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November 3, 2007
Is the Tide Turning on Media Coverage of Iraq?
I suppose when the New York Times has a front page story about the turnaround in the security situation in Iraq without their usual parsing and caveats, we might be able to say that press coverage of the war has turned the corner and the reality of what is happening there will be accurately reported.
But while waiting for hell to freeze over, perhaps we should begin to recognize the fact that major media outlets from the Washington Post to the Los Angeles Times as well as the cable news nets are beginning to notice that there has been a significant and definite drop in the violence in Iraq and that some semblance of normalcy is returning to the war torn country:
Indeed, on every relevant measure, the shape of the Petraeus curve is profoundly encouraging. It is not only the number of coalition deaths and injuries that has fallen sharply (October was the best month for 18 months and the second-best in almost four years), but the number of fatalities among Iraqi civilians has also tumbled similarly. This process started outside Baghdad but now even the capital itself has a sense of being much less violent and more viable. As we report today, something akin to a normal nightlife is beginning to re-emerge in the city. As the pace of reconstruction quickens, the prospects for economic recovery will be enhanced yet further. With oil at record high prices, Iraq should be an extremely prosperous nation and in a position to start planning for its future with confidence. It should be noted that the situation is precarious. The tens of thousands of Sunnis who have signed on to help coalition forces in Iraq by joining the army and police force are being given a hard time by the Shia dominated government. And political reconciliation - from the top down anyway - still appears to be a will 'o the wisp pipedream with Iraqi Shia legislators dragging their heels on most of the major initiatives that would unite the country. Unless there is real progress over the next few months, the possibility exists that the Sunnis would give up trying to cooperate with the government and return to their old insurgent ways.
But there is no doubt that at the moment, the surge has accomplished exactly what it set out to do; give the Iraqi government the opportunity to make peace by sitting down with the Sunnis and hammering out power sharing arrangements in a federal-type system of government. And this opportunity has literally given the vapors to those who have a vested interest - political or otherwise - in the defeat of the United States in Iraq:
The current achievements, and they are achievements, are being treated as almost an embarrassment in certain quarters. The entire context of the contest for the Democratic nomination for president has been based on the conclusion that Iraq is an absolute disaster and the first task of the next president is to extricate the United States at maximum speed. Democrats who voted for the war have either repudiated their past support completely (John Edwards) or engaged in a convoluted partial retraction (Hillary Clinton). Congressional Democrats have spent most of this year trying (and failing) to impose a timetable for an outright exit. In Britain, in a somewhat more subtle fashion admittedly, Gordon Brown assumed on becoming the Prime Minister that he should send signals to the voters that Iraq had been “Blair's War”, not one to which he or Britain were totally committed. All of these attitudes have become outdated. That opportunity won't last very long. But with what appears to be the beginning of a change in the attitude of the press, it could be that the time gained by Genearl Petreaus for Iraqi politicians may lead to a success that was only imagined just a few short months ago.
There are many valid complaints about the manner in which the Bush Administration and Donald Rumsfeld, in particular, managed Iraq after the 2003 military victory. But not to recognise that matters have improved vastly in the year since Mr Rumsfeld's resignation from the Pentagon was announced and General Petraeus was liberated would be ridiculous. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have to appreciate that Iraq is no longer, as they thought, an exercise in damage limitation but one of making the most of an opportunity. The instinct of too many people is that if Iraq is going badly we should get out because it is going badly and if it is getting better we should get out because it is getting better. This is a catastrophic miscalculation. Iraq is getting better. That is good, not bad, news.