Two solitudes of American politics

We Canadians often refer to our two solitudes: the seemingly unbridgeable divide between English Canada and French Canada (particularly, the Francophone population of Quebec). However hard we try to communicate, it seems that we speak right past each other. Mutual understanding eludes us.

Americans have their own two solitudes, at least since the invasion of Iraq. It was illustrated in the dialogue on the previous post by Canadian Expatriate. It’s illustrated even more vividly in a clip from Fox TV, below.

The video is prompted by Iran’s capture (hostage-taking) of fifteen British sailors, ostensibly because the British ship had crossed into Iranian waters. Iran then coerced (presumably) the sailors to confess that they had entered Iranian territory without permission.

Iran broadcast the confessions on TV. Doing so would appear to violate Geneva Conventions provisions on the treatment of captives.

In the video clip, Bill O’Reilly is interviewing Col. Ann Wright, retired after 29 years’ service in the US army. She is an expert on the Geneva Conventions. O’Reilly’s problem is obvious. The USA has denied the protections of the Geneva Conventions to some of its detainees captured in the “war on terror”.

Not surprisingly, O’Reilly’s expert on the Geneva Conventions would like to hold both Iran and the USA to the same Geneva standard. But O’Reilly doesn’t want to hear it. I gather that these two have a history of disagreements, because O’Reilly begins to lose patience with her about 3 seconds into the interview.


There’s a lot of raised voices and people talking over one another. Let me transcribe just one exchange, toward the very end:

I do want to make sure the Iranians treat people properly and I want to make sure the United States treats people properly.

Sure you do, sure you do. … Somewhere along the line you started to dislike your own country.

Two solitudes indeed. I wonder, which speaker has reason on his/her side?

(btw, the sailors have been released and are now back in Britain)


12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dave On Fire
    Apr 05, 2007 @ 10:50:17

    And that’s what passes for journalism these days?

    For the record, though, and without getting into the debate about whether the Geneva Convention does or doesn’t prohibit TV appearances, the Iranian hospitality doesn’t even come close to that of Britain and the U.S.

    It’s hard to see quite how much Iran could be coercing them now, after the event, but the captured sailors are still thanking Iran and apologising to them.

    Hard to see anyone in Guantanamo Bay or Abu Graib doing that.


  2. Stephen
    Apr 05, 2007 @ 13:04:09

    And that’s what passes for journalism these days?

    On FOX, at least. Wright was determined to criticize the US government. O’Reilly therefore treated her like a lawyer examining a hostile witness in a court proceeding.


  3. JewishAtheist
    Apr 05, 2007 @ 14:09:46

    O’Reilly represents everything wrong with American “news.” There’s a reason Stephen Colbert is killing by doing a thirty minute parody of him four days a week.


  4. juggling mother
    Apr 06, 2007 @ 03:51:21

    Actually, the “confession” was along the lines of: “if we had been here, where you say we were, that is in Iranian waters and we would have been wrong to b there, however, we thought we were here, in Iraqi waters (where apparetly we have every right to be), so that was OK and we were right” Then, like all TV interviews, it was edited together to show a specific bit that made the TV company happy.

    As far as I can tell, the Iranians weren’t particularly interested in the story, and the biggest Brit story was the disproportionate press the woman got, compared to the men. It all ended happily and both sides feel they were right which is the best outcome possible really.

    Compare this to the palestinian soldiers being taken hostage last year, and I am certainly happy that we didn’t start jumping around waving guns as soon as it happened!


  5. 49erDweet
    Apr 06, 2007 @ 03:57:31

    Enjoy Colbert and can barely stand O’Reilly. Doesn’t mean he is always wrong, though. Wright quite conveniently swishes past the “uniformed troops” issue. All of this could be corrected if only some nation would claim these “freedom fighting” combatants as their own. That doesn’t seem to be happening, though. Hmmm.

    I consider the US has met and exceeded the enforceable standards of the Geneva convention. But then I apparently don’t understand printed words very well. I suppose we should go beyond the requirements of the law. There are nuances and then nuances, I guess.




  6. Dave On Fire
    Apr 06, 2007 @ 08:05:00

    You said:

    I consider the US has met and exceeded the enforceable standards of the Geneva convention

    Sorry, but you’re just wrong. What about Guantanamo, what about Abu Graib?


  7. Jamie
    Apr 06, 2007 @ 15:11:01

    Stephen: It’s true that she turned the whole interview against the U.S. She wouldn’t say that Iran did anything wrong; she used her time to slam the U.S. And she wouldn’t be quiet either! I understand not liking Bill O’Reilly, but is it so unreasonable that he not be pleased? I’m having a hard time sympathizing with your (excessively harsh, imo) take.


  8. Stephen
    Apr 06, 2007 @ 18:02:58


    I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Wright turned the whole interview against the USA. In my view, she tried to hold both Iran and the USA to the same Geneva standard — just as I said in the post.

    “I concur that all people that are detained by any power must be treated appropriately, and if you look at the Geneva Conventions … the Iranians should be treating the British with the utmost of care, they should not subject them to public curiosity and by showing photos just as the Americans have done in other cases, which was wrong, we lose the moral high ground when we do conduct …”

    OK, Wright veers off; she stops just short of explicitly criticizing Iran here. Still, I think such criticism is implicit in her comment. She veers off because she wants to draw a connection between American conduct and Iranian conduct. That is, she wants to say that Americans can’t exercise a double standard.

    “So this is our fault, this Iranian seizure is our fault?”
    “No, not at all, not at all.”

    Here O’Reilly tries to put words into Wright’s mouth. Is that an appropriate thing for an interviewer to do? It’s questionable, in my opinion. But perhaps it’s OK if his point is to ask for a clarification: “Is this what you mean to say?” So Wright clarifies: “No, not at all, not at all.”

    Later, Wright:
    “I want to appeal to our country as I appeal to the Iranians that we actually abide by what the true Geneva Conventions are: that you treat people appropriately, that you don’t subject them to public curiosity, that you don’t intimidate, you don’t humiliate them. That needs to be for everybody.”

    Same message. Both Iran and the USA should be held to the Geneva standard.

    “We wanted to talk to you about the Iranian illegal seizure of these military people and the abuse of them.”

    In other words, we at FOX are only prepared to hear criticism of the Iranians; leave the USA out of it. Our country, right or wrong.


  9. Stephen
    Apr 06, 2007 @ 18:05:56

    I consider the US has met and exceeded the enforceable standards of the Geneva convention.

    Is torture within the Geneva standards?


  10. addofio
    Apr 06, 2007 @ 21:09:32

    I have about a 20-second tolerance for watching O’Reilly in action, so I haven’t seen him a lot–but based on my (admittedly limited) sampling, the man is hardly fit for human society, let alone for a position of influence in the media. It amazes me that he gets away with what he does–not only gets away with it, but is paid big bucks precisely because he is rude, intolerant, unreasonable (in the sense of pigheaded, biased, and close-minded), and subjects people to tirades on a regular basis. I’ve been known to do those things from time to time, and believe me, NO ONE lets me get away with it, let alone admires me for it or offers to apy me big bucks for it. And he does these things not only on his own show–where at least one could say people know what they’re in for and he has some right to behave as he pleases–but also on other people’s. It’s a mystery to me.


  11. Random
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 04:30:42

    I consider the US has met and exceeded the enforceable standards of the Geneva convention.

    Is torture within the Geneva standards?”

    Bluntly speaking, probably – at least for the sort of people who seem to be being held at Gitmo (which is not to say that it’s morally, as distinct from legally, okay). 49er is right on the issue Wright ignored – the Geneva Conventions only apply to the uniformed personnel of signatory states or enemy civilians not engaged in hostile acts. People who do not fall into these categories have essentially no rights whatsoever, and it is my understand that it is the position of the US government that the vast majority of the people at Gitmo fall into this category – it would be consistent with the Geneva Conventions to do virtually anything to them, up to and including lining them up against a wall and putting a bullet in their heads.

    The British military personnel do however clearly fall within a protected category, and the Iranians clearly violated their rights. Wright is talking bunk in trying to establish moral equivalence and Colbert is right to call her on it, even if his choice of language was intemperate.

    In any case, even if all her assertions were true, answer me this – Gitmo is a US facility. The British government, although a US ally, has frequently spoken out against conditions there and lobbied for people to be released. So why then is it an appropriate peace of moral equivalence to take British service personnel hostage?


  12. Dirk Gently
    Apr 07, 2007 @ 14:44:14

    How did Fox News get permission to keep the label “News”? I know there are pro and anti Republican networks in the US, most are more subtle then Fox news. I know Fox has a long history of this type of bullshit. Is it any wonder the average US person has no clue as to what’s being done in their name with this type of “news” keeping them informed (I use that word in more of a propaganda type way)?


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