Three and a half years into the war in Iraq, a cursory look at the nightly news shows, opinion magazines and the blogosphere shows that, at least in some respects, the national debate over the war has become more about the politics of the debate itself, rather than the grim realities of the occupation and how to successfully wage a protracted counterinsurgency.
While the debate has come to revolve more around the political posturing of a small group of Washington politicos, there are some D.C. insiders, like Senator Trent Lott, who apparently don’t even want to debate the debate. To hear Lott tell it, there is no debate over Iraq, just obsessive, news-hungry reporters. After a meeting with President Bush and a group of GOP congressional leaders on Thursday, Lott lost his cool when a reporter asked him if they had talked about Iraq in the private conference. Lott shot back, “No, none of that … You’re the only ones who obsess on that. We don’t and the real people out in the real world don’t for the most part.”
Got that? Nosy reporters “obsessed” with Iraq, rest of the world shrugging it off. And Lott wasn’t done. “It’s hard for Americans, all of us, including me, to understand what’s wrong with these people,” he said, referring to Iraqis. “Why do they kill people of other religions because of religion? … Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.”
Lott’s characteristically empty remarks typify what we’ve been hearing for three years about the press and Iraq from conservative politicians, think tanks, and talk radio hosts.
So, in the interest of reality, we decided to step outside of the “debate” and point out — to Lott and anyone else who may need a reality check — a few ground-level truths from Iraq that should explain the press’s “obsession.”
In the first place, on Friday Congress approved another $70 billion for funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which, according to Reuters, brings the total spent on the two wars to about $507 billion, “with the bulk of that spent in Iraq where costs are averaging $8 billion per month, according to the Congressional Research Service.” Add to that the fact that there are currently over 140,000 American servicemen and women serving in those two countries, and it seems like something that at least a few people outside the press might be obsessed with.
If all that seems too abstract, let’s be a little more specific. We’ve been following an alarming trend on the part of the Iraqi government, and the American forces occupying the country, of harassing journalists and stifling the very thing President Bush tells us we’re supposed to be building there: free speech and a free press.
Lott might be interested to learn about Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel whose Baghdad bureau was shut down by Iraqi police on September 7, for what the Iraqi government called “inflammatory reporting.”
What’s more, back in April Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi who was working as a photographer for the Associated Press, was arrested by the U.S. Army because his photos of insurgents led the military to believe that he was somehow involved in the insurgency. He has yet to be charged with any crime, and has not been allowed to respond in court.
Last Friday, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll told Mark Jurkowitz that the AP has investigated Hussein’s photos, and “found absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing that would lead us to believe his relationships were anything other than those of a native son committing journalism in his hometown and then later in a town up the road.”
In a further show of solidarity, Tom Curley, the president and chief executive of the AP, took to the pages of the Washington Post last weekend with a call for the military to either charge Hussein with a crime or let him go.