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Reading the Times

Please, Howell, tell us what to think!

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Because of the sheer volume of its foreign coverage and the consequent amount of time it takes to read it, New Yorkers are immersed in the info-weather of the Times. In the news pages, the climate has supported the antiwar position, on balance: stories about the lack of links between 9/11 and Iraq, the perceptions that the world has of our cowboy president, and the diplomatic blunders of the administration. But on the op-ed pages, the temperature varies. For every sarcastic Maureen Dowd column (“as the brazen Bush imperialists try to install a new democracy in Iraq, they are finding the old democracy of our reluctant allies inconvenient”), there’s Bill Keller declaring that he’s a member of the “I-can’t-believe-I’m-a-hawk” club, or William Safire cheerfully hailing a new “post–Security Council era.” Tom Friedman is the most interesting case. He seems to want to sit back with some popcorn and watch how Bush’s big bet to remake the world plays out—and yet, like many reluctant hawks, he’s worried that the world will be worse off after Bush is through with it.

No wonder we don’t know what to wear—protest T-shirts or gas masks. Particularly when the guidance from the Times’ editorial board sometimes seems as useful as a terror alert. On February 7, the editors praised Bush for holding off till he had “broad international support.” On the 19th, they weren’t so sure about diplomacy: “As long as France, Russia and China balk at military action . . . Baghdad will continue to dance around the U.N.’s disarmament orders.” The Times said that the U.N. should enforce those orders, “even if that requires force. But in the end, sometime in March, the United States may have to decide whether it should do the job on its own.” Which would probably be a failure: “It is hard to imagine either the Bush administration or the American people having the staying power to make things right.”

So by March 3, they were back dancing stiffly in love beads: “The threat of force, however, should not give way to the use of force until peaceful paths to Iraqi disarmament have been exhausted.” And three days later, blaming Bush: “Mr. Bush and his team laid the groundwork for this mess with their arrogant handling of other nations.” Before finally, on the 9th, just hoping for the best: “Like everyone else in America, we feel the window closing. If it comes down to a question of yes or no to invasion without broad international support, our answer is no.” Hoping, like the rest of us, for a thaw.


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