As 2005 proceeds, I predict that the mess in Iraq
will depart from American consciousness, overtaken by the media's fixation on
The lack of knowledge about events on the ground in Iraq is stunning. With
no end yet in sight, let's ponder the consequences of the Iraq war so far: (1)
over 1,300 dead and more than 10,000
wounded American servicemen; (2) between 17,000
dead Iraqi civilians; (3) over $200 billion down the rathole; and (4) an incalculable
loss in U.S. moral authority around the world.
Despite these costs, there has been very little public debate over Iraq policy.
Indeed, the 2004 election saw more discussion and raw partisan anger over the
Vietnam War than the Iraq imbroglio.
One particularly disturbing report that emerged during the election was a
by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA). According to PIPA,
72 percent of Bush supporters believed that Iraq had actual "weapons of mass
destruction" or a major program for developing them. Also, 75 percent of Bush
supporters believed that Iraq was providing significant support to al-Qaeda,
and 63 percent thought clear evidence had been found proving the linkage. These
folks are obviously listening to too much Hannity and Limbaugh, not to mention
watching entirely too much Fox News.
In the Jan. 17 edition of The American Conservative, William
Polk describes the situation in Iraq:
"Leaving aside Kurdistan, where roughly a quarter of all Iraqis live,
Iraq is a shattered country. Its infrastructure has been pulverized by the 'shock
and awe' of the American invasion. Few Iraqis today even have clean drinking
water or can dispose of their waste. About 7 in 10 adult Iraqis are without
employment. Factories are idle, and small shopkeepers have been squeezed out
of business. Movement even within cities is difficult and dangerous. And the
trend in each of these categories is downward. Iraq's society has been torn
apart, and perhaps as many as 100,000 Iraqis have died. Virtually every Iraqi
has a parent, child, spouse, cousin, friend, colleague, or neighbor – or perhaps
all of these – among the dead. More than half of the dead were women and children.
Putting Iraq's casualties in comparative American terms would equate to about
one million American deaths. Dreadful hatreds have been generated."
How many Americans would recognize such a description?
In the Dec. 16, 2004 issue of the New York Review of Books, Michael
Massing surveys media coverage of Iraq and finds that, "while there was
much informative reporting on the war, a number of factors combined to shield
Americans from its most brutal realities."
One problem for journalists is that, with the deteriorating security situation,
it is largely impossible to cover the war with any degree of accuracy, meaning
that many journalists simply rewrite Pentagon press releases.
In one particularly stunning revelation, Wall Street Journal foreign
correspondent Farnaz Fassihi sent an e-mail
to friends and family that ultimately made its way to the Internet. Fassihi
describes the perilous conditions facing reporters in Iraq:
"Being a foreign correspondent in Baghdad these days is like being under
virtual house arrest. Forget about the reasons that lured me to this job: a chance
to see the world, explore the exotic, meet new people in far away lands, discover
their ways and tell stories that could make a difference.
"Little by little, day by day, being based in Iraq has defied all those
reasons. I am house bound. I leave when I have a very good reason to and a scheduled
interview. I avoid going to people's homes and never walk in the streets. I
can't go grocery shopping any more, can't eat in restaurants, can't strike a
conversation with strangers, can't look for stories, can't drive in anything
but a full armored car, can't go to scenes of breaking news stories, can't be
stuck in traffic, can't speak English outside, can't take a road trip, can't
say I'm an American, can't linger at checkpoints, can't be curious about what
people are saying, doing, feeling. And can't and can't. There has been one too
many close calls, including a car bomb so near our house that it blew out all
the windows. So now my most pressing concern every day is not to write a kick-ass
story but to stay alive and make sure our Iraqi employees stay alive. In Baghdad
I am a security personnel first, a reporter second."
It was amusing and maddening to see the unvarnished, unedited thoughts of
Fassihi, who had (she was placed on sabbatical after the e-mail) the job of
actually covering the war rather than watching it on CNN while sipping cocktails
on the Upper West Side or in Georgetown. The Wall Street Journal
has become the house organ of neoconservatism, carrying on about "social engineering"
at home while praising the forcible reconstruction of Islamic civilization abroad.
The standard line from the crowd at Fox News and the WSJ editorial
page is that there is much good in Iraq that the liberal media isn't reporting.
But like Fassihi, Australian journalist Stephen
Farrell points out that a lot of bad news doesn't see the light of day either
because, "Kidnapping, looting, criminal opportunism, and xenophobia make
it simply too dangerous for Western journalists to visit many areas."
Massing doesn't even discuss the role played by two newer media, talk radio
and the blogosphere, both of which are heavily populated by "conservatives"
who have never met a foreign war they didn't embrace with religious fervor.
Another segment of the media that has mindlessly trumpeted the administration
line on Iraq is the phalanx of Christian-oriented media, from talk shows and
weblogs to magazines.
In a recent article in Baptist
Press, an anonymous reporter says, "American foreign policy and military
might has opened an opportunity for the Gospel in the land of Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob. God is moving here, and Southern Baptists are responding." Considering
that the writer feared for his/her safety when publishing the essay, can it
really be the case that American power is bringing stability and safety to Iraq?
Even missionaries are getting into the act. Rick
Leatherwood, president of Kairos International, blames the media for Coalition
problems in Iraq. "This war in Iraq might have been over 10 months ago if those
trying to bring freedom to Iraq had not had to overcome the efforts of the media
as well as the terrorists. As it is, the media has encouraged the insurgents
and has undermined the Coalition at every turn.... Here lies a tragedy the world
does not know." Per usual, it's those "pinkocommielibleftwingamericahating"
journalists who are the problem.
A number of prominent Christians couldn't even bring themselves to condemn the
abuses at Abu Ghraib – unless they could get in a well-deserved dig at the degradation
of American culture and the feminization of the military. Marvin Olasky and
at World Magazine saw fit to defend Donald Rumsfeld during the Abu Ghraib
fiasco. According to Olasky:
"Rumsfeld is not responsible for the perverse acts of a few:
Given man's sinfulness multiplied by wartime pressures, every war brings out
evil conduct, and only now are digital cameras and Internet advances throwing
instant light on dark corners. Rumsfeld should be fired if he tried to hinder
the investigation, and should otherwise be encouraged to take whatever vigorous
action is needed to guard against future incidents."
(As an aside, elsewhere
Olasky asks, "What if the Iraq War stopped being a right vs. left issue, as
it has largely become? What if more people realized that support for basic human
dignity means support of efforts to remove from power, when possible, those
who deprive their own people of human dignity and threaten ours as well?" Could
Marvin show me exactly which article of the Constitution authorizes our government
to "remove from power" those "who deprive their own people of human dignity"?
And what the heck does that mean, anyway?)
Belz said that, while there may be room to criticize Rumsfeld and the Pentagon,
"They are not primarily responsible for the coarsening of a culture that
took place for a generation and more leading up to the unveiling of such wicked
acts. Listen carefully just now. It's a bit too easy to charge all this to the
account of those immediately responsible for the policies of the Iraq war. It's
more to the point right now to remember who has been opening the doors to all
this cultural poison in the first place."
The diminutive Gary
Bauer went even further, noting that the "media and political frenzy" has,
"[S]piral[ed] out of control … because there are a whole lot of opportunists,
as well as outright enemies of the U.S., who want to exploit the problem and harm
our nation or use it to serve their own narrow political purposes. There is no
reason we should permit these Middle Eastern propagandists working for al-Jazeera
TV and other stations to claim the moral high ground. They are nowhere close to
being able to sit in judgment of us. [But] worst of all [are American politicians
who] without any consideration of how it might harm the nation to fire the Secretary
of Defense when we are in the middle of a war … are attacking Rumsfeld, but their
real target is Bush. … The odds of us being hit [by terrorists] before the November
election grow by the hour, but don't tell grandstanding senators – they are too
busy beating up their own country."
When we can't get Christians to condemn torture, it is unlikely they will soon
war in light of traditional teachings on Just War Theory.
For some evangelicals, opposition to war in Iraq is equivalent to standing athwart
Christ's imminent return for His Church. According to Tim
LaHaye, the theologian behind the wildly popular apocalyptic Left Behind
series, Iraq is likely to be a "focal point of end-times events." According
to Agape Press:
"The author and theologian says the war to liberate Iraq will pave the
way for that nation eventually to emerge as a world power. As the region comes
into its own, he says the people of Iraq will want to develop a distinct identity
and in the last days old Babylon will become a sort of 'Switzerland' for the world,
a neutral country.
"According to LaHaye, in chapters 38 and 39 in the book of Ezekiel,
the one Arab nation not mentioned among those that come against Jerusalem when
God destroys Russia and the Arab world, is Iraq. He says scripture suggests
that Iraq is going to rise to prominence, but 'won't be involved in that awful
destruction that will solve the Arab problem temporarily.'"
Sounds to me like LaHaye is interpreting Scripture based on what he is reading
in the Washington Times or seeing on MSNBC, but I'll leave that judgment
to others better schooled in the mysteries of eschatology. But it is clear that
LaHaye's scheme doesn't really leave room for dissent on the Iraq question.
After all, we are on the Lord's side, right?