Alienating Arabs

If Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states end up cutting their ties to the dollar, secure in the knowledge their petro-economies would emerge stronger from the upheaval, the process might well have begun in the summer of last year — when Dick Cheney tried to line up Arab support for an attack on Iran.

You hadn't heard about that before?  Neither had I.  Here's the back story. 

Dave Marash, who along with Jim Wooten was one of the great correspondents for the old Nightline on ABC, raised some eyebrows in 2005 when he joined the startup English-language channel of al-Jazeera.

Al-Jazeera's original Arabic-language channel, a quasi-governmental entity based in Qatar, was lauded around much of the world for independent-minded coverage that stood up to Arab dictators, even deigning to broadcast full-length speeches of Israeli prime ministers.  But after 9/11 it became known in the United States as the network that propagated bin Laden messages and hostage snuff films.  Still, with Nightline going all hip and urban in the post-Ted Koppel era, Marash was out of a job and thought the English-language al-Jazeera would be a bold move.

Marash and al-Jazeera parted company a few weeks ago over editorial differences, which can be summed up thus:  When he started, al-Jazeera English's four mega-bureaus — in Doha, London, Washington, and Kuala Lumpur — had almost total autonomy in deciding what stories to cover.  But last summer, that started to change.  The other megabureaus were left alone, but headquarters began "parachuting" correspondents into North America to cover stories independently of Washington — and doing a lousy job of it.  As a result, its North American reportage was no longer met the same standards as its coverage of the rest of the world.  Marash didn't want to be associated with it.

So what sparked the change?  As Marash explains to the Columbia Journalism Review: 

I think that the world changed about nine, ten months ago. And I think
the single event in that change was the visit to the gulf by Vice
President Cheney, where he went to line up the allied ducks in a row
behind the possibility of action against Iran. And instead of getting
acquiescence, the United States got defiance, and instead ducks in a
row the ducks basically went off on their own and the first sort of
major breakthrough on that was the Mecca agreement,
which defied the American foreign policy by letting Hamas into the tent
of the governance of the Palestinian territories. This enraged the
State Department and was one crystal clear sign that the Mideast region
was now off campus, was off on its own. And it is around this time, and
I think not coincidentally, that you see the state of Qatar and the
royal family of Qatar starting to make up their feud with the Saudis,
and you start to see on both Al Jazeera Arabic and English a very sort
of first-personish, “my Haj” stories that were boosterish of the Haj
and of Saudi Arabia. And you start to see stories of analysis in The New York Times
where regional people are noting that Al Jazeera seems to be changing
its editorial stance toward Saudi Arabia. I’m suggesting that around
that time, a decision was made at the highest levels of [Al Jazeera]
that simply following the American political leadership and the
American political ideal of global, universalist values carried out in
an absolutely pure, multipolar, First Amendment global conversation,
was no longer the safest or smartest course, and that it was time, in
fact, to get right with the region. And I think part of getting right
with the region was slightly changing the editorial ambition of Al
Jazeera English, and I think it has subsequently become a more narrowly
focused, more univocal channel than was originally conceived.

In other words, Cheney tried to line up the Arabs behind an attack on Iran, and whether it was the notion itself or Cheney's way of presenting it, they recoiled in such horror that they have now left the American orbit — at least diplomatically.

One only wonders when they might leave America's economic orbit next.