Journalist Barone talks on Islamist terrorism

By Kim Drelich

Michael Barone, a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and contributor to Fox News Channel, spoke to an audience that was as captivated by his knowledge of American political statistics as they were by his stance on terrorism in the Middle East on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Social Sciences 122. Barone began by joking that he agreed to speak at the U of C, “despite the University’s dismal ratings… on which is the best party school.”

He then delved into terrorism and its effect on American politics.

Barone said that though it is generally thought the war on terror started on September 11, 2001, he believes it started with the 1979 seizure of hostages in Tehran. This was followed by the 1983 bombing of U.S. marine barracks in Lebanon, the 1988 Pan Am explosion involving Libya, the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center, the 1996 Hobart attack, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. He said that before September 11, the war was “waged only by one side—by them and against us.”

Barone then explained the shift in U.S. policy from supporting dictatorial regimes, to trying to institute democracy in the Middle East. He said U.S. presidents previously backed dictatorial regimes, because they needed support against the Soviet Union during the Cold War, preferred dealing with a leader that was familiar rather than unknown, and did not want to disturb stability in Middle East.

“What the mainstream media has not paid enough attention to is that minds are being changed in the Mideast,” Barone said, claiming that recently countries have focused on the questions of decent government and society rather than “divert their inevitable discontent towards America and Israel.”

Barone, also the co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, then turned towards American politics and spoke on America’s “culture war,” which he sees as highly correlated to religious views, trying to emphasize that the two sides have personal feelings against either Clinton or Bush by scratching his nails against the chalkboard.

He named Iraq “the central focus in 2004 election” and said that the 2004 election showed that the two sides of America are not “precisely equal.”

The 2004 election was marked by an increase in turnout for both the Republican and Democratic Parties, but the Republican Party ultimately increased its turnout from 2000 by a larger percentage. He cited Bush’s “post-industrial networking” tactics as instrumental in increasing turnout.

He said that ’06 and ’08 will also be turnout elections.

For upcoming U.S. elections, he said in an interview that “there is a polarized electorate and it is not clear who will win.”

Discussing the underlying trends and changes he has seen recently in the Middle East, Barone said that the polling in the Muslim world, done by Pew Charitable Trust, shows that “there is less hatred of U.S. and more belief that democracy is possible in the Mideast.”

When asked how to facilitate discussion of contentious issues on campus, he expressed disapproval of speech codes and the suppression of speech on college campuses, where he said it should be the most free and encouraged.

Chicago Friends of Israel, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, JCRC/Hillel Israel Initiative, and Hasbara hosted the event.