Wednesday, September 10, 2003

He still rides in a Hummer and wears khaki pants, but now the slacks and the car are military-issue. He still cajoles members of Congress, but not while trolling the halls of the Capitol. He still spends hours on conference calls with his “clients,” but they no longer pay handsome monthly retainers.

Although he may not be a household name outside the Beltway, to many in this city, he is a mentor and a friend. His name is Tom Korologos — a former top presidential aide in the Nixon and Ford White Houses, who recently “retired” after 29 years with Timmons and Co., one of Washington’s premier lobbying firms. He is now a senior adviser to Ambassador Paul Bremer in Iraq.

Mr. Korologos’ decision to take this assignment represents a side of lobbying seldom reported by the media, which like to paint a far different picture of what they derisively call “Washington influence peddlers.” Instead, he is using his many years of experience to help the U.S. government speed the development of democracy and freedom in postwar Iraq. Ironically, it is the lessons Mr. Korologos learned about the press and the way it covers stories that help sustain him.

The press focuses on the negative and failures — not positive developments and successes. Back from Baghdad last week, Mr. Korologos told me that the “successes” in Iraq are not sustaining the media’s attention. He says it is frustrating to read only the horrific stories about how bad things are going, while the press routinely ignores positive developments, like the opening of universities, media outlets, banks and developing democratic institutions.

Sure, there are bumps along the way. Yet, as Mr. Korologos notes, the Iraqi people have been “told what to do” for the past 35 years. Assumptions deeply embedded in the fabric of American democracy — like, if a majority of people agree on something, they can effect change — are foreign concepts in Iraq.

He also knows the press is chronically impatient and wants instant results. In a television-driven world, if a problem lacks a beginning and end longer than a three-minute nightly news segment, and doesn’t include a burning building or a bloody corpse, many producers quickly lose interest. Lobbying for many years taught Mr. Korologos that democracy is also often messy, takes time and requires patience. Yet, it is the mundane process of learning, educating and building consensus — often dismissed by the media as boring — that brings about constructive, long-term change.

Regrettably, we now live in a world where media elites are disdainful of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong. Reporting the noble and humanitarian side of the U.S. mission in Iraq is as foreign to media elites as many of the strange-sounding Iraqi cities referenced on the nightly news. Mr. Korologos told me that the “successes” are often the prime targets of violence. A university opens, and someone gets shot there. A bank begins operation and it is bombed. Americans help form a local governing council and the new mayor gets attacked. The “good” Americans try to create comes under attack from the “evil” remnants of the former regime or foreign Islamic radical terrorists.

Yet, from watching the new reports, it appears these hostilities are part of a broad nationalist effort to oust the American occupying force. Reporting that the U.S. government is doing something “good” or fighting “evil” is a value judgment many in the adversarial press corps are either unwilling to make or incapable of making. The media sings in a “chorus of handwringing failuremongers,” as William Safire described them earlier this week in the New York Times. They wear the dark glasses of cynicism, with their perspective blinded by a lethal mix of ideological liberalism and Bush hatred.

Mr. Korologos helps lawmakers see a different side of progress in Iraq than they get from typical news accounts. He organizes congressional delegation (codels) trips so lawmakers can witness the progress and perils in the country — unfiltered by the hypercritical media (he set up six codels for 28 members of Congress in August alone).

The lobbyist in Baghdad wonders about many things as he tries to fall asleep in the Al-Rasheed Hotel after another 16-hour day. He wonders if the electricity and water will work in the morning or if the temperature tomorrow will top 120 degrees — and probably a little about his safety. Yet, these are fleeting concerns. Over the long term, he hopes the Iraqi people build institutions of democracy — like the ones he loves, respects, and helps sustain here in Washington. Maybe Baghdad can even produce its own versions of legislative giants, such as Henry Clay, Robert Lafollette or Everett Dirksen. And perhaps, over time, democracy in Iraq will produce public-spirited lobbyists. They could do worse than to model themselves after Tom Korologos.

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