I understand that here in the States there are but a small number of reactions to the mess known as Iraq. Here they are, in no particular order of popularity:
1. Shia and Sunnis are killing each other? Fine. It’s certainly preferable to their unifying and coming at us.
2. Damn that George W. Bush. That Dick Cheney. That Colin Powell. That Wolfie. That Rummy. That Condi. …
I guess of those choices, I’ll take door number five.
The first one is offensive. It’s just blatant bigotry. What a sad fact it is that the words “Shi’a” and “Sunni” have come to mean two species of wild animals among a large section of American society.
The second choice? Well yes, those guys did screw us up. But it’s way past time for my fellow progressives to stop fixating on every single mistake made by the Bush Administration. It has become almost a clinical obsession with some people.
Number three? That’s just stupid. (See number 5.)
Number four? That resonates a bit with me, but only up to a point. Yes, we need to work together going forward, and yes, as indicated above, we can’t obsess about the failings of our political opponents to the point where they are blamed for cloudy days and earthquakes. But we had better take stock in what has happened in Iraq so that we can evolve as a society. Forgetting the past altogether is invariably a formula for repeating your mistakes, which in this case would be a disaster.
Number five. Well, yes, thank God that the President is trying to think through the situation. How could any sane person rush to action under these circumstances, when no scenario is very palatable? But sooner or later, inaction might be a mistake here. And because that risk, many of us keep asking the same questions. Can we afford to do nothing? If not, what should the United States do? What should the world do? Do we dare take sides between the combatants? Do we support partitioning the land? Do we have a clue what makes sense here?
My answer to the last question is a resounding no! And for that, I fundamentally blame neither Bush nor Obama. I blame the media.
Please think back to 2003. Look at the lead up to Shock and Awe, and then look at the way Shock and Awe was covered by the press. How many members of the 4th Estate asked the right questions? How many of them questioned anything at all? I spent the first month of that war in shock, but hardly awe, at the complete lack of serious investigative reporting and the absolute flood of the most superficially jingoistic journalism imaginable. I might as well have been watching Florida State television cover a Florida State- Florida International football game. The score was 60-0, “our team” was still running it up, and the so-called “journalists” were doing nothing more than describing the action and pounding their chests.
You’ll pardon me for taking us all back to memory lane, but I did so to make a point. Given the sorry state of investigative journalism generally, and especially when it comes to reporting about war and peace, is there any American outside of a few inner circles who could possibly have a clue about what is going on in Iraq? Who are we supposed to trust to gain the information needed to make an intelligent assessment? Budget-slashing newspapers? Fox News? How about Thomas Friedman? He was the columnist who twenty years ago was considered the expert on all things Middle East, and yet when the chips were down in 2003, he put on his cheerleading outfit and hyped the Iraq War just like Rummy and Dick.
Folks, I appreciate that we are literally between I-raq and a hard place when it comes to Syria, Iraq, Iran … oh I don’t know, maybe we should throw in Israel, Palestine, and domestic U.S. politics for that matter. The fact is that without a functioning media replete with state-of-the-art reporters and trusted commentators, all of the options at a time like this sound like bad ones. That’s probably why most Americans have thrown up their hands and said “better to just do nothing.” It’s a sorry solution to all geopolitical issues, but the logic is compelling. When your nation’s most trusted news source (Jon Stewart) is, by his own admission, just a guy who makes “fart jokes,” it’s hard to step into any breach with the necessary degree of confidence.