There is much hyperventilating in the upper levels, the media and in some political circles, about the effect of the Abu Ghraib revelations on our work in Iraq. Indeed, some people seem to be in a panic. The war is lost, if not militarily, then politically. We cannot possibly win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. It is all over but the details, etc. I think such reactions are over the top. CNN talking heads (Aaron whats-his-name is an example) are already calling the prisoner abuse photos the "iconic moment" in this war (i.e., iconic in the same way that we saw a South Vietnamese soldier shoot a Vietcong in the head, only later did we find out that the man had slaughtered his family); this is an attempt to be clever and sophisticated the way the ideological literary critics are: They talk around the text (in this case reality) by ignoring it. And today Muqtada Sadr--the guy who has caused mischief, but is losing at every turn he lost a couple dozen men today in Karbala--called Iraq Americas new Vietnam. The elite press loves this stuff, dont they? Well, the slaughter of Nicholas Berg is also affecting the discussion, at least on the lower levels where most of us citizens live. Even though CNN will not show the beheading (and I dont think they should) they beat the drums that every other photo from Abu Ghraib be shown, regardless of how many lives it may cost! This slaughter of Mr. Berg reminded us that although what was done to the prisoners was both wrong and illegal--it has been investigated by our military and dutifully reported, and the law will take its course--the enemy is capable of acting in this horrible way as a matter principle. This reminds those of us who do not live in the Washington beltway why we fight, and why we must win. Seeing the Twin Towers in flame has the same effect; thats why CNN doesnt like showing it. Well, those in the upper levels are once again misreading both the capacity of those of us on the lower levels to understand our purposes and policies, and the passions--not excluding righteous indignation--that we are capable of; in our quiet way, of course. Let them misread us at their peril. My guess is that Bush has a much clearer sense of these matters than he is given credit for; he will not panic. The regeneration of Iraq will continue and Rumsfeld will not be pushed out; and let John Kerry run against Rumsfeld if he likes, and see where that takes him (and announcing that he would like to have Senator John McCain as his secretary of defense isnt going to help him; nice try though). In the end, the citizens on the lower levels will make their opinions count, and the smug Aaron whats-his-name can continue to bloviate and be paid handsomely for it, and be ignored.
The Belmont Club has a thought about the media and the connection between Abu Ghraib and the murder of Nicholas Berg. And William Safire explains that the real world in Iraq is moving along at a pretty good clip, and there is no need to panic. Nice piece, read it.