As 2005 proceeds, I predict that the mess in Iraq will depart from American consciousness, overtaken by the media’s fixation on Michael Jackson.
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 and 100,000 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 survey 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? Never mind.
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 Joel Belz 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 reexamine the 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?