The Purple Finger

Iraqis know freedom’s knock better than our liberal media.

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

The election last Thursday in Iraq, the third since the U.S. invaded, is an astonishing historical event in the Muslim Middle East. Despite the threats and attacks of terrorist murderers and kidnappers, 11 million Iraqis, 7 out of 10, including millions of presumably disaffected Sunni, turned out to do what they never did under the brutal dictator Hussein — assert one of the fundamental rights of a free people: choose those who will govern them.

Yet with some few exceptions, the American media have done a poor job of telling us why this vote is so historically important, why it is such a remarkable achievement, and why the administration deserves credit for making it happen. Having opposed the war and the President from the start, the media’s coverage has relentlessly accentuated the negative, offering nit-picking analyses even as the bullets are flying, and asserting the failure of the effort before the job is even halfway done. Then, after two-and-a-half years of this doom and gloom, the media have the impudence to crow that support for the war has dropped among the American people.

I wonder if support would be higher if the media had just given the successes of this war the same space they give the setbacks. For example, what would have been the effect on public opinion if the media had given the same attention to heroes that they give to casualties? We have seen numerous heart-rending stories about dead soldiers and their families, with the New York Timespublishing photos of each of the dead. But what about the inspiring stories about heroes and medal-winners? Why aren’t the names and pictures of every Silver Star and Navy Cross winner, and their stories, as emphasized and publicized as the names and stories of the dead?

This war has seen some of the most spectacular achievements of the U.S. military ever, a tribute to the bravery, discipline, and training of our troops, a success validated by millions of voting Iraqis. But where are their stories? For most of the media, our service men and women are interesting only as victims whom we pity, the subtext being that they are pathetic, well-meaning dupes of a war-mongering administration exploiting their naïve patriotism and professionalism. But most of the troops know what they are doing and why, and are proud to be risking their lives in an effort to make their fellow citizens more secure and to give the Iraqi people a chance at political freedom. They don’t want our condescending pity, just our support and appreciation.

I can hear the reporters and editors squawking that such coverage would make them “cheerleaders” for the war, that their responsibility is to air “dissent” and “critique” of the government. The idea lurking behind this protest — that American reporters are stateless professionals first and Americans second, if at all, with no loyalty due to their fellow citizens — strikes me as bizarre. I wonder how World War II would have gone if the media then had had the same attitude, if they had thought it appropriate to emphasize and exaggerate every setback in the middle of a long struggle, to second-guess every action, to dramatize the unfortunately unremarkable horrors of war, and to carp at a decision already debated and ratified by the legitimate machinery of democratic government — all the while their fellow Americans were under fire and being attacked by an enemy explicitly attempting to undermine our resolve. But leave that aside. For what we are asking is not that the media be cheerleaders for the war, but that they not be cheerleaders against the war. Every war has moments of success and moments of failure, achievements and bungling, casualties and heroes. All we ask is that the media cover both equally.

So too with the Iraqi attempt to create a functioning government that enfranchises rather than brutalizes its citizens. Contrary to most media coverage, the whole point about this election and what follows is not whether the Bush administration succeeds or fails, as though Iraq were some passive stage-set for American partisan politics. The U.S. has already succeeded in the aims with which it went to war and which Congress ratified. A brutal psychopathic dictator responsible for the deaths of millions, a torturer intent on acquiring the weapons that could magnify his brutality exponentially, is gone, along with his thug regime. We now know what for years we didn’t know: that there are no WMD’s that may end up in the hands of terrorists, a simple fact that the U.N. could not determine in 12 years of inspections, but a fact known now only because we went there and established it. And the Iraqi people are in the first messy throes of creating some form of consensual government, a process that will be long and difficult and full of peril.

Whether this government succeeds or not, however, is ultimately the business of the Iraqi people, its success or failure their responsibility. What we need to make clear is that we spent blood and treasure to give Arab Muslims the opportunity to create a society and government that can allow its citizens a chance at the prosperity and freedom that do not exist anywhere else in the Arab Middle East. But we can’t force them to make the most of this opportunity. They themselves have to want it more than they want their ancient religious and ethnic rivalries or their pipe dreams of lost Muslim glory or their toxic hatred of Israel.

If there is a criticism to be made of this administration, it is that it has not made it clear that the responsibility and burden for success in Iraq lie not with us but with Iraqis, not to mention the neighboring Muslim regimes that have barely lifted a finger to support their co-religionists. Why didn’t Jordan, for example, after Zaraqawi engineered the murder of its citizens, send a battalion of soldiers to help hunt down him and his fellow terrorists in Iraq? We know the answer: a critical mass of Jordanians, many of whom believe Israel was behind the attacks, would have erupted in fury that their government was aiding “crusaders,” “Zionists,” and “imperialists.” We should be publicly shaming every day all the governments in the Middle East that sat back for years as a dictator brutalized Muslims, and that now have done nothing to aid the Western forces that, as they did in Kosovo and Somalia and Kuwait, have rescued millions of Muslims.

For decades we have heard the excuses for Middle Eastern dysfunction that put the blame on imperialism, colonialism, neo-imperialism, neo-colonialism, Zionist cabals, autocratic American stooges, petro-corporate skullduggery, “Orientalism,” and any number of Marxist swamp-fever hallucinations. After Iraq, these excuses will be exposed as the feeble rationalizations they are. Once the U.S. has spent billions of dollars and the precious lives of its citizens to remove an oppressive thug, rebuild the country, and give it freedom — in short, after America has created the conditions that will allow an Arab Muslim people to join the 21st century, their failure to take advantage of that opportunity will be their own responsibility.

Maybe then we will stop taking seriously the excuses such as “poverty” and “despair” and “Palestinian misery,” drop the “religion of peace” and “moderate Islam” rhetoric, and start speaking the truth about why the Middle East is such a mess: a religious culture that puts fanatical loyalty to its arrogant intolerance ahead of freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence with others.

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