Media, others in West are adrift in reaction to Mideast war


The reactions and media coverage coming out of the West regarding this latest war in the Middle East are as bewildering as they are instructive.

Rep. John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, for example, said recently: "I don't take sides for or against Hezbollah or for or against Israel."

Meanwhile, the Western news agency Reuters, responding to scrutiny by bloggers, withdrew wire photos taken by a freelance photographer of a smoky and burning Beirut, Lebanon. Reuters had failed to catch the freelancer's doctoring of the photos to emphasize unduly the damage from Israeli bombs.

In Qana, where the Israeli military had hit an apartment building (and were quickly censured by European statesmen), the number of civilian fatalities reported also kept decreasing as reports were scrutinized. Plus, we have learned that several hours lapsed between the dropping of the bombs and the fatal collapse of the building, raising further questions about the relationship between the bombing and the fatalities that followed. Finally, based on photographs from the scene, the onsite rescue appeared staged for reporters.

These discrepancies suggest we have little idea what actually happened there - other than that Qana has been a favored missile-launching site against Israel.

There is a depressing pattern here. The sources for Western erroneous reports and faked pictures always seem to exaggerate the damage to Lebanon - but never to Israel.

Likewise, Western news agencies rarely list a precise number of Hezbollah losses, instead lumping them in with civilian fatalities. Does that mean that someone who launches a missile in Levis and sneakers is not a combatant?

Knowingly or not, news outlets continue to spread Hezbollah's propaganda. One wonders if Westerners remember or know that, until Sept. 11, 2001, Hezbollah had killed more Americans than had any other terrorist organization.

Most ignore as well that Hezbollah precipitated the current crisis by kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers, and launching missiles against Israel's cities.

In retaliation, the Israeli Defense Forces use precision bombs to target combatants and try to avoid civilian casualties. In contrast, every random missile launched by Hezbollah is intended to hit a civilian target.

On one side of this conflict is a true democracy that was attacked. On the other are terrorists who hijacked the sovereign government of Lebanon, instituted theocratic rule over a third of the country - and started a war.

Hezbollah, of course, has been enabled in large part thanks to Iranian petro-dollars and intimidation.

Those now calling for "dialogue" with the "major players" ignore that Iran promises to wipe out Israel. The French foreign minister was quick to praise the regional role of theocratic Iran as "stabilizing."

Then there's Hezbollah's other patron, Syria, a country that brutally occupied Lebanon, harbors terrorists and is suspected of being behind the assassination of former Lebanese reformist Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

So, what then does matter to so many Westerners about this war? Our fear, of course. We want to avoid messy complications like stirring up another 9/11 or Madrid bombing, spiking oil prices to more than $80 a barrel, or treading on politically incorrect ground by criticizing the "other" of the former Third World.

When the dust settles, the world will learn that Lebanon outside Hezbollah's domain is not destroyed. And, one hopes, those who have suffered in the Hezbollah-controlled south will re-examine their support for a terrorist organization that has brought them - and itself - to near ruin.

Instead, far more worrisome is the moral crisis in the West itself. If so many of its politicians, intellectuals and media will not or cannot fathom moral differences in this war, they will hardly be able to see them anywhere else.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears in The Sun on Fridays. His e-mail is

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