"Notable progress" has been made in Iraq, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at a
conference in Stockholm May 29.
"I have a feeling that things are better," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
said in a surprise visit to Iraq last weekend. "The Iraqis themselves, with their
army, their administration, are taking charge of their own problems."
If the UN and the French can see progress in Iraq, why can't Sen. Barack Obama?
Maybe because he hasn't been there in more than two years. Sen. Obama's ignorance is
understandable if he's been relying for his information on reporting from the
We've seen two trends in Iraq since all the troops in the troop surge arrived in
August of last year. U.S. and Iraqi civilian casualties have plummeted, and so has
news coverage of the war.
In May, U.S. military deaths in Iraq plunged to their lowest level (21) since
February of 2004 (20), a decline of nearly 60 percent from April. The Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette reported this on the bottom of Page A-4, beneath a lengthy feature on
the increasingly irrelevant Moqtada al Sadr.
"For long stretches over the past 12 months, Iraq virtually disappeared from the
front pages of the nation's newspapers and from the nightly network newscasts,"
writes Sherry Ricchiardi in the current issue of American Journalism Review.
According to a report issued in March by the Project for Excellence in Journalism of
the Pew Foundation, news from Iraq filled 23 percent of network newscasts during the
first ten weeks of 2007. That fell to 3 percent in the first ten weeks of this
year. On cable networks, coverage of Iraq fell from 24 percent of the news hole to
1 per cent.
The presidential primaries, shrinking news holes, and the high cost of maintaining
correspondents in Baghdad are the chief reasons for the decline, news executives
told Ms. Ricchiardi.
Others suspect success in Iraq is not a story most journalists wish to emphasize:
"Coverage is down on Iraq because American troops are bleeding less, and for no
other reason," wrote Iraq war veteran Jason Van Steenwyk on his blog. "If American
troops were bleeding more, it would be right back on the front pages."
The tone and content of such stories about Iraq as have been written recently lend
credence to Mr. Van Steenwyk's suspicion:
"The tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer
place for American soldiers," wrote the New York Times' David Carr in a Memorial Day
story. "Last year was the bloodiest in the five year history of the conflict, with
more than 900 dead, and last month 52 perished, making it the bloodiest month of the
year so far."
That paragraph is a textbook illustration of how to mislead through selective
reporting. Last year was the bloodiest year in the war, but the vast majority of
the casualties were in the first eight months, while the surge battles were being
fought, and before all the surge troops were in place. This is like emphasizing
that the Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest for Americans in World War II,
without mentioning it broke the back of the German army.
This war isn't over. But we may be about to cross the Rhine.
In the first eight months of 2007, U.S. troops averaged 92 deaths per month,
according to the figures kept by iCasualties.org. In the nine months since, the
average has plunged to 38.
In the first eight months of 2007, Iraqi civilian deaths averaged 1,856 per month.
In the nine months since, the average has fallen to 573. May's figure, 396, is the
lowest since December, 2005.
Al Qaida has been "essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the
defensive throughout much of the rest of the world," CIA Director Michael Hayden
said in a May 30 interview with the Washington Post.
"If progress continues at this rate, it is very possible that before 2008 is out, we
can finally say, 'the war has ended,' wrote Michael Yon, who has spent more time
embedded with U.S. troops than any other journalist.
Al Qaida chose to make Iraq the central front in its war against the United States,
and has been crushed there. The blow to its reputation in the Arab world has been
so great that Islamists led by Ayman al Zawahiri's mentor (who goes by the nom de
guerre Dr. Fadl) are attacking al Qaida's ideology, declaring it immoral to kill
innocent civilians, even "Crusaders and Jews."
Would prominent Islamists be turning non-violent if violence hadn't failed so
spectacularly in Iraq?