The MSM Continues to Fail Us – Iraq As S. Korea

Bush Says We’ll Be in Iraq for 50 Years, But Reporters Don’t Bother to Ask Iraqis to Comment
By Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar, AlterNet. Posted June 8, 2007.

When George Bush announced that he favored keeping troops in Iraq for decades, the media apparently didn’t think the opinion of Iraqis mattered.

On May 25, George Bush signed a defense bill that outlawed the construction of (new) permanent bases in Iraq. But only five days later, White House press flack Tony Snow told reporters that the president is now modeling the future of his bloody signature project on the half-century U.S. experience in South Korea, with troops in Iraq for the long haul to provide, in Snow’s words, “a security presence” and to serve as a “force of stability.”

Asked how long that commitment would last, Snow said, “A long time.” Tens of thousands of U.S. troops have been stationed in South Korea since 1953 — for 54 years.

In the days that followed Snow’s revelation, senior Pentagon officials weighed in with their support for applying the Korea Model to Iraq: keeping a few divisions of U.S. troops in-country for the next five decades or so sounded just about right to them.

It was such a naked acknowledgement of America’s long-term designs on carving out a strategic foothold in the region that even the milquetoast American press had to acknowledge it, and most of the major news outlets ran stories in the last week that at least touched on the Iraq hawks’ shiny new analogy.

But we noticed something fascinating when reading those articles: In story after story, U.S. reporters were quick to seek comment from White House officials and to “balance” those comments with quotes from congressional Democrats and from analysts at various D.C. think tanks who are critical of the administration. They talked to foreign policy and military experts, historians and even Korea experts.

But here’s the rub: None of the reporters we read bothered to pick up a phone and call Baghdad to get reactions from, well, actual Iraqis.

So we did — we called Iraqi lawmakers from different parties representing the country’s different ethnic and sectarian groups, and found that, without exception, just hearing that there were official whispers in Washington about plans for a decades-long U.S. troop presence in their country shocked and awed them, and not in a good way.

But it didn’t only inflame the Iraqi nationalists with whom we spoke — politicians who have long opposed the occupation — it also absolutely incensed those officials who have been among the coalition’s most vocal supporters. Even those who approve of George Bush’s Middle East adventurism were infuriated by the idea and insulted that the administration would make the statement publicly.

But that was one viewpoint that didn’t find its way into any of the stories we read. Which leads to a question: What would the reporting out of Iraq look like if all reporters embraced the simple idea that Iraqis’ views on the future of their country are worth a few column inches or a couple of seconds on American television screens?

The New York Times’ David Sanger, for example, wrote an analysis in which he quoted Tony Snow, Defense Secretary Robert Gates — Gates said, “The idea is more a model of a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence but under the consent of both parties” — and a few anonymous “administration officials and top military leaders,” all of whom favored the idea.

Among the “critics on the left” who Sanger quoted was Leslie Gelb, the former president of the Council of Foreign Relations. Gelb, who has on his resume a stint with the State Department and another with the Pentagon during Vietnam (Gelb was director of the project that produced the infamous Pentagon Papers), wasn’t phased by the plan’s unmistakable whiff of empire; he simply had issues with the analogy. “It’s just that Korea bears no resemblance to Iraq,” he said, “There’s no strategy that can create victory.”

Read the rest here.

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