So we’re talking about Iraq today. Well, Iraq is something I definitely have some opinions on and with all the Britney Spears coverage, SCHIP, Rush Limbaugh and-yes-Princess Diana coverage over the last few days on the news channels it hasn’t really been at the top of the news feeds, though the papers have as always been plugging along on Iraq stories as Stanley Kurtz and apparently some others have noted.
But I am going to have to take issue with Stanley Kurtz on The Washington Post’s series on IEDs.
I don’t think this series is some kind of concerted effort by the Post to look backward at only the bad things happening in Iraq and somehow dismiss any progress during the last few months. Note this from the introduction to the four part series:
“The number of IED attacks declined in Iraq late this summer after five more U.S. brigades took the field as part of a troop “surge” ordered by the White House. American casualties from IEDs also dropped. Throughout Iraq, more than half of all makeshift bombs are found before they detonate.”
If massive aerial bombing in World War II-reaching its final culmination in the release of the atomic bomb-was one of the lasting tactics of that brutal war, the rise of improvised explosive devices (IED’s or roadside bombs as they are also known) have been a, if not the, defining tactic of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a topic worthy of detailed coverage and defeating this weapon will have far reaching consequences beyond Iraq.
Although the series is not a bed of roses in its description of a complex issue it does include reporting on “heartening developments”:
“We’ve saved a lot of lives,” Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England said in an interview last month. “We’ve had people killed and injured, but we’ve probably saved five or 10 times that number of people by preventing attacks, or capturing and killing [insurgents], or getting caches of weapons, or disabling them.”
I might also note that the author of the series Rick Atkinson is an solid reporter and historian who has earned his chops covering not only this conflict but his continuing trilogy on World War II is excellent-and it seems the people who give out Pulitzer Prizes for History agree with me. If you aren’t familiar with his book on the North Africa Campaign, An Army at Dawn, and his just released on the invasion of Italy, The Day of Battle, they are worth a look.
Atkinson also wrote The Long Gray Line, a chronicle of the 1966 class of West Point and wrote an account of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, In the Company of Soldiers, where he was embedded with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division then lead by one Major General David H. Petraeus, who everyone is very familiar with these days. If I recall correctly, it is from Atkinson’s book where I learned of the General’s penchant for pop tarts. But I digress.
Atkinson’s series obviously took time and effort and the Post also obviously shelled out some bucks on it, so you can’t really fault them for hyping it accordingly. Because much as we don’t like to think about it sometimes, media is a business after all. Most other four-part, in-depth series would probably receive the front page treatment as well.
Detailed reporting that doesn’t merely skim the surface of the real challenges in Iraq and that takes the time to relay the complexities of the situation the military and those working on the ground face every day is hard to come by. Don’t discourage it when it does show up.
I think the bigger problem here is that certain folks may be intimidated by a four part series and as much as we American’s talk about wanting in-depth, solid reporting, we don’t always read it when it is available. We have other things on our minds. So as far as Post coverage on Iraq and its editorial placement, I just want to say, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. And if you didn’t read the IED series, give it another chance. This new fangled thing called the internet makes it oh so easy to do.
I would also applaud Atkinson on making the effort to ask senior officials “to review the [article’s] findings for accuracy and security considerations.” Because when you publicize explicitly even the little things that places like JIEDDO (the Joint IED-Defeat Organization), and soldiers have discovered to combat and thwart IED attacks, they don’t work anymore because terrorists and insurgents watch and read the news too.