Life in Iraq is "10,000 Times Better Than Before"
ROCHESTER, MN -- Consider these headlines from Iraq taken from yesterday's New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and Associated Press: "Many see Iraq council as ineffective," "One-fourth of U.S. troops lack body armor," "Iraqi bomb boy's anger at pilot," "Concern at troop suicides," and "A burst of gunfire in Iraq, then a 'hail.'"
What's wrong with this picture?
Consider, by contrast, the far rosier picture of the new Iraq painted by three reports not from U.S. journalists but from other observers in Iraq.
• Item one: Hussein Khalili, an engineer at Mayo Clinic here who has many family members still in Iraq, says all of them agree that "it's ten thousand times better in Iraq today than before the war. Nearly everyone in Iraq is very grateful to America for getting rid of Saddam Hussein. For the first time, people have the freedom to do what they want to do. They can walk down the street in groups of three or more -- before they would have been taken to jail and tortured for that crime. There is more electricity, more water, more medicine, and more of everything in Iraq now. And the American soldiers have been very respectful of Iraqi culture and religion."
• Item two: At a Baghdad press conference last week, L. Paul Bremer, head of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, offered statistics, which no one has disputed, showing stunning progress in Iraq.
These include the fact that Iraq has established for the first time in 24 years a fully independent judiciary system with 400 open and active courts. All of Iraq's 22 universities and 43 colleges and technical institutes are open, as are virtually all primary and secondary schools. The coalition authority has refurbished more than 1,500 Iraqi schools into far better condition than they were before the war.
All of the country's 240 hospitals and 1,200 clinics are re-opened and functioning, and pharmaceutical shipments have risen from virtually zero before the war to 12,000 tons per month now. The coalition has vaccinated 22 million Iraqis in the last six months. The list goes on and on.
• Item three: A Gallup Poll conducted last month showed that two-thirds of Baghdad residents believe Saddam Hussein's ouster has been worth the hardships suffered as a result. In addition, nearly 70 percent of Iraqis say they believe their lives will be better in five years as a result of the invasion. Half of the Iraqis polled said the U.S.-British occupation authority was doing a better job now than it was two months ago, and the same percentage gave Bremer a favorable performance rating.
The very act of the poll, in which Iraqis were openly interviewed on the streets and in homes, was a stark illustration of the new freedom in Iraq.
When I told a half dozen people Monday that I planned to write an article collecting these positive appraisals of Iraq, the response was unanimous: "That sure isn't what I'm hearing in the press these days."
What's getting across to the U.S. public is the drip-drip-drip of suicide bombings, sniper attacks, U.S. servicemen deaths, and other inevitable setbacks as America carries on the long slog of reconstructing a country destroyed not primarily by war but by 24 years of living under the jackboot.
By rushing en masse every day to the site of the latest setback, American journalists are focusing on the exceptions rather than the rule in Iraqi society today. That's natural enough, as journalism by definition focuses on exceptional events rather than the norm.
But living over many years in a peacetime society, we have become sophisticated consumers, at the local and national levels, of that approach to the news. We see the endless reports of murders and auto crashes and sexual abuse, and we weigh all of that against what we actually see in our daily lives, and in that way we put the news into perspective.
We can't do the same thing with the news from Iraq, though, because it's too far away, and that's dangerous -- because we could decide to pull out based on faulty information. After a few more months of headlines like the ones above, it would be understandable if the American people threw their hands up and said "It's just chaos and quagmire in Iraq, and on top of that, the Iraqis aren't grateful and don't want us there. It's time to go."
That would harm American interests in several ways.
First, it would undermine the achievement of ridding the world of a psychopath whose human rights abuses alone could have (and should have) justified the war to oust him from power.
Second, it would reverse the stunning strides made over the past six months by the U.S and British-led coalition authority.
Third, by reneging on our commitment to stay fully committed to Iraq until it was on its feet and on its way to democracy, it would erode the last shred of credibility the United States still has with its friends and allies around the world.
Most importantly, by prematurely leaving Iraq, America would lose the chance to become a better nation by helping others in the world for once, instead of just ourselves.
By honoring our promises to the Iraqi people, America could re-learn the transcendent values of freedom, equality, democracy and humanity that make us special.
Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report