06/03/2007 05:30 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Fourth Estate: Moral Obtuseness and Analogical Confusion on America in Iraq

As reported by Editor&Publisher, America's oldest journal covering the newspaper industry,
the Los Angeles Times on June 1 published an editorial entitled "After the Surge," which took a dim view of a long-term active U.S. presence in Iraq. The paper had previously backed a timetable for withdrawal of American troops. On June 3, The Washington Post, still remarkably hawkish on the war despite the facts on the ground as reported by Post reporters, carried an editorial with the very same title--but with a quite different message: "It's time for the President and Congress to begin talking about a smaller, more sustainable mission in Iraq."

Fred Hiatt , editorial page editor, : "Iraq is likely to take years to stabilize." Yet, the editorial concluded that it is not President Bush's job to help get us out of Iraq but rather "to begin focusing the Iraq debate on the need for an American presence beyond the current surge of troops in Baghdad and beyond his own administration." It facilely explained the Bush administration's "real point" as Iraq should not end like Vietnam, with a "lock, stock and barrel" pullout before the conflict ends--with no reference to the obvious and desperate effort of the White House to pass on America's folly in the desert dunes to the next administration. Ah, but if the Korea analogies of the last week "exaggerate the likely length of the Iraq mission, [they] also make it sound easier" than is warranted. "Following the armistice that ended the Korean war, the U.S. mission there suffered few casualties. For the foreseeable future, any U.S. military presence in Iraq will mean a continuing and painful cost in American lives."

For the Post any compromise with Congress means keeping 100,000 troops in Iraq after the surge ends, or maybe not even that lower level, since "troop withdrawals must be connected to developments on the ground: U.S. commanders will try to hand off authority in Baghdad to Iraqi forces so that the gains of the surge will not be lost." Paradoxically, "What's needed is not a continued surge of American forces but a mission that will be materially and politically sustainable."

The Los Angeles Times editorial had concluded: "The U.S. choices are either to back the strongest faction -- the elected but sectarian Shiite-dominated government -- and hope that it ultimately prevails, or to try to foster meaningful political reconciliation that would allow the United States to plan a strategic and orderly disengagement from Iraq. The latter is by far the wiser course...."

Grounded in American political realities, the L.A. Times noted that "SIX IN 10 AMERICANS now believe that the Iraq war was a mistake, and the latest news offers scant evidence that the surge strategy is turning the tide."

The Los Angeles paper mocked President Bush's recent suggestion that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq for the long term to provide stability, but not in a combat role -- much as the U.S. has left troops in South Korea since the 1950-53 war: "The South Korean analogy is false and dangerous because it misreads the very nature of the Iraq conflict. In South Korea, the U.S. propped up a stable (though dictatorial) government against a fierce external enemy, Chinese-backed North Korea. In Iraq, the problem isn't external enemies, it's a weak central government that is seen as illegitimate by segments of the population and whose supporters have become participants in a multifaceted civil war."

A front-page New York Times article of June 3, alas, carried the headline: "With Korea as Model, Bush Team Ponders Long Support Role in Iraq." The story repotred that for the first time the Bush team is talking about troops in Iraq "for years, even decades to come."

By the way, at the Wall Street Journal, they have become increasingly irrelevant when debating
America's role in Iraq by continuing to fight rear-guard battles in defense of Scooter Libby and the Vice President, and the dirty games they have played on Iraq. (Vide "Fitzgerald Doubles Down," June 1.)

From National to Regional: McClatchy's Two Big Ones in North Carolina

Even stranger within the "Fourth Estate" are the contrasting wavelengths on which two McClatchy papers in North Carolina operate: The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News&Observer. The Washington bureau of McClatchy, under John Walcott, has been at the forefront of American media in exposing the tissue of deceptions that characterized the White House rationalizations for the invasion in the first place; and undermining-through-reporting the misrepresentations of facts on the ground in Iraq that still stream out of the official propaganda machine. However, in the case of the Charlotte Observer, one would never know that the editorial board even reads what McClatchy reporters write!

The editor of the editorial pages at the Charlotte Observer, Ed Williams, has rather consistently supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq over the last 4-5 years. But the searcher will not find
the May 3 editorial--"Time to Move Ahead: Bush and Congress Must Acknowledge Each Other's Needs"--listed under his name. Perhaps it really is a staff editorial, which would seem to indicate
that "the silent sisters," associate editors Fannie Flono, Mary Newsom, and Mary Schulken, had a hand in it. In any case, the largest regional paper in the Carolinas is still not able to summon up much courage when it comes to questioning the rationale for the mission of the United States in Iraq--in contrast to its McClatchy cousin, The Raleigh News & Observer.

Referring to the "Democrat-controlled Congress" (a favorite insult of Republicans), the editorial sounded like a marriage counselor when advising that it was time for the President and Congress "to acknowledge the other's legitimate concerns, craft a compromise and move ahead with funding our troops." Both the president and the Democrats had good points, it argued:

"The president opposes anything resembling a pullout schedule for fear we'd be telling our adversaries when they'll be able to pursue their aims undeterred by U.S. troops. Democrats fear the president is so wedded to some unattainable 'victory' that he'd keep sacrificing money and troops long after the U.S. presence ceased to be worth the costs."

It was clear "what Congress and the president must do: Negotiate a compromise that doesn't tie a U.S. pullout to specific dates, but does require substantial evidence that the Iraqi government is making steady progress toward the ultimate goal: a stable state in which minority rights are protected, resources are fairly shared and peaceful relations with other nations are maintained." In other words, no American troop withdrawal timetables; but benchmarks for the Iraqis that President Bush could waive.

The editorial concluded: Polls showed most Americans disapprove of the president's conduct of the war. But while public opinion favored the Democrats, it also offered risky temptations: "Though many Americans favor a rapid pullout, Democrats would heed that call at their peril. They'd be blamed if Iraq became a sectarian slaughterhouse and provoked a bloody regional conflict." Nevertheless,
"Americans won't tolerate a policy that puts U.S. troops between warring Iraqi factions and makes them little more than targets."

Where has the editorial board of the Observer been in recent months, one cannot help but wonder? May was the third-bloodiest month for U.S. troops since the occupation of Iraq began, with 127 U.S. soldiers killed. The Washington Post reports that while the surge strategy is credited with reducing civilian casualties in Baghdad by 50 percent, it has left U.S. troops more exposed to insurgents' increasingly lethal attacks.

(Back on Easter Sunday, Ed Williams wrote this column in a city often described as one of the most heavily-churched in America: "Easter dawns at a dark time in our city. Bad things happen to good people. That's painful, but it's life. *** Why does God let this happen?" It was part of the Observer's intense, front-page, week-long coverage of the criminal gunning down of two local police officers in the line of duty. There was no mention of the troops in Iraq.)

But over at the Raleigh News&Observer, on the same day, editorial page editor Steve Ford had them on his mind. Ford served as a still photographer to the 221st Signal Co. (Pictorial), 1st Signal Brigade, headquartered in Long Binh, South Vietnam, 1969-70. He flew a lot (helicopters and fixed wing); and was issued an Army "combat photographer" ID along with a MACV press pass. Aside from a few times when he had to keep his head down due to rocket attacks, he was not personally involved in any combat.

In "President was Resolved--and Right" (April 8), he was not referring to George Bush but to Abraham Lincoln: Easter weekend of 1865 came a week after Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox. "It was then that the Union was plunged into mourning with the news that Lincoln had died of gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin during a theater performance on the evening of Good Friday." Ford reviewed the events of the previous year of 1864, when "Lincoln came under intense pressure from Northern Democrats to strike a live-and-let-live peace deal with the rebels. He resisted, in no small measure because he was loathe to betray the black Americans who were shedding their own blood in the cause of freedom."

Steve Ford--who had displayed sharp skepticism over the "surge" strategy back in February--
then turned to "our contemporary president, enmeshed in a war that has lasted as long as the Civil War itself," who "surely looks to Lincoln as an example of a commander in chief who stood strong through adversity." President Bush, however, "has not been as keen a judge of his subordinates as Lincoln was. He has tolerated incompetence and arrogant misjudgment, if not outright deception, by those entrusted with prosecuting the Iraq war. His emphasis on personal loyalty has boomeranged. And in an effort to display Lincoln-like resolve, he has been slow to recognize failing policies for what they were."