ON THE PERIPHERY OF THE WAR WITH IRAQ

April 1, 2003

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.  Embedded Reporters – Good Or Bad?

2.  The Media’s Misery Feeding Frenzy.

3.  Anti-War Protests – Who’s Behind Them?

4.  The Anti-America/Hate Bush Crowd.

Introduction

As this is written, the war with Iraq is in its 13th day.  As you know, all of the major broadcast networks have dedicated huge amounts of time to reporting on the war.  Most of the cable news networks have gone to 24/7 reporting on the war.

In these Forecasts & Trends E-Letters, I try to bring you news and information you may not otherwise have heard.  I have noticed some things on the periphery of the war that have attracted my attention.  Some of these items have been the subject of news stories, but they have tended to be buried underneath the extensive war coverage, so they have gone largely unnoticed by many.  In this issue of the E-Letter, I’m going to discuss some of my personal observations of items indirectly related to the war effort.

Embedded Reporters

There are reportedly over 500 reporters “embedded” in military units all across Iraq.  The purpose of these embedded reporters is to provide up-to-the-minute live coverage of the war.  Unfortunately, some of this coverage is of little benefit and can actually be confusing and/or misleading.

I’m sure you have tuned into the news networks to see live video of military movements.  While some of this footage has been dramatic coverage of actual firefights with Iraqi troops, a lot of it has not been particularly insightful.  Another problem is that with 500 different reporters with 500 different military units in 500 different places, it’s hard to get an idea of the “big picture.”  Some of the footage suggests things are going great, while others suggest problems.  You can simultaneously get the idea that troops are advancing rapidly toward Baghdad, or are involved in major engagements with the enemy, or are doing nothing, depending upon which station you happen to be watching and when. 

While I’m sure that these embedded reporters will come up with some valuable reports and spectacular video footage of both the triumphs and horrors of war, I’ll bet the documentary videos they sell after the war will be much more informative than what is appearing on the news right now.

And speaking of informative, one concern that I have is what kind of information is reaching enemy ears.  For whatever reasons, our military has allowed television to remain on the air in Baghdad for the most part.  Saddam Hussein is known to be an avid CNN watcher, so we can be virtually assured that Iraqi leaders are monitoring some (or all) of the various news networks.  When I hear reporters tell of being a certain number of miles south of Baghdad, or having just crossed the Euphrates River, I am concerned that they may be divulging information that could be harmful to our troops. 

Though I have concerns about this, our military leaders seem to be okay with it.  They seem to be satisfied that the embedded reporters, for the most part, are not divulging strategic details.  Only time will tell whether the military’s decision to allow embedded reporters will be a good one.  I also wonder about the dozens of retired generals who are analyzing our every move on all the news networks.  They may actually be helping the Iraqi leaders more than the embedded reporters.

Misery Feeding Frenzy

I find it somewhat disturbing how quickly the press rushes to find and interview the families of our soldiers who are killed or taken prisoner in Iraq.  In some cases, it seems that the press rushes to catch the families’ initial reaction because it might be good for anti-war sentiment.   Take the young marine who was among the first US casualties of the war.   The father initially spoke very negatively against the war.  However, he later apologized for his statements made in the heat of emotion and expressed his full support for the US war effort.  We heard a lot about the father’s initial statements, but very little (if anything) about his apology and support for the war.

In the case of Iraq and the War On Terrorism, I wonder about the untold number of Iraqi families that have been torn apart by a brutal dictator who tortures and kills anyone who dares to speak out against him.  The press doesn’t rush to report on these families.  What about the families of people killed in suicide bombing attacks against Israel?  Again, we rarely hear much about these.  But if a US soldier is killed, the press mobs the family’s home.

In addition, the press likes to show things that are frankly repulsive.  Take, for instance, the recent video released by Iraq with pictures of the US soldiers killed in action (or executed by their captors).  The networks originally refused to show this video because it was an affront to decency.  However, it eventually did make its way onto the TV screen.  I don’t necessarily agree that the public’s right to know brings with it the public’s right to see all the gory details. 

Anti-War Protesters

Whether you call them anti-war protesters, peace activists, pro-appeasement, or whatever, we are seeing mass protests against this war on a scale not seen since the Vietnam war.  I also get many e-mails from liberals and conservatives alike who are against the war in Iraq.

The issue to remember is that war is and always has been a divisive issue.  Many people think that during World Wars I and II everyone was on board supporting the war.  In fact, there were those who were bitterly opposed to war with Germany and Japan.  That’s one reason why we stood by and watched Europe be overrun by Hitler, only taking action after we, ourselves, had been attacked.

It is the right of every citizen to follow their own conscience and protest against the government policies they feel are wrong, including wars.  This freedom is the foundation of what every American soldier has fought for throughout our history.  From some of the e-mails I receive from those against the war, and from speaking with others, it is clear there are people who genuinely oppose war in any form for any reason.  While their motives appear to be pure, I wonder if they ever stop to think what would have happened if no wars had been fought in the past.  Would we be free today?  Would America even exist?

Regarding many of the protesters, however, I doubt whether their motives are as pure.  For example, I think some people are protesting because of a nostalgia element that lets “old hippies” relive their past days (real or imagined) of anti-Viet Nam war protests.  Others are following the nostalgia of those days, even though they were either too young or too “square” to have participated in the 60’s.  Still others have much deeper motivations.

The Anti-America/Hate Bush Crowd

Many of the anti-war protesters, and certainly most of their organizers, despise America and much of what it stands for.  These are people who protest the war because it gives them a chance to vent their anti-American sentiments.  I think this is where many of the anti-war Hollywood types fit in.   They live in such a fairy-tale world that it is hard for them to grasp what reality is for the rest of us.  While Americans are good enough to support their careers by going to the movies, they consider most of us to be dopes who don’t know enough to be anti-war like them.  

Other parts of the anti-America crowd include those who have been against America for a long time.  Many of the peace marches and anti-war demonstrations are being organized and funded by an organization called ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), www.internationalanswer.org, which is supported by the World Workers Party, a radical socialist organization.  If you don’t believe me, check out their website at www.workers.org, and the following quote from a response from ANSWER to an article they considered to be “red-baiting:”

Are there any communists amongst the members of ANSWER, the principal organizer of the Oct. 26 protests? Specifically, are some of the leaders in ANSWER members of the Workers World Party? Sure. The question is, So What?” [Emphasis added, GH.]

SURE…. SO WHAT?  I very much doubt if a fraction of the college students and other protesters that have been recruited by ANSWER and the WWP have any idea that these groups are infiltrated with communists and socialists with motives far beyond simply the protest of a war.  ANSWER goes on to say:

“As any student of the powerful--and successful--movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam knows, members of the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party, U.S.A., were among the leadership of the two major anti-war coalitions during that war.”

I have a question for these groups like ANSWER and the WWP: Can you name me one communist or socialist country that allows public protests such as you are free to organize in America?  No.  In most cases, you would be jailed or shot or worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that anyone who protests the war is a communist.  What I am saying is that many who are joining in the organized anti-war protests may not even be aware that they are throwing in with the likes of ANSWER and the World Workers Party and others like them.

Last week, I listened to an Austin police officer in charge of crowd control.   We’ve had some pretty insidious protests here in Austin where roads and bridges have been shut down.  The officer stated that it’s generally always the SAME PEOPLE who show up for any protests.  Certainly, it’s always the same organizers, he said.  He also said it doesn’t matter if its an anti-war protest, an environmental protest, or one of many demonstrations on the steps of the State Capitol – it’s always the same bunch.  I’m sure this is true in most other cities as well.

Finally, I personally think that many of the people protesting the war genuinely hate President Bush.  They don’t merely dislike him or disagree with him politically – they seem to hate him.  This is also very evident in many of the e-mails I get from my anti-war readers.  Interestingly, many of the anti-war e-mails I get harken back to the old question of whether Bush was legally elected president.  In some cases, their problem is not so much the war with Iraq, but rather that it is George Bush who is prosecuting it.

Would these people still be marching in the streets against a war with Iraq if Al Gore were calling the shots?  It’s impossible to tell, since he’s not the president, and probably wouldn’t have gone to war in this case.   However, we can get a hint from what these people did when Bill Clinton ordered military action.  I don’t recall a vast anti-war outcry when Clinton decided to bomb Kosovo, even though it resulted in civilian casualties.  Hollywood was silent as I recall.  I can’t imagine how the liberal press and the anti-war crowd would have reacted if a Republican had been responsible for the bombing raid that destroyed the Chinese embassy and killed several Chinese citizens.

Of course, my liberal friends will respond by saying that the action in Bosnia was to stop genocide and vast human rights violations.  Sorry folks, but worse human rights violations have been occurring in Iraq much longer than they ever did in Bosnia.  Saddam Hussein has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people.  Remember Hussein’s chemical attack against the Kurds.

An anti-war reader recently wrote to me disagreeing (that’s putting it politely) with my stance on the war with Iraq.  I responded by asking him where the liberal outrage was in regard to the many human rights violations in Iraq.  Rather than answer the question, he dodged it entirely by discussing how the US has given aid to many other countries with histories of human rights violations.  This response is very typical.  Back to the question:

Why were the liberals silent on the military action in Bosnia to stop human rights violations, but rant against military action in Iraq where such violations have been even worse?

While I’m sure I’ll get many imaginative answers to the above question, the real answer is simple – there are those in the liberal, anti-war crowd who hate President Bush and will denounce his policies no matter what they are.   If Clinton were still in office, and he waged war on Iraq, I’ll bet there would be only a fraction of the protests we see today!

Supplying Saddam Hussein

There are those who criticize US policy against Iraq since we aided Saddam in his war with Iran.  The rationale goes something like this: “We gave him some of the chemicals and agents that he later used to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMDs); therefore, this is a problem of our own making, and we should not be at war.”

It is widely reported that the US gave Iraq some of the building blocks for chemical and biological weapons, in addition to more standard military hardware, during the war with Iran.  With the benefit of hindsight, maybe that was not a good decision.  But are we supposed to wait until Saddam unleashes WMDs on us or someone else before we move to disarm him?  Apparently, for some in the anti-war crowd, the answer is YES.

I remember some of the old timers saying that we sold Japan the scrap metal that they used to shoot back at us.  The Iraq situation is somewhat similar, though not exactly.  In regard to Japan, we made a trade decision that later came back to haunt us.  In Iraq, we supplied Hussein’s military with materials when they were in a long war with Iran, who we considered to be the greater enemy of US interests at the time.

I’ll agree that fighting our enemies through surrogate nations may not be the smartest of ideas, but it apparently seemed to be the best strategy at the time due to the poor results in Korea and Vietnam where we did the fighting ourselves and ended up with less than optimal results.  However, Hussein turned out to be a ruthless dictator bent on conquering his neighbors and harming the US.  Call it fixing a prior mistake or whatever you want, we have to make sure Iraq is disarmed.  To not do so would jeopardize the future of every American.

I’m sure this E-Letter will generate another flurry of negative responses, even though the latest polls show that 75% of Americans support the war on Iraq, and Bush’s approval rating is now back above 70%.

The Markets & The Economy

I have no new analysis or comments on the investment markets this week.  The markets continue to be dominated by war news, which changes daily.  Expect this kind of volatility to continue until the war (as reported by the media) turns decisively and the end is in sight.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 1.4% in the 4Q.  For all of 2002, GDP rose 2.4% versus only 0.3% in 2001.  Corporate profits rose 4.1% in the 4Q, the largest quarterly gain in three years.  This good news was largely ignored and overshadowed by a dip in consumer spending due mainly to war worries.

The April issue of The Bank Credit Analyst finds the editors still optimistic about a stock market rebound after the war, and a gradual improvement in the economy over the balance of this year. 

All the best,

Gary D. Halbert

SPECIAL ARTICLES

Bill Kristol has some interesting political analysis.

Peggy Noonan reminds us that we can take it.

Reporter Peter Arnett fired for comments on Iraqi TV.


Read Gary’s blog and join the conversation at garydhalbert.com.


Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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