- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

Most of us are viewing Iraq through a straw. Our window of the proceedings, usually the TV fed by a nameless man with a hand-held camera, seems to show us all of Iraq.

In reality, what we see is determined by TV producers and managers seeking “ratings.” The measure of the number of viewers pushes producers to make news teams chase after every explosion, seek out every firefight and drive toward every billowing cloud of smoke.

Like tornado chasers, many of the TV crews travel continuously in search of “the picture” or “a good ‘get.’ ” They find satisfaction (and maybe even a pay raise) based upon the estimated spectacular impact of their “feed” to the network and then to your TV. Some American news folk (and viewers) lean toward seeing the world through an Aljazeera prism.

The bad guys and terrorists know how it works. To disrupt the move toward democracy and a free and united Iraq, those who supported Saddam, and other Islamic extremists, band to mesmerize the news camera. They flock to Iraq to take part in the carnage. Relatively few terrorists instill fear in Iraqi leaders, police and soldiers, who wonder how much of their own flesh and blood they should invest for their nation’s progress.

Meanwhile, young American men and women, our children, brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, are devoting their time, sweat, flesh and blood. Why? Because “we,” all of us, asked them to. You can, if you wish, question the prewar justifications that got us where we are. But after Congress approved a national venture this gravely dangerous, our men and women rightfully expected our full and complete support.

No flinching. Criticism where needed but muted, judicious criticism, please. Why? Because the enemy, the terrorists, are watching the American people to see if we’ll “cut and run.”

So we face this impossible conundrum. We want to stay the course and complete the mission but the blood of our countrymen continues flowing. The war is not going exactly as planned, but what war ever did? Iraqi civilians are being maimed and killed. American treasure is swallowed in Iraq at an incredible rate. Mightn’t we think of leaving early?

Think about the lesson of Vietnam. We pulled out. What happened? Absolute carnage. Genocide of unimaginable proportions. Scores of South Vietnamese killed. They fled to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand but weren’t safe there either. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Maybe more.

More than a million Vietnamese fled by boat. Many died at sea or suffered the worst human depredations imaginable at the hands of pirates. The pirates preferred rape, intimidation, mutilation and murder — not the kinds of activities the U.S. is prosecuting as a result of Abu Graib.

And if we leave Iraq, will the progress made so far be sustained? Will the activities you don’t much see on TV proceed as before? Won’t the U.N. or France or some other nation save the day? Definitely not.

If America leaves Iraq, do you expect institutions and persons that profited from Saddam’s rule — like the U.N. and France — to continue America’s course? No way.

The good news shots you miss because they are not a “good get” include a host of humanitarian, nation-building, and infrastructure improvements that will contribute directly to democracy, freedom and even prosperity in Iraq. Have you seen Iraqis voting in 60,000 neighborhood, local and regional election? Not a good get. Some 400,000 schoolchildren with the first up-to-date immunizations in 30 years? Not a good get.

Iraq now has 1,500 renovated schools that suddenly include a rising tide of textbooks and other instructional materials. Sewer mains, water pipes, electrical systems, and sections of the oil industry are under repair everywhere. Almost every hospital is open and new ones are being built. There often are evening traffic jams in Baghdad as shoppers seek cell phones, air conditioners and other once unobtainable goods.

The terrorists know a few well-placed and timed “improvised explosive devices” (IEDs) bring reporters running like a car fire in an American rush hour. Using these IEDs also slows or stops reconstruction and makes every Iraqi pause.

But, you say, the newsmen bring us very important news. What about Abu Ghraib? OK, put aside the morality issues, the right and wrong, for a moment. Look at the facts. Even magnify the facts for the sake of argument. There are maybe seven implicated soldiers. But what if it were 12, or 20, even 1,000? There are about 130,000 U.S. military men and women in Iraq. Of that, what percentage is 12 or even 1,000? Do the math.

Is Abu Ghraib a reflection of the vast good work done or under way? Hardly. Abu Graib is the worst kind of abuse of authority and mismanagement. It is not a reflection of America, her men and women, and their core values; it is an aberration.

Every wrongful act deserves investigation, public disclosure, and prosecution when warranted. Isn’t that happening? Didn’t a U.S. soldier make known the abuses of Abu Graib? Didn’t the news come out in a U.S.-held Baghdad press conference?

The system is working. Moreover, in the grand scheme of things (prepare to be shocked) Iraqis wearing women’s underwear on their heads is a sideshow. Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg wish they were so lucky.

We must stay the course in Iraq. We must keep our perspective. Healthy debate and discussion should continue. But remember that the terrorists understand the power of TV and fear, and the American track record in Vietnam. But maybe the terrorists have misread America altogether.

JOHN CAREY

Mr. Carey is a defense consultant in Arlington, Va. He was recently in Iraq.

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