Saturday, October 16, 2004

Spinning Poland - again 

Poland is in the news again, marginally (if you blink, you'll miss it), as the Prime Minister Marek Belka clarifies, against the backdrop of a parliamentary confidence motion against him, Poland's position on the presence of its troops in Iraq. According to Belka, the Polish Army presence will be scaled down following the Iraqi elections in January, and overall, Poland "will not remain in Iraq an hour longer than the common sense dictates, than it is needed to achieve our mission's goal, to give back Iraq to the Iraqis, give security to the world."

The decision to start withdrawing troops immediately after the election rests on an assumption that with the democratically elected government in place, the Iraqis will be increasingly taking charge of their own internal security, and Poland will therefore be far from the only country scaling down its troop levels. The debatable aspect of Belka's plan is whether the government should commit itself to a fixed timetable based on the most optimistic scenario, without taking into account the actual circumstances on the ground in January and after. The rest of the Prime Minister's statement, however, is pretty non-controversial; after all no one wants to stay in Iraq longer than it's necessary.

But nowadays even the most obvious and non-controversial statements will still fall victims of spin.

Take for example UPI, which finishes its report with this observation: "Following its withdrawal, Poland will become the second major European nation, after Spain, to pull out of Iraq." Except, of course, that Poland is not withdrawing altogether but merely scaling down the troop levels. We don't know yet which country will become the second major European nation to follow in Spain's footsteps.

The "International Herald Tribune", meanwhile, published this vaguely attributed statement of opinion: "Government officials said Mr. Belka's speech could be an acute embarrassment to President Bush." But surely not on its face - only if it's spun to embarrass the President. The "IHT" also opened the report with this statement:
"Prime Minister Marek Belka of Poland narrowly survived a vote of confidence on Friday after telling Parliament that 'we will not stay in Iraq an hour longer than is needed'."
This is sadly quite misleading, as it gives the impression that the vote of confidence revolved around the question of Iraq, and that Belka only survived the vote after promising to start withdrawing the troops.

In reality there was substantially more to the confidence vote than foreign policy, namely economic management, transition to Euro, leadership style, and government appointments. I'm hardly surprised that the media has zeroed in on Iraq, as it's the most relevant aspect of the debate for the Western audiences (other news services also gave the impression that Iraq was the major if not the only issue in the confidence vote). From the local perspective, however, the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza" did not mention Iraq until the sixth paragraph of its story on the vote (link in Polish). The Western media also missed the fact that the biggest issue behind the confidence motion were the alleged contacts between some Polish post-communist politicians and Russian security services (link also in Polish). In fact the story cited above, as well as this one, both from major Polish news providers, don't mention Iraq at all in the context of the confidence vote.

As to the second point, Belka survived the vote on the support of his own party and his coalition partners. Most of that block supports the deployment in Iraq. But so does most of the opposition, which voted against Belka.

So again, there is more - and at the same time, less - to the story than what the media would want you to think. Oh well, another intelligence failure.


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