Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
The Search for Truth in Iraq
Perhaps the only thing harder to come by in Iraq than WMD's is the truth. On July 14th, I wrote about Judge Merritt who went to Iraq and came back with some interesting information (see archives to the right, and maybe all the way at the bottom for some reason). Here's another judge that, upon visiting Iraq for himself, gained a new perspective. Judge Donald E. Walter wrote this op-ed piece on his experience and here's an excerpt from a speech he gave on the same subject:
Despite my initial opposition to the war, I am now convinced, whether we find any weapons of mass destruction or prove Saddam sheltered and financed terrorists, absolutely, we should have overthrown the Baathists, indeed, we should have done it sooner. What changed my mind? When we left mid June, 57 mass graves had been found, one with the bodies of 1200 children. There have been credible reports of murder, brutality and torture of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqi citizens. There is poverty on a monumental scale and fear on a larger one. That fear is still palpable. I have seen the machines and places of torture. I will tell you one story told to me by the Chief of Pediatrics at the Medical College in Basra. It was one of the most shocking to me, but I heard worse. One of Saddam's security agents was sent to question a Shiite in his home. The interrogation took place in the living room in the presence of the man's wife, who held their three month old child. A question was asked and the thug did not like the answer; he asked it again, same answer. He grabbed the baby from its mother and plucked its eye out. And then repeated his question. Worse things happened with the knowledge, indeed with the participation, of Saddam, his family and the Baathist regime. Thousands suffered while we were messing about with France and Russia and Germany and the UN. Every one of them knew what was going on there, but France and the UN were making millions administering the food for oil program. We cannot, I know, remake the world, nor do I believe we should. We cannot stamp out evil, I know. But this time we were morally right and our economic and strategic interests were involved. I submit that just because we can't do everything doesn't mean that we should do nothing. We must have the moral courage to see this through, to do whatever it takes to secure responsible government for the Iraqi people. Having decided to topple Saddam, we cannot abandon those who trust us. I fear we will quit as the horrors of war come into our living rooms. Look at the stories you are getting from the media today. The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news may destroy our will to fulfill the obligations we have assumed. WE ARE NOT GETTING THE WHOLE TRUTH FROM THE NEWS MEDIA.
And why is that? Bias? Laziness? Why is it that first hand reports seem to differ so much from what major print and TV journalism is telling us? For months I have been reading letters from or about soldiers, traveling musicians (see same musicians second letter from Syria here) congressmen from both sides of the aisle seem to indicate there is much more going on. Ike Skelton (D-Mo), the House Armed Service Committee's ranking member, just returned from Iraq and made this observation, "The media stresses the wounds, the injuries, and the deaths, as they should, but for instance in Northern Iraq, Gen Patraeus has 3,100 projects --from soccer fields to schools to refineries -- all good stuff that isn't being reported."
Consistently, they say that 90% of Iraqis are friendly and thankful to see coalition troops. Their market shelves are stocked with goods and the seeds of commerce, entrepreneurism, and most importantly, democracy, as this wonderful bit from Andrew Sullivan suggests, have been planted. Schools are opening and women are attending classes. Debate, protest and free speech are rampant. There are currently over 150 newspapers that have sprung up within the country (the only Arab country with a free press in the Middle East). But looking at what the mainstream media has been reporting you would think that absolutely nothing happens in Iraq save for attacks on G.I's.
So what to believe? Is Iraq a quagmire or is it improving? Both carry some validity, but big media seems to only cover one. It is well worth noting that the vast majority of attacks on coalition forces take place in what's known as the Sunni Triangle, a Baathist stronghold (It runs west from Baghdad to Fallujah and Ramadi, north to Tikrit and back down to Baghdad and is a fairly small portion of the country, nonetheless journalists seem to spend a fairly large portion of their time there. As this Wall Street Journal piece suggests, "More of the media should embed themselves with the Iraqi people outside the Sunni Triangle, rather than inside the Baghdad bunker." Yeah, it looks to be laziness more than anything. Stay in the hotel all day and continue with the cookie cutter meme of "troops ambushed, RPG attack, (X) number dead and (X) number wounded" that is fed to them by coalition information briefings or, venture out and do some real reporting? I guess we know what the answer to that has been so far.
My question is then, where have all our noble reporters in search of truth gone? Iraq's future, and quite possibly the success of the war on terror are hanging in the balance and this is what we get? It is imperative that we see this occupation through and help transform Iraq into a free society. The only way that we'll fail is if we lose our resolve. The motivation behind these guerilla attacks is not one of military strategy but to create a state of chaos and headlines of U.S. casualties, in hopes of turning the media's vision of quagmire into a self-fulfilling prophecy. What the Islamo-fascist movement fears most is a democratic Iraq, it would mean the beginning of the end of their existence (if 9/11 wasn't that). Democracy in the Middle East means all neighborhood dictators are in trouble. Look at a map -- with democracies budding in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran would literally be surrounded by success. Iran is a country ripe for internal revolution, they have a substantial middle class that has grown quite weary of the culture of the mullahcracy ruling their lives. With freedom on all sides, I don't think they could stand the internal pressure much longer. But the key to wider Middle Eastern democracy is insuring that free societies take root in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be cheap, it's not going to be fast, and there will be innocent lives lost. The Islamo-fascist movement has made it clear that it will not go away, and it certainly won't go as long as there are dictators ruling countries that allow conditions of poverty and hopelessness to persist within. These authoritarian regimes control all media and information and successfully redirect the despair and anger of the populace towards an enemy that isn't them - specifically America, and the West in general. In the long run, the most effective way to combat the terror movement is by fostering open and tolerant societies the world over.
As Iraq is half a world away, the media necessarily plays an important role in this. We don't need positive reporting, we don't need negative reporting, what we need is an accurate picture of what is really going on in Iraq. There are problems and we need to hear about them, so we can spend the appropriate resources solving them. The future of Iraq and the war on terror is at stake here. We know it, even Al-Qaeda knows it, as this quote from a recently published book by Yussuf al-Ayyeri, one of Osama bin Laden's closest associates suggests "It is not the American war machine that should be of the utmost concern to Muslims. What threatens the future of Islam, in fact its very survival, is American democracy."
The major print media, with their narrow focus on the "Iraq as quagmire" narrative is only aiding that cause. As Representative John Marshall (D-GA) observed upon his return from Iraq "They (media) are dwelling upon the mistakes, the ambushes, the soldiers killed, the wounded, the Blumbergs. Fair enough. But it is not balancing this bad news with "the rest of the story," the progress made daily, the good news. The falsely bleak picture weakens our national resolve, discourages Iraqi cooperation and emboldens our enemy.
Here's some related articles that I recomend, all thanks to InstaPundit:
Jack Kelly quotes a piece that says this:
"Six months before, the world had cheered as the statues of the dictator came crashing down. The Americans had seemed heroic. But now things were going very badly. The occupation was chaotic, the American soldiers were hated and they were facing threats from the surviving supporters of the dictator, whose whereabouts were uncertain.
You can read the rest here.
"Washington seemed unwilling to pay the enormous bill for reconstruction, and the president didn't appear to have any kind of workable plan to manage the transition to democracy. European allies, distrustful of the arrogant American outlook, were wary of cooperating." Doug Saunders was writing not of Iraq in September, 2003. He was writing about Germany in November 1945.
Chief Wiggles, an intelligence officer in Iraq, expresses his dissapointment with the media here. As well as a heartwarming story of a young Iraqi girl and her mother. The Chief has also started a program where we can send toys and other life necessities like toothpaste, soap, and hair brushes to Iraqi children, there is even pictures of these donated items being distributed, start here.
Jonathan Rauch writes:
The fact that the Bush administration keeps adjusting its course, often contravening its own plans or preferences, is a hopeful sign. . . .
Only trial and error, otherwise known as muddling through, can work in Iraq. There is no other way. Muddling through is not pretty, but never underestimate America's genius for it. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington never enjoyed the luxury of planning, but they were two of the finest muddlers-through the world has ever known, and they did all right.
There is much more.
Here'a report from a 52 year old foreign service officer in Iraq who, on a short return trip home, had this response to U.S. media coverage "There's just an incredible amount of productive stuff going on over there, with a lot of Iraqi participation," he said. "To come here and see it portrayed as a failure in the making -- it's very superficial and inaccurate."