No sooner had coalition forces routed the Iraqi military in record time, silencing media critics in the process, than the New York Times editorialized that it wasn’t really our military prowess that won the war. The Times thinks it was more the case that Iraqi military incompetence made the quick victory inevitable. That sounds hollow coming from those who earlier were warning that coming battles with the Republican Guard would show how long and how difficult the war would be.
Now the leftist media is complaining about the failure of U.S. forces to prevent looting in Baghdad and elsewhere. In one classic overstatement, a British expert claimed that, “You’d have to go back centuries, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find looting on this scale.” The media are particularly incensed about the supposed plundering of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad.
The Los Angeles Times and others depicted the looting of the museum as being carried out by mobs of “women, children, young people, old people.” Other sources quoted Iraqi museum officials saying that more than 100,000 pieces of history had been stolen and that other ancient artifacts has been smashed by the frenzied mob. Salon.com characterized the looting as a “lobotomy of an entire culture” and the “end of civilization.”
Predictably, the media are blaming U.S. forces for failing to safeguard the treasures. Some art critics and academics say they tried to warn the Pentagon before the campaign to protect Iraq’s archaeological treasures. Pentagon spokesmen say that they put museums off limits during the bombing campaign, but never agreed to devote military forces to safeguarding them during the battle of Baghdad.
That brought the critics out of the woodwork. Echoing earlier criticisms of the military campaign, some charged that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s refusal to allocate more military forces made the plunder of Baghdad’s museums inevitable. A Duke University professor alleged that coalition forces may have violated the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires occupying forces to safeguard cultural property. The Washington Post played up the resignation of two members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Property. They charged that the U.S. military “displayed extraordinary precision and restraint” when it came to protecting Iraqi oil wells, but “have been nothing short of impotent” in protecting Iraq’s cultural heritage.
But later reports indicate the damage may not be that bad. A U.S. officer said that “not as much is missing as first thought” and many of the antiquities had been pulled out before the war. The Director General at the Iraqi Antiquities Department confirmed this and said that his staff had preserved most of the museum’s important treasures in hidden vaults. And an AP story from Paris indicates those antiquities that were stolen were most likely taken by professional thieves. Some had keys to museum vaults and knew what they wanted and where to find it. But that doesn’t fit the left-wing media’s agenda of criticism of the war effort.