Sunday, October 30, 2005

Reporting the "Saddam-in-exile scenario": Who blocked the the last minute deal? 

Friday evening, I discussed the buried news reports that the Arab League, and not the United States, had blocked a last-minute deal March 2003 that would have sent Saddam into exile. This is big news, not small news, and the failure of the big media to pick it up beyond some small beer wire stories is extraordinary.

Part of the reason may be that the original story derives from an Arabic television documentary, but that only enhances its credibility insofar as Arab television is not known for spinning the news in the American direction. Another reason may be that the Associated Press reported the story very differently than Reuters.

The background is simple: Al-Arabiya broadcast a documentary that reported that the late president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, proposed in early 2003 that Saddam Hussein go into exile along with key members of his family and staff. Saddam allegedly accepted the deal, which presumably would have averted the war, but the Arab League shot it down. I speculated on the Arab League's reasons for rejecting the deal in my earlier post.

The interesting question, of course, is what the United States would have done, and this is where the Reuters and the Associated Press accounts diverge. According to Reuters:
Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak says in the documentary that the United States had signaled its support for the proposal.

This obviously runs counter to the traditional narrative of the mainstream media, to say nothing of the anti-Bush, anti-American and anti-Israeli axis, which generally characterize the United States as hell bent on war.

The Associated Press describes this critical bit from the Al Arabiya documentary quite differently:
The documentary also included an interview from Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, who said the United States was aware of the proposal.

So, which is the best translation of Mubarak's interview in the Al-Arabiya documentary: that the United States had "signaled its support," or that it "was aware" of the proposal? Since it strikes me as highly unlikely that Reuters would make up its translation that the United States "signaled its support," and since the A.P.'s characterization remains technically true even if profoundly misleading, it certainly looks as though the Associated Press shaved its interpretation of Mubarak's interview to fit the dominant anti-Bush narrative.

UPDATE: John Chilton points us to this account of a Gulf News editorial, which chides the Arab League for rejecting the "exile scenario," and demanding that it step up to avert a similar crisis over Syria.


By Blogger Mycroft, at Sun Oct 30, 01:26:00 PM:

It's reasonable that the Arab League would shoot the proposal down. It is a league of dictators and monarchs, after all, and they wouldn't want to set a precedent for making "great men" step down without heavy consequences.  

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