As the Associated Press reports, there was lots of happy talk about the end of combat in Iraq this week throughout the national media, as various media outlets stumbled all over themselves in a desperate (and rather blatant) attempt to pitch the news as a reprise of the famous Vietnam withdrawal imagery. The problem, of course, is that there are still tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq -- and, according to the New York Times, the Obama administration is "planning to more than double its private security guards" there (Blackwater anyone?).
That's the story cable news doesn't want you knowing, because it gets in the way of reporters efforts to pretend to be documenting some sort of iconic military history -- when, at least at this moment, it looks like they may be promoting a new version of George W. Bush's infamously misleading Mission Accomplished/"end of major combat operations" declaration back in 2003 -- a typical form of spin that simultaneously reassures a war-weary public and obscures a permanent-war reality.
Now, sure, there is a story in the U.S. government changing it's own official story about Iraq. That's definitely newsworthy and even, perhaps, encouraging because it may ultimately mean the fulfillment of President Obama's campaign pledge to actually, really end the war (and I hope and pray this is, in fact, the case). That is, it may preview a true phased withdrawal and a future of genuine change, rather than just a never-ending game of semantics about the difference between "combat" troops and "military advisers" (a game of semantics, by the way, that notoriously marked the Vietnam occupation and its use of military "advisers").
But for any media outlet to pretend that a change in official policy and rhetoric is akin to the end of the war is arguably as misleading as the "March to War" coverage that led us into this conflict in the first place. And I say that because of what the military itself is telling us not in the glamorous high-spotlight national media, but right here at home where troops and their families live.
Notice today's dispatch from the Colorado Springs Gazette, which has been all but ignored by the national media:
In a matter of days, the seven-year-old Iraq war will officially have a new name: Operation New Dawn. At Fort Carson, however, the new day brings few changes.
In a news conference on post Thursday, representatives of the 4th Infantry Division discussed the future of Fort Carson's infantry soldiers, saying that current and scheduled deployments will resume as planned.
"Our mission has not changed," Maj. Joe Bethel of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team said.
So while it may be comforting to see all the "Breaking News" graphics implying that the Iraq War is effectively over, and while it may be reassuring to watch punditry portraying war analysis as the post-mortem of a conflict that is now history, the reality is that this war continues, and that those Americans who are serving on the frontlines are still in grave danger. As Ken Pollack notes in a Washington Post piece to be published this weekend:
Roughly 50,000 American military personnel remain in Iraq, and the majority are still combat troops... American troops in Iraq will still go into harm's way, they will still accompany Iraqi units on combat missions... American pilots will still fly combat missions in support of Iraqi ground forces, and American special forces will still face off against Iraqi terrorist groups in high-intensity operations. For that reason, when American troops leave their bases in Iraq, they will still, almost invariably, be in full 'battle rattle" and ready for a fight... (The United States) will probably face casualties therein the years to come, regardless of how we label our mission there.
As a proponent of the war, Pollack isn't criticizing this reality, he's celebrating it. And in cheering it on, he tells us the truth. Though that truth may be inconvenient to our national press corps and to hard-core head-in-the-sand partisans, it is, alas, the truth.