Many earnest Americans believe that if the media would only report the "good news" from Iraq, all would be well.
They say advocates of U.S. disengagement just "don't get it." We're winning, they insist. It's just that the America-hating media won't report it!
But for those of us who opposed President Bush's optional war long before it began, nothing not phony claims of "sovereignty" or inspiring photos of elections or tedious pronouncements that all is well has changed our outlook. And the media, contrary to conventional wisdom, has been more or less complicit in this fraudulent war.
But not Pacifica journalist Aaron Glantz. He's been to Iraq three times since the U.S.-led invasion. He traveled the countryside and spoke to real Iraqis, instead of repeating military-approved news from inside the Green Zone. And in his incisive new book, "How America Lost Iraq," he demonstrates a willingness to criticize both knee-jerk lefties who refuse to see Saddam Hussein as the monster he was and flag-waving armchair warriors who think "might makes right."
While in Boulder recently, Glantz deflated the "report the good news" theory.
"People who complain that the 'good things' aren't reported don't understand" that smiling kids and a few schools built are no metric of success, Glantz says. Just as in Vietnam, "You don't know if the guy smiling at you during the day might be shooting at you at night."
Glantz disagrees with those who argue that the United States (after all, the "coalition of the willing" has dwindled to farce) can't "cut and run."
"We shouldn't let the fear of bad things happening if we leave lead to worse things happening if we stay," he says.
Fears of what will happen if U.S. forces leave, from civil war to the unfinished job of training an Iraqi army to damaged U.S. prestige miss an important point, Glantz says: The U.S. presence makes each outcome more, not less, likely.
Civil war? Glantz notes that the United States has, without intending to, fanned the flames of ethnic and religious conflict. For example, divvying up parliamentary seats by Shiite, Sunni and Kurd simply reinforced the idea of division.
Training a new Iraqi army? "Nobody wants to join an army that is viewed as a proxy for the U.S. military," says Glantz.
Prestige? America's inability to control a raging insurgency or rebuild the infrastructure it destroyed already has broadcast the limits of its mighty military to the world.
And, as Glantz learned, while most Iraqis were grateful for the toppling of Saddam, they became embittered when they saw that the U.S. military wasn't going away. There is no sovereignty in Iraq, Glantz says. Everything goes through the U.S. embassy; Iraqi forces must play "mother may I" with their American bosses even to respond to insurgent fire.
"People ask, where's the freedom and democracy? ... Bush misread the people's happiness at removing Saddam for support of the U.S. military," Glantz says.
In the end, Americans simply "don't get it" about Iraq. Most of us never bother to put ourselves in the shoes of people who are besieged, who face bombings and jittery soldiers every day, and who must keep children inside for fear they might be killed. And every time Americans kill civilians, they create more die-hard enemies because of tribal and familial allegiance. It's a vicious cycle; "staying the course" will yield more bloodshed, but not a better outcome.
"Most people understand we screwed up," Glantz says. "But what they don't understand is that we are not the people who can fix that."
© 2005 Daily Camera