Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 24, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

THE VIEW FROM BAGHDAD....Are things turning around in Iraq? I'd like to think so, but the relatively good news we've been hearing about lately (fewer attacks on U.S. forces, better performance from Iraqi troops, increasing popular resistance to the insurgents, etc.) has only been floating around for a few weeks. That's not enough time to support a serious conclusion that we're finally on the path to success.

Unfortunately, over at TNR Lawrence Kaplan provides us yet another reason to be dubious:

Simply put, U.S. officials in Baghdad have in the past tended not to tell the whole truth. It is of course in their interest to convey good news. They've performed their job so well, however, that no one believes them anymore. The public's exposure to this has mostly been confined to shifting reports about the numbers of Iraqi forces and other upbeat but hollow assessments put out by U.S. officials.

Embassy and military officials in Iraq have told me and others, with a straight face, that the airport road is the safest road in Iraq, that Iyad Allawi will win the election by a landslide, that U.S. forces have killed more insurgents than the same officials have said even exist, and other tales too numerous to list. Dedication to the mission, career advancement, an impulse to spin whatever the motive, the public face of the U.S. mission in Iraq has been so disconnected from reality for so long that were its assessments eventually to jibe with the whole truth, it would have no more persuasive power than the boy who cried wolf. For if the Baghdad press corps has a bias, it is a bias against bullshit.

As near as I can tell, it's almost impossible to get even a moderately neutral read on what's happening in Iraq. Hawks dismiss mainstream media reports out of hand, arguing that reporters are hopelessly biased against the war and report only bad news. Lefties likewise dismiss official reports as nothing more than standard Bush administration spin a view that Kaplan persuasively endorses. In the end, we all believe whatever we want to believe, and since reporters in Iraq are mostly stuck inside the Green Zone and venture out only rarely and under heavy guard, the whole place is a gigantic black hole of information.

For myself, I hope things are turning around, but I remain skeptical. Even the official statistics are only mildly encouraging, and the bigger trends working against us are the same as they've always been: thinly spread troops, endemic ethnic and religious strife, too many insurgents and no good way to track them down, lousy infrastructure, and fundamentally different goals separating the U.S. from both ordinary Iraqis and the rest of the Arab world. So: when the next crisis comes and it will are we in any better shape to handle it? It doesn't really seem like it.

Kevin Drum 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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