Two days after Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Barack Obama announced that he would not to release photos of the Al Qaeda leader’s body. He said the releasing gruesome images could incite anger against American troops abroad and create unnecessary risks to national security. He also said that displaying bin Laden’s dead body runs counter to American ideals: “That’s not who we are,” Obama told 60 Minutes. “You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”
But America’s use of images has not always been so high-minded. W. J. T. Mitchell’s Cloning Terror takes on the issue of how images have been used in the so-called “war on terror,” which he describes as a “metaphor run amuck.” Footage of the Twin Towers falling on 9/11, the televised “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad, a statue of Saddam Hussein being destroyed, and the much-criticized 2003 photo of Bush on an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”– these images resonated during the Iraq War and, for many Americans, solidified the misguided notion that terror could be an actual enemy in a war. Launching a conventional war against a concept was a fool’s errand, Mitchell writes, “a misbegotten fantasy from the first.” Read more on Imaging a War on Terror…
Posted in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, United States
Also tagged abbottabad pakistan, America, Barack Obama, books, hooded man, Iraq, shock and awe, statue of saddam hussein, w j t mitchell
Reading about Wikileaks’ release of American diplomatic cables makes me think about our vocabulary around foreign policy. How do we talk about foreign policy and who exactly should have access to information that U.S. representatives abroad collect? This summer, Peter Beinart told me that the public rarely drives foreign policy. In The Icarus Syndrome he called for Americans to engage and push back against abuse of power. He recently wrote in The Daily Beast that Wikileaks’ actions are little more than voyeuristic fodder and add little to public debate, but my conversation with him makes me wonder if the Wikileaks project could, at least, be a springboard for greater conversation about American foreign policy.
I wrote a review of The Icarus Syndrome and short Q&A with Beinart for the Abu Dhabi-based Afaq Al Mustaqbal Magazine, which translated the piece into Arabic and edited for length. It ran in Issue No. 7, Sept/Oct 2010 (PDF with Arabic text). Below is the text as I submitted it.
Temptations of Power
The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris
By Peter Beinart
By Angilee Shah
If the power of Fox News is a conundrum to Americans on the political left now, what Peter Beinart chronicles in the history of American politics shows that it is not a new dilemma. The tendency of the political elite to push ideologies to its extremes is cyclical and disastrous, or so goes the lessons of The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris.
Beinart’s last book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals–and Only Liberals–Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, chronicled the history of liberals’ foreign policies and called for liberals in 2006 to take a strong position in the war on terror while remembering that power is not always a force for good. The Icarus Syndrome takes a broader view on the same theme. Writing across political parties, Beinart retells stories of political power at the outsets of World War I, Vietnam and Iraq, and sections them into ideological cycles, to remind us that power and success should not make us disregard the limits of our ideologies. Read more on Temptations of Power…
When the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) published a report a co-author and I did on the conflict in Sri Lanka, I did not get much of a response. But when they put that report online, the emails and comments began. If new journalism is meant to create community conversation, I hope that this article has done new journalism proud.
Read more on some recent Sri Lanka reports…