Amidst all of the news of sectarian violence and the temporary inability to form a government of national unity in Iraq, there is actually reason for optimism. The truth is that the forces of freedom and democracy are making progress. Now, if we could only get the media to pay attention.
Following the February bombing of one of the Shia’s most sacred shrines, the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, the situation could have careened out of control, into full-fledged civil war. But it didn’t. In spite of many reports that it had already reached that point, the top Shi’ite leader in the country, the Ayatollah Sistani, urged calm. He realized after the first parliamentary elections, held last December, that the prospects for establishing a unified and democratic government are very promising, and that he wasn’t going to allow the determined minority of Sunnis and jihadists to wreck this promise for Iraq.
David Ignatius of the Washington Post recently returned from Iraq and gave a mixed review. He said that after the bombing of the mosque in Samarra, “Iraq seemed to be slipping toward civil war, but the Iraqi Army performed surprisingly well.” He said that the U.S. should have been better prepared from the outset, but that “the American military is finally becoming adept at fighting a counterinsurgency war in Iraq.
Historian and columnist Victor Davis Hanson is also recently back from Iraq. He offers his perspective and gives quite a different picture than most of the reporters we hear from. “We hear that the U.S. Army is worn out?propped up by national guardsmen and reserves,” writes Hanson. “Yet young enlistees differ. They claim instead that more mature reservists are a godsend for reconstruction efforts since so many back home were successful contractors, businessmen, teachers and mechanics. Complaints circulate about the weight, not the dearth, of body and truck armor. I saw hundreds of Humvees on the roads, but not one was unarmored.”
Hanson also challenges many of the assumed wrong moves taken by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq, and demonstrates that conventional wisdom may not always be right. “The insurrection broke out not so much because we had 200,000 rather than 400,000 troops in country,” says Hanson, “but rather because a three-week strike that decapitated the Baathist elite, despite its showy ‘shock and awe’ pyrotechnics, was never intended, World War II-like, to crush the enemy and force terms on a shell-shocked, defeated, and humiliated populace. Many of our challenges, then, are not the war in Iraq per se, but the entire paradox of postmodern war in general in a globally televised world.”
And while every death of a soldier is a terrible loss, Hanson compares casualties to past wars: “We have fought suicide bombers in the Pacific. Intelligence failures doomed tens of thousands?not 2,300?at the Bulge and Okinawa. We pacified the Philippines through counterinsurgency fighting. Failure to calibrate the extent of Al Zarqawi’s insurrection pales before the Chinese crossing of the Yalu.”
Good news is coming from other parts of the Middle East. From the Daily Star in Lebanon comes this hopeful expression: “In Lebanon, the days of fear are over, hopefully forever. No one can stop us from saying what we think?we dare to publicly say no to the hijacking of South Lebanon by the rulers in Damascus and Tehran. We say no to the Syrian-controlled Palestinian militia in Naameh?No fear. And there is no way back.”
Qatar, the staging ground for the early phases of the Iraq war, is the latest country in the region to announce its first democratic elections, scheduled for next year. Now, if the ruling elite there would only do something about the pernicious influence of the anti-American Al-Jazeera television channel.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has put events in perspective, waxing eloquently about the stakes in this global struggle. He condemned the belief that “George Bush is as much if not more of a threat to world peace as Osama bin Laden; and what is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Middle East, is an entirely understandable consequence of U.S./U.K. imperialism or worse?”
To those who suggest we should ask ourselves why they hate us, Blair calls that a “posture of weakness (and) defeatism” that feeds extremism. “We must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress,” said Blair, “that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away.”
“For us,” he continued, “so much of our opinion believes that what was done in Iraq in 2003 was so wrong, that it is reluctant to accept what is plainly right, now.” He reiterated his “determination to fight the ideology of Islamist extremism,” describing it as “theologically backward,” “pre-feudal” and “reactionary.”
“This terrorism will not be defeated until its ideas, the poison that warps the minds of its adherents, are confronted, head-on, in their essence, at their core,” he said.
Which brings up the role of the media. Blair said that the Western media too often serves as a mouthpiece for terrorists in Iraq. He said reporters tend to view every killing “as an indication of the coalition’s responsibility for disorder, rather than of the ‘wickedness that causes it.’”
Blair is right: constant bad news from the media, and the demonizing of President Bush, have diverted attention from the main enemy. It seems elementary, but the point must be made―even if the media recoil from making it―that we are truly the “good guys” in this conflict. Factually speaking, the “war on terror” is a war on radical Islamists who despise everything we stand for, including freedom of the press.
But the problem, which is becoming painfully obvious to more and more Americans, is that press freedom is being used to distort the nature of the struggle and the enemy. We can only lose this war if the media continue to play the enemy’s game.