What’s is Really Happening in Iraq

To be successful in broadcast news, it not only helps to be competent but attractiveness also counts. Lara Logan of the 60 Minutes broadcast news magazine qualifies on both counts. Unfortunately, she has apparently fallen into the regrettable habit of some journalists of reporting stories that suit an anti-War agenda.

Early this year, she reported on the insecurity of the Baghdad Road, a six-mile highway linking the Baghdad Airport to central Baghdad. At that time, the road was particularly insecure with road side bombs making it a dangerous commute.  Here was a major road that after a year, the Coalition Forces had not managed to totally secure.  This was not just any road in Iraq, it is the major and most important road. The security of the road was aptly used as a metaphor for desultory progress in the entire Iraqi War.

However, it seems that the opposite situation could also represent a metaphor for progress in Iraq. The improved security for the Baghdad Road should be a mark of progress, but that metaphor has not been used.  It is not that it has been deliberately ignored. It simply seems that the symbolism of success is lost on those accustomed to thinking in terms of US military failure.

After training Iraqi troops, US troops have turned over security for the Baghdad Road to those troops. The result was a dramatically more secure road. While US troops had patrolled the neighborhoods along the Baghdad Road, Iraqi troops were far more effective. They could pick up small cultural clues, like a different Arabic accent that would allow them to isolate potential insurgents in ways that were simply beyond American troops. As Iraqi soldier Lt. Omar Tarik Ali, explained, “We are Iraqis, and we know strangers from their faces. We can stop them, and we know if they lie to us. The Americans don’t know.”

By the time 60 Minutes re-aired the piece in November 6, 2005, the situation had changed on the ground. The Baghdad Road had become much safer, but the change did not alter the report. The improvement was not unknown. It had even been acknowledged a couple of days earlier in a small article in the Washington Post on page A15.

This is but one example in a string of situations where good news on the ground in Iraq has been drowned out by a media fixation on bombings. The story of bombings should be told, but so should the good news. Most Americans do not have first hand knowledge of Iraq, so the conventional bad news bias cannot be compensated for by experience. This makes reporting more of a challenge, a challenge that many reporters have not stepped up to.

This inadequate knowledge is one reason that Americans have become more disenchanted with prospects for success in Iraq and their surprise at conspicuous successes like last week’s elections.

Among US military officers, who are on the ground, there is far more optimism. According to Ben Connable a major in the US Marines on his third tour of Iraq, “64% of US military officers think we will succeed if we are allowed to continue our work.” As to the disparity of this opinion with that of some of the chattering classes in the United States, Connable explains of his fellow US officers:

“We know the streets, the people and the insurgents far better than any armchair academic or talking head. We are trained to gauge the chances of success and failure, to calculate risk and reward. We have little to gain from our optimism and quite a bit to lose as we leave our families over and over again to face danger…”

Whether, in the long run, we succeed in Iraq will depend, in large measure, on whether voices like Connable’s are heard over the din of media despondency, and Americans appreciate the hopefulness of those close to the situation.  Ben Connable knows what is happening, but the media prefers to listen to Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war mother whose understandable sadness has grow into self-destructive bitterness fertilized by angry Left-wing rhetoric. It is up to correspondents like Lara Logan to get it right.

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