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.