Journalism Is More Than Just Quoting Speeches
(Image via The Atlantic: Humvees sit parked in a courtyard at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, on September 30, 2011.(Reuters/Mohammed Ameen)
Today, as every major news outlet is reporting, the Iraq war has officially been declared over. The New York Times like its counterparts, reports this from Baghdad, Iraq:
“Mr. Panetta acknowledged that ‘the cost was high — in blood and treasure of the United States, and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain — they gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.’”
The War in Iraq claimed 4,487 American lives and wounded 32,226 more. Then there is this particular reminder of the costs, stated so crassly by the Washington Post:
“Many Iraqis still find it hard to believe that the U.S. troops are actually leaving, after a war in which more than 100,000 Iraqi lives were lost and more than $800 billion was spent by U.S. taxpayers on the military effort and reconstruction.”
How much “treasure” was spent in this war should not be forgotten. It remains a potent example of the opportunity costs involved in undertaking war. But to put it in a compound sentence that also notes the death of over 100,000 people implies that the two are some how comparable. I don’t think this was intended. But the thoughtlessness behind it makes it that much more pernicious.
The Wall Street Journal, the country’s most widely circulated national newspaper, gives a brief overview of the 9 year conflict and explains the limited scope of support that the United States will continue to provide the Iraq government:
“The U.S. military has pledged to continue help Iraq, a promise reiterated by officials Thursday. The U.S., Mr. Panetta said, would be a ‘committed friend and committed partner.’ But that help will come in the form of intermittent exercises and high-level consultations.”
And by the end of this month the U.S. military presence in Iraq will be all but non-existent. The Journal reports that, “In the coming days, the last of the 4,000 U.S. military personnel still in Iraq will follow the flag and head home—leaving fewer than 200 to serve as part of the diplomatic mission.
Neither the Times, the Post, the Journal, USA Today, or the Los Angeles Times, whose front page reporting on today’s news sits right next to photos of Golden Globe nominees, mention who will be left behind in Iraq, out side of varying numbers of military “personnel.”
In fact, as I’m sure most people here at the League know, our military forces might be withdrawing, but the United States is in no way “leaving” Iraq. Reuters reports that after this month, and the official “end” of the Iraq War, “Civilian contractors will take on the task of training Iraqi forces on U.S. military hardware.”
Though the exact number of civilian contractors is unclear, CNN reported back in October the following:
“Once the U.S. military presence in Iraq is gone, the embassy in Baghdad, the largest U.S. embassy in the world, will be staffed by approximately 1,700 diplomats and representatives of various cabinet agencies. They will be supported by approximately 5,000 security contractors. There will also be up to 4,000 contractors supporting every service for U.S. personnel in Iraq from food to sanitation and anything else necessary for diplomats to carry out their jobs.”
What will happen at the end of this month isn’t a simple withdraw from Iraq, but rather a much more complicated, and much less reported on, shift from a military occupation to an indefinite partnership led by the State Department and its hired army of some 5,500 mercenaries, for whom that department is still vigorously seeking legal immunity.
I would have liked for Panetta to acknowledge the false pretenses under which the Iraq War was launched, or even the entirely specious evidence that led to such a 9 year struggle with so much death. Or at the very least, to admit that the original mission, to disarm a potentially armed Iraq, failed because the original premise of the war turned out to be an incorrect one. That Panetta instead delivered his remarks as if the U.S. mission had always been about Iraqi freedom and liberating foreign people, was insincere but not unforeseen.
When it comes to public officials, we can hope for the truth, but should never naïvely expect it.
When it comes to our national journalistic publications, who are not only free but presumably competent and truth-seeking, what we receive is often decidedly embarrassing and with no excuse. Of course, as with all things, you get what you pay for. I sometimes wonder if people abandoned print journalism because it was so inadequate, or if it only became to so after it was abandoned. I am too young to know the answer, but I’m sure most of you are not. I welcome your thoughts.
Perhaps the New York Times linked the number of Iraqis who died with the money spent on the war to demonstrate that $800B was spent to kill100K. It’s not so much a crass juxtaposition, but an indictment of the war.
I’m not saying that such an analysis is appropriate (and I imagine it was just a case of fitting as much info into as few sentences as possible), but there might be other reasons for the apparent link.Report
100k is a pretty damn low estimate, too.Report
I remember it being a reasonable estimate several years ago.Report
Yes, in 2004 or 2005.Report
By the way, I was thinking of the Lancet study (I eagerly await Tom’s reply about liberal bias), but this one in 2008 would be relevant too, since it only looks at violent deaths (the Lancet study looks at excess deaths):
The closest number is probably half of Iraq Body Count’s estimate of 104,000 to 113,000, as the IBC method must necessarily count each body twice, once from an initial news report that doesn’t include names, and once again as part of a morgue census that doesn’t include names.
If you go through their detailed database, the vast, vast majority of the deaths are caused by car bombs, IED’s, insurgent ambushes, and suicide bombers.Report
How many times will we hear that the war in Iraq is finally coming to an end? I count this as at least the fourth. #1 was “Mission Accomplished,” #2 was “Iraqi military ready to stand on its own with our ‘logistical’ support,” under Bush, and #3 was “Obama announces complete withdrawal from Iraq,” back in early 2009. And even after this, there will still be U.S. troops with guns in Iraq assisting with “intermittent exercises and high-level consultations” that are certain to involve actual hostilities with The Bad Guys. And, of course, the “contractors,” a polite term for “mercenaries.”
As for poor journalism, the sort of thing you criticize here has been going on for a long time. There were, and still are, good journalists who have a care for what they write and do not simply regurgitate press releases. But there have been lazy journalists for a long time, too, including lazy journalists being assigned to cover important subjects. OTOH, it’s possible that someone made the editorial decision that readers of the Wall Street Journal might well consider the $800 billion price tag more significant and important a cost of the war than the 100,000 lost Iraqi lives.Report
A war we started once, but ended four times and counting?
I could actually support a war like that…Report
The 100,000 Iraqi deaths are on the heads of the bad guys.
“I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and — you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows — (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday.”
The 100,000 Iraqi deaths are on the heads of the bad guys.
You’re the teacher of a class containing a mixture of innocent little angels and viciously demonic juvenile delinquents. You’re not a nice guy, but you manage to keep control by knocking heads, and occasionally throwing one of the JDs out the window.
I pull you out of the classroom and take over, despite my inability to manage any group larger than me and myself, and all hell breaks loose, with the demons killing each other and the angelic little darlings.
And none of it is on my head?Report
Yes, James, that’s what would have happened to the Iraqis if it had been up to Harry Reid. Scary, huh? How does he even still have a job?Report
I notice you don’t say who the bad guys are. I suppose that’s the only way to say that particular sentence and have it be true.Report
It could be our version of “there is only one China, and Taiwan is a part of China…”Report
Then someone would have to explain why Bush (or, at the very least, Poindexter someone from his admisitration) is not on trial. Cheney would be ideal — he’s admitted to war crimes (he bragged of water-boarding and admitted it was torture). But that will never happen, so how could Panetta even mention it?Report
That horse left the barn in 2003. Update, people, update!Report
Not to sound coldly calculating or anything, but using the various statistical values of life, 100,000 deaths and 800 billion dollars are in the same ballpark. The EPA values a life at about 7.4 million dollars, which puts the “cost” of the deaths at 740 billion dollars. Of course, that estimate is probably low (as other have noted) and certainly overlooks many wounded Iraqis.Report