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Post-Surge Iraq: Good News Is No News

The last time I was in LA I scanned the cover of the Los Angeles Times and saw that the death of Spencer Tracy's son was front page news. So I had to laugh when I spotted an editorial in … Read More

By / November 13, 2007

The last time I was in LA I scanned the cover of the Los Angeles Times and saw that the death of Spencer Tracy's son was front page news. So I had to laugh when I spotted an editorial in yesterday's edition of that paper titled "Have We Turned The Corner In Iraq?" They mean well, but they're a little slow out there. I for one knew that the Iraq War had turned a corner after reading that landmark piece in The New York Times. No, not the O’Hanlon/Pollack editorial: the front-page report from July 27. I must reproduce the lead here, complete with dateline, because I’m incapable of describing the silliness of the cartoon noir brought to bare in this story about. . .ice.

BAGHDAD, July 27 — Each day before the midsummer sun rises high enough to bake blood on concrete, Baghdad’s underclass lines up outside Dickensian ice factories.

Yep, I thought, mission accomplished. When all The New York Times has to report about what is supposedly the greatest blunder in modern U.S. foreign policy is that it’s made ice scarce you know plates are shifting beneath your feet. Three days later, O’Hanlon and Pollack’s “A War We Just Might Win” set off shrill fits from coast to coast. It’s worth reproducing their opening line as well: "Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal." Not as surreal as cover stories in New York, but their point was made. Talk of withdrawal had reached a fever pitch just as coalition forces found a measure of success. In the wake of the O’Hanlon/Pollack piece the mainstream media shifted their approach, but made sure to keep Iraq negatively in the spotlight. One can almost now forget the month-long period during which newspapers, networks (and Democrats) worked us into a panic over the sluggishness and ineffectiveness of the al-Maliki government. Sure, there’s been military progress, they said, but it’s meaningless without a centralized Iraqi government that can move forward. What they all failed to realize was that the military achievements were allowing political progress to occur on an organic bottom-up basis. To withdraw troops while that’s happening would be more than surreal, it would be criminal. I have a friend who keeps telling me that by the time we have two presidential front-runners in 2008 the Iraq war will no longer be a hot button issue. I’ve gone from doubting him, to believing him, to realizing we’re already there. Look at how the front page of The New York Times covers Iraq these days. It’s a succession of stories that snicker in the margins of actual battle. Supply problems, thefts, red tape. In short, the difficulties suffered by all countries either at war, or in peacetime. Especially in that region. One has to mention the very important exception that is the conflict affecting Turkey, the PKK, and the Kurdish people in general. But having seen the citizens of Iraq proper stamp out extremists of the Ba’athist, al Qaeda, and Mahdi Army variety, it would be shocking if the Kurds didn’t eliminate their own radicals in shorter order. And, in any case, it’s not exactly a story about the war. So, what happened to the stories about the war? There’s a saying: happiness shows up white on paper. I’m not so flippant as to describe present-day Iraq as a portrait of happiness, but if the main story is a positive one no one’s going to read it. Lt. Col. David Kilcullen is a man with whom many more Americans should be familiar. He’s a counterinsurgency guru on loan to us from Australia, a major architect of the Petreus plan, and a reason none of us should ever scoff at the idea of this being a true coalition. Speaking some months back about the new counterinsurgency strategy, he said the following:

This will take operational patience, and it will be intelligence-led, and Iraqi government-led. It will probably not make the news (the really important stuff rarely does) but it will be the truly decisive action.

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