On Journalism’s ‘Long Line’ of ‘Everyday Extremists’

Reading Mark Landler’s and Elizabeth Bumiller’s New York Timestidbit out of an overheated Washington last week: ‘President Obama and his top advisers have been meeting almost daily to discuss options for helping the Pakistani government and military repel the [Taliban] offensive,'” Tom Engelhardt (TomDispatch, 5/7/09) decides to toss some cold water on “this kind of atmosphere that naturally produces the bureaucratic equivalent of mass hysteria”:

Reports indicate that Obama’s national security team has been convening regular “crisis” meetings and having “nearly nonstop discussions” at the White House, not to mention issuing alarming and alarmist statements of all sorts about the devolving situation in Pakistan, the dangers to Islamabad, our fears for the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and so on. In fact, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landy of McClatchy news service quote “a senior U.S. intelligence official” (from among the legion of anonymous officials who populate our nation’s capital) saying: “The situation in Pakistan has gone from bad to worse, and no one has any idea about how to reverse it. I don’t think ‘panic’ is too strong a word to describe the mood here.”…

You know, that offensive in the Lower Dir Valley. That’s near the Buner District. You remember, right next to the Swat Valley and, in case you’re still not completely keyed in, geographically speaking, close to the Malakand Division. I mean, if the Pakistani government were in crisis over the deteriorating situation in Fargo, North Dakota, we would consider it material for late night jokesters.

Reminding you that “if Pakistan poses a mortal threat to you in New York, Toledo or El Paso,” you’ll just have to “get in line”–and “it will be a long one and you’ll be toward the back”–Engelhardt sees “a certain irony” in that “we essentially know what those crisis meetings will result in. After all, the U.S. government has been embroiled with Pakistan for at least 40 years and for just that long, its top officials have regularly come to the same policy conclusions–to support Pakistani military dictatorships.” Even McClatchy reports on how “that, another senior official acknowledged Wednesday, ‘means another coup.'”