story had offered that perspective, this defense might be worth something. But it didn't, because its goal was a cheap smear. Bad publicity relating to Iran/Contra has nothing to do with Iraq, except for Newsweek's effort to tie the two together.
I'll also note that guerrillas who kill people are called "insurgents" and compared to Minutemen when they're anti-American, and "death squads" when they're not. Typical.