By William Fisher
As the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq passed into history, the White House continued to dumb down what defines “victory”, Bush administration officials regurgitated their upbeat talking points, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote an op-ed claiming, “The terrorists seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq. Now is the time for resolve, not retreat.”
We may or may not agree with the president and his people, but at least they have an opinion.
Sadly, the same can’t be said of the editorial writers for America’s most influential mainstream media.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle all were silent on the subject. The Wall Street Journal touched on the anniversary as part of an editorial praising the Bush Administration’s decision to release most of Saddam Hussein's secret documents, and said, almost en passant, “The Iraq War is a long way from being over, and anything we can know about the accuracy of our judgments before and during the fight is well worth trying to uncover and understand.”
But the vast majority of daily newspapers that published editorials marking the anniversary were long on facts and analysis, excellent in their syntax, but virtually mute on solutions beyond “stay the course” and “support our troops”.
Proffering solutions was pretty much left to the op-ed punditocracy and, on television, to the seemingly endless parade of journalists, academics, and retired military generals who have learned how to increase their incomes as talking heads.
As for newspaper editorials, a few examples:
The Chicago Tribune: “Iraqi leaders are meeting, and some progress is being reported by (the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq). The reality in Iraq now: The path to security is mainly political, not military. All must give, or all will lose.”
The New York Times: “Our goal must be to minimize the damage, through the urgent diplomacy of the current ambassador and forceful reminders that American forces are not prepared to remain for one day in a country whose leaders prefer civil war to peaceful compromise. While we are distracted by picking up the pieces, there is no time to imagine what the world might be like if George Bush had chosen to see things as they were instead of how he wanted them to be three years ago. History will have more time to consider the question.”
The Los Angeles Times: “As it enters its fourth year, the war in Iraq defies simplistic characterizations from both ends of the political spectrum. The heroism of U.S. forces and of ordinary Iraqis going about their daily lives is inspiring. But the future of Iraq remains shrouded in gray uncertainty.”
Only two major dailies offered any ideas about the future – both totally predictable: “Stay the Course”.
The New York Daily News said, “America has been spared another terrorist attack, perhaps because the enemy is otherwise engaged. Libya has given up its nukes. Pakistan's atomic bazaar has closed. Resistance to despotic, terror-sponsoring regimes, like Syria's, has blossomed. There's been a great cost, of course. More than 2,000 U.S. troops have lost their lives, with thousands more injured. Americans - and the world - owe a huge debt to these heroes. Alas, in this Age of Terror, the choice not to fight can be disastrous; 9/11 proved that. As Iraq stabilizes and terrorists are eliminated, a recurrence of that day's horrors seems less likely. That's worth fighting for, anyway.”
And Mr. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post opined, “Three years later, Iraq has a formalized government - after a fashion, anyway - and the very fact that it is there at all is the worst possible news for the gangsters who labored so desperately to prevent its arising. For all the heartbreak, for all the despair, this is still a fact, and it is one worth celebrating. It is not yet happily ever after. But it's what there is, or now, three years on. If the current course is wrong, what's the alternative? The answer: There is no alternative. U.S. troops must stay in Iraq until that country can defend itself from those who would turn it into a jidahi haven.”
By contrast, many of the editorials in the Middle East press tied the Iraq anniversary to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
Typical was the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, which wrote that the world has not become safer since 9/11 because, "There is now no international unity in the face of terrorism -- shattered as it was by Washington's attempted hijacking of it to fight the wholly unconnected war in Iraq, by the desire of other governments to use the situation for their own political purposes, and by the cowardice of some when themselves directly targeted by terrorists."
For U.S. print media, it was as if there never were any proposals beyond “Stay the Course” and “Support Our Troops”.
Where were the editorial writers’ opinions on whether it was all worth it? On whether the U.S. could continue to finance the Bush adventure? On whether America ought to be involved in nation-building? On the variety of proposals made for new diplomatic initiatives? On the many plans that have been put forward for withdrawal?
Absent. AWOL. Silent.
And the reason, it seems to me, is not fear of being called “unpatriotic”. The reason is that most editorial writers don’t have a clue about how to go forward.
In which case, probably to their shock and awe, they have a lot in common with our president.
But not with their readers.