It’s happening again. The media is scratching the surface in its news reportage, and politicians are talking around issues. In its constant churning of non-essential gossip almost every news channel Wednesday led with the query ‘did Barak Obama’s wife take a jab at Hillary by saying one needed to put one’s own house in order before taking on a major political role’? But hardly any of these ‘news’ sources added that she went on to say she always made sure she was home to put her girls to bed. That was her point even if the media chose to spin it another way. In 2000 it is said the press didn’t like Gore, too stuffy, too pedantic, whatever. And look what we ended up with – – someone you’d like to have a beer with and talk about … baseball, food, a nickname glossary?
No-one questioned Bush closely enough when he first ran for president – – he had no idea for example who Pakistan’s leader was which made Tom Friedman of the NY Times wonder how the American people could seriously consider a candidate without determining that person’s grasp of world issues or the thrust of his foreign policy goals. Instead members of the press asked about things like who his favorite philosopher was and a befuddled Bush leaped into a serviceable safety net by responding that Jesus was. That question, meaningless in itself, nonetheless provided some insight into the under-informed, intellectually vapid administration about to be installed in the White House.
And later, Congress in turn didn’t investigate thoroughly assertions made by the new president about WMD in Iraq or take its own job seriously enough when it turned too many decision-making responsibilities over to the Executive Branch. Everyone failed a little bit, and together the result has been monumental failures on many different fronts.
So what has been learned in the intervening years and by whom? Not much, by the president and his fellow travelers if our current misadventure in Iraq is any indication. Adding to the general confusion the president has begun drawing parallels between Iraq and Viet Nam, trying to pull emotional strings by talking about the deaths of innocents if we leave before “the job is completed”. Reference is made to Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge although Viet Nam, not Cambodia, was our primary focus and field of battle. And South Viet Nam has become a vibrant society and a valued trading partner today regardless of the fact that we pulled out – – but only after a ten-year involvement and 58,000 American deaths, not to mention the toll among civilians.
If a parallel is to be drawnit is the president’s insistence that we would have “won” if only we’d carried on our struggle to mediate a civil war in Viet Nam ignoring the destabilizing force we had become in the region and his similar claims about our presence in Iraq. But the Middle East today is even more fractured than Southeast Asia was then even if our lack of understanding about cultural influences is every bit as stunted and as convoluted as our definitions of what “winning” would like.
If there has been progress in Iraq, for instance in Anbar province, it has been accomplished by arming local sheiks and their supporters who want no part of a creeping Al Qaeda presence. But if provincial control is one method of bringing stability to various districts, is the prospect of armed factions spread throughout the country a solution to underlying political turmoil? Is there the political will to establish something resembling a power structure able to field an army, create a diverse parliament and build an integrated police force that is not fractured by corruption and ethnic/religious loyalties.
Baghdad itself has become a city of walled-off sectors and dreadful living conditions. Concrete barriers provide some measure of security, but they do nothing to develop political unity, and a government that is unable to provide electricity, clean water and personal safety cannot be seen by its people as serving any useful purpose. When governments fail, as our own so often does when it comes to border security, health benefits, educational opportunities and a distribution of wealth that favors the already wealthy, people grow restless, fight among themselves and become cynical about their leaders.
And as the president, who seems to think he’s on some kind of a roll, grasps at the straws of favorable news tidbits as if they were winning arguments for an ill-conceived policy, the meaning of real progress in Iraq is as nebulous as ever. It seems to involve pretty much just hanging out in dangerous surroundings until our military is completely exhausted and our giant Embassy is completed so that our forces and diplomats can hunker down there, watch movies, dine on McDonald’s quarter pounders and keep an eye on the oil.
If long-term progress is to be made – – not generalizations about people following us over here if we fail over there – – it will have to involve short-term fixes like securing Iraq’s borders, providing amenities most societies expect from their government, and guarding the country’s electrical grid against the constant sabotage it currently experiences. And, if it can actually be determined who’s who in the complicated factional world that is Iraq, an all-out assault on Al Qaeda units would be the best possible use of our forces.
The country is constantly bombarded with non news, silly news and silly views. And the president is busily spinning what he hopes will make him look like a hero and a visionary. Responsible politicians and an alert press have to do more than just grimace and bear it. This time they have to set the record straight, and constituents must demand that they do so.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *