And From Iraq, the Good News Is
In a stunning example of official ineptitude, an Army battalion commander disseminated a sample letter-to-the-editor to soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. They were supposed to use the letter as a guide for their personal version that would then be sent home for possible publication in their local newspapers.
According to Gannett News Service on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2003, eleven identical letters originating from the 503rd appeared in newspapers across the country. As reported in The Washington Post on Tuesday, the news service reached “six soldiers who said they agreed with the letter but had not written it, one who had not signed the letter, and one who didn’t even know about the letter.” Army officials later told USA Today that over 500 of the letters had been mailed out.
We now know what happened. The battalion commander has admitted that the letter-writing plan was his own idea. It’s not hard to visualize him getting his men together and saying something like this: “Men, we have a situation. Those damn reporters are making it look like everything is going to hell in a handbasket over here. You and I know different, but we need to get the word out to the folks back home. I have a plan that should do the trick. This is a letter that tells it like it really is. I want each of you to take this letter and use it as a guide to write your own personal letter to your hometown newspaper. Let’s give them some good news for a change. Now remember, don’t just send the letter; rewrite it … make it your own. Got it? Hooah!”
And you know what at least eleven of those guys did.
This effort seemed sinister at first glance because it appeared to have been part of a coordinated plan by the Bush White House to refocus the nation’s view of all things Iraqi. On Monday, Oct. 13, President Bush granted exclusive interviews to five regional broadcasting companies, following similar interviews by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer, in an attempt to go “over the heads” of the broadcast networks.
Why? Increasingly over the past few weeks, news emanating from Iraq has been about American deaths, anti-American protests, riots and suicide bombings. If you take your news only from national broadcasters and big newspapers (with the possible exception of Fox News), you are bound to get a picture of an Iraq in total chaos, close to collapse, perhaps without hope, unless, of course, the United States backs off, gets out of the country, and lets the United Nations do its thing.
Weblogs have increasingly been presenting information that stands in sharp contrast to dispatches carried by the BBC, Reuters, UPI, and the major broadcasters. An unfortunate byproduct of the 503rd’s form letter snafu, however, is that all letters emanating from soldiers inside Iraq relating positive news will now be suspect. Recently, I posted one such letter to a broad-interest forum. I received dozens of scornful, mocking responses calling me a Pentagon lackey and worse. These responders all were convinced that the entire picture being painted by the Bush administration was a distorted lie.
The truth is actually worth looking at.
Schools throughout Iraq are up and running, many in brand new buildings built, in many cases, by the labor of American soldiers. Hospitals are accepting patients and treating them with modern equipment in state-of-the-art facilities. Commerce is thriving at all levels, from the street vendor and the Mom & Pop store on the corner to larger enterprises including what is arguably the most modern wireless telephone network on the planet.
Iraq ’s deep-water port city of Umm Qasr is up and running. Although not operating at 100 percent yet, even now it is the largest, most modern deep-water port in the Middle East.
The old dinar notes displaying Hussein’s image have been replaced with modern new notes that show famous Iraqi moments, natural scenes, and the famed 10th-century Iraqi physicist and mathematician, Hazan Ibn al-Haithem. And, as a bonus, an Iraqi citizen can once again carry a reasonable amount of money in a regular wallet.
Power and water are available essentially everywhere, and especially in the northern regions of Iraq , electricity is available for the first time in nearly a decade. Sewage is being processed so that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are beginning to flow clean again after decades of polluted neglect.
Museums and art galleries are open once again. And traffic, well, every good thing has a downside. In the larger cities, commuter traffic is beginning to congest the roadways.
Sure, negatives exist. A small cadre of Saddam’s thugs still are trying to kill Americans and those who materially assist in Iraq ’s reconstruction. Just yesterday they blew up another oil pipeline. But the oil is flowing anyway. They assassinated Iraq ’s Governing Council member Aquilah al-Hashimi. But the Council continues to govern. They still target Americans, but normal Iraqi citizens continue to honor and respect individual American soldiers.
It took us six long years following World War II to de-Nazify Germany completely. It took us additional years and the trillion-dollar (in today’s money) Marshall Plan to get Germany back on its economic feet. It’s only been a few months in Iraq.
America waged the most efficient war in history with the lowest relative body count on all sides ever. And now, in an amazingly short amount of time, it is in the final phases of putting the country back together as a free, self-governing democracy. Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to support the operation with troops and money from around the world.
No wonder President Bush complained about the filter through which the mainstream news media passes information out of Iraq. No wonder he is trying to go over their heads, “directly to the American people,” by speaking with local and regional broadcasters.
And the American people seem to be getting the message. Bush’s popularity rating rose from 50 percent to 56 percent immediately after the interviews according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released on Monday.
Now if we can just get the Pentagon to reign in its “imaginative” PR people .…
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor