Saturday, June 18, 2005

Iraq: A Status Report as I See It

As Eleanor Clift of Newsweek sounds the alarm bells in her best Walter Cronkite fashion, we come to a critical point in time in the Iraq War, and the larger War on Terror. A tipping point can be reached from which there can be no turning back, and we are flirting with it in Iraq. This point has little to do with military conditions on the ground, and everything to do with public opinion.

For once, comparisons with Vietnam are apt, for as surely as a day came when public opinion forced Nixon's hand, the Bush Administration will find itself in a similar quandary if they don't get on top of the public relations game. With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear that we should not have disbanded the Iraqi army, but instead offered incentives to bring it under control. We should have imposed martial law, and not lifted it until it was prudent to do so. By not doing so, we have created a situation where we are bleeding troops and money.

What's to be done? Have we, then, lost? The answers are plenty, and of course not. If we left today, just packed it up and moved out completely, we have still accomplished the majority of our mission in Iraq. We have deposed the Butcher of Baghdad, ended his payments to Palestinian suicide bombers, paved the way for Iraqi democracy, and seen a brief flowering of further democratic hopes in places like Lebanon, so long under the boot of Syria, and Egypt. These are not small things, and indeed, arguably constitute victory.

Still, there is a growing unease with what seems to be a lack of progress. By some measures, the reality matches the appearance. Far too many Americans, and Iraqis, are dying violent deaths at the hands of terrorists. The costs of the continued operations are astronomical, and basic security is not being provided consistently. In other ways, though, we suffer from both the lack of will and the lack of opportunity to provide good news as a counterpoint.

Efforts like Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News From Iraq series should be undertaken by the administration. Regular briefings by top administration officials from the Pentagon, the State Department, and all other branches should be provided to spotlight the progress being made. President Bush himself should take a public tour, much like he does for issues such as Social Security, and hit the road in support of the initiative. I'm not talking about lying, or misleading; questions will arise from both friend and foe about the continued high casualties and large numbers of insurgents, and those questions should be answered as forthrightly as possible; at least the other view will get a hearing, though.

Why go to the trouble? It's no coincidence that the polls have headed downward since the Iraqi elections, because there has not been a 'TV-friendly' opportunity to spotlight the positive since that occasion, and as a result, the images we see are of mayhem and frightened civilians. We have to make our own opportunities with a savvy media strategy similar to the one that we mount for presidential campaigns, for the stakes are as high as they can be.

For similar reasons, the trial of Saddam must be undertaken with increased swiftness, and it must, of course, be televised worldwide. One way to put tempests in a teapot like Gitmo behind us is to throw as wide a spotlight as possible on the atrocities committed by the despotic deposed regime.

Of course, this will all be for naught if the situation on the ground doesn't improve drastically. We must spare no effort or expense in patrolling borders, examining tactics, providing financial incentives for new recruits, and pressuring Syria to do its part to stop the flow of terrorists across the border. We must also make every effort to let our troops know they have our eternal gratitude, and we have to increase our efforts at building bridges with communities in Iraq.

There are those who say that by invading Iraq, we have lost the wider battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world. I don't see how that follows; the Islamic fanatics would have hated America no less if we had never invaded, and the secular and more moderate religious Arabs know that the enemy is not America, but the terrorists.

There is very little people like you and I can do about the military operations in Iraq; our military is led by fine men and women, and we can be assured they are doing their utmost to deliver a secure environment. We can make all the difference, though, in the area of public opinion. Here are the websites for the U. S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House. It's easier than ever to contact your elected officials with web forms and e-mail. Please, I urge you, take the time to contact them and let them know you're behind our efforts in Iraq 100%. And while you're at it, check out America Supports You, an effort by the Defense Department to provide support in numerous ways to our men and women in harm's way. Just imagine how good it would make you feel, if you were stationed in Iraq, to hear from good Americans how important the job you're doing is. Let's not lose through public opinion what we've shed so much blood and treasure to win on the ground.

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