Right Hook

Fox News' Sean Hannity rips U.N. official over tsunami relief comment, wants him fired. Too bad his facts are wrong. And: Why is a right-winger singing from the same choir as Michael Moore?

Published January 6, 2005 10:48PM (EST)

We report 10 times, you decide
Fox News' Sean Hannity blasted U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland this week for Egeland's criticism in late December of the initial, relatively modest response of some Western nations to the tsunami disaster. Hannity used a little creative geography to fuel the fire -- an exchange between Hannity and U.N. spokesman Bill Orme, from the Jan. 3 edition of "Hannity & Colmes":

"HANNITY: Bill, your undersecretary-general, Mr. Egeland, for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, had the unmitigated gall and audacity to lecture North America and America and the world about being stingy and then lecture us about how we ought to be raising our taxes. Considering in light of all that we have donated in past years, shouldn't he be fired for such a callous, inaccurate remark?

"ORME: Well, what's inaccurate, Sean, is your depiction of his remark, which was broadcast live on at least a rival cable network. He did not single out the United States. He did not mention the United States.

"HANNITY: He said North America, did he not?

"ORME: He did not say North America.

"HANNITY: Yes, he did.

"ORME: No, he didn't.

"HANNITY: Yes, he did. I played it 10 times on my radio show."

Exactly what Hannity played 10 times on his show remains unclear. Here's what Egeland actually said to reporters on Dec. 28, according to the Associated Press:

"We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really ... Even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become."

The day of Egeland's comments, the U.S. aid package still stood at less than the $40 million planned for Bush's inaugural bash this month in Washington. How many times, one wonders, did Hannity take note of that?

The new Cold War
Is the Axis of Evil about to get a whole lot bigger? As if Iraq, Iran and North Korea weren't enough to worry about, now, according to one national security expert, there may be a whole new Cold War looming on the horizon.

The Heritage Foundation's Peter Brookes, a former Pentagon staffer, CIA and Naval intelligence officer, is warning that the U.S. better "pay attention" to the rising military and strategic alliance between Russia and China. He points to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's recent announcement of a major joint military exercise, involving both ground troops and state-of-the-art weapons, that will take place on Chinese soil in the second half of 2005. A staunch conservative, Brookes rarely if ever is openly critical of the Bush administration. But he notes that increasingly "frosty relations" with the U.S. (which Bush-style unilateralist swagger probably doesn't do much to thaw) are the key driver of the evolving Sino-Russian relationship.

"The unprecedented nature of these military exercises -- and the possible long-term implications for American interests in the Pacific -- is mind-boggling," Brookes says. "After years of relative stagnation, a troubling sea change in Sino-Russian strategic relations is underway.

"But why the change? From the Russian perspective, cuddling up to Beijing has more to do with Russia's frosty relations with the West than the chill of the Russian winter. Decrying the American 'dictatorship of international affairs' during a December visit to India, Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to gently remind Washington (and the West) of Russian power -- and trouble-making potential. Bristling against NATO's expansion in Europe, Russia is looking for some way to increase Moscow's sagging global standing, as well as balance Western power. (The election of Western-leaning Viktor Yushchenko in last week's Ukrainian presidential run-off certainly increased Moscow's sense of international impotence.) So, what better way to fortify Moscow's increasingly weak strategic position in Europe than by teaming up with China to bolster Russia's standing in Asia?"

Brookes also sees plenty of reason for Bejing to cozy up to Moscow, with an eye on greater regional dominance from Taiwan to Japan.

"China has been seeking closer strategic cooperation with Russia for some time to balance -- and eventually supercede -- America's unparalleled post-Cold War power in the Pacific," he writes. "In a recently published defense report, China warned that it faced growing 'uncertainty, instability and insecurity.' Beijing (naturally) blamed the situation on the American military presence in the Pacific region. China is also looking for support on the Taiwan unification issue. In the same report, China said that relations with Taiwan are 'grim,' vowing to accelerate its military buildup (unquestionably with Russian assistance).

"And no doubt that Chinese intelligence will consume Russian military doctrine and tactics like dim-sum, preparing the Chinese People's Liberation Army for possible future clashes over disputed territory with regional rivals such as Japan."

Is the solution then supposed to arrive via diplomacy? Intriguingly, beyond calling attention to a looming Cold War deluxe, Brookes doesn't discuss what Washington should do about it. Nor does he utter a word about the war in Iraq. But with our enormous commitment in the Middle East, not to mention Afghanistan, it's hard to imagine what kind of military leverage the U.S. would have today if China went after Taiwan, or Russia moved against Ukraine.

More holes in Bush's foreign policy
Meanwhile, it's not just the political left that's criticizing the Bush administration's war strategy for Iraq and the broader Middle East. Following reports on Monday that the suicide bomber who blew himself up inside a U.S. military mess hall in Mosul was a Saudi national, author Stephen Schwartz, long a fierce critic of the Saudi government and its tolerance of virulent Wahhabism, spanked the Bush administration for continued complacency on the issue.

"Arab-language media, including Saudi newspapers and Web sites, have disclosed that Saudi subjects make up the overwhelming majority of the 'foreign fighters' involved in suicide terrorism in Iraq, from Fallujah to Baghdad, and from Mosul to Basra.

"But Ali al-Ahmed of the Saudi Institute, and other Saudi dissidents, complain that U.S. authorities have failed to compel the Saudis to shut off the flow of jihadists northward. Instead, 26 prominent Saudi clerics, most of them paid by the regime, signed a fatwa on Nov. 5 calling for continued jihad against the United States and the new military and police structures in Iraq.

"None of the signatories -- all of them adherents of Wahhabism, the official Islamic sect in Saudi Arabia -- has been questioned or suspended from religious duties since the fatwa was issued. In addition, the terrorist responsible for a Christmas Eve fuel-truck bombing in the Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad, which killed nine people, has been identified as a Saudi subject, 23-year-old Ahmad Abdallah Abd al-Rahman al-Shayea, of Riyadh.

"And so the deception continues.

"The bottom line remains the same as it was on Sept. 11: President Bush has to call the Saudis to account for their financing of the Wahhabis and their terrorism."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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