Did you know there was a media roundtable at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad on Wednesday with Army Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin? Not from watching the evening news or reading the mainstream U.S. newspapers. ( A brief account is found on page eleven of the Wall Street Journal.) Austin had some interesting things to say, according to this report:
Today, the Iraqi government is “firmly in control of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul,” Austin said. “We’ve made some significant gains here in terms of security, and we hope that we can continue to build upon those.” Coalition forces in Anbar province are in the process of handing over full control to the central government as well, he added. A major reason for this change is the progression of Iraqi security forces, the general said. Since late March, when major operations began in northern, central and southern Iraq, violence and attack levels in the country have dipped to the lowest point in four years. Attack levels are down more than 90 percent during the past year. And as Iraqi army and police units continue to mature, the coalition and Iraqi government have been able to shift more focus toward central services and other issues affecting Iraqis, according to military officials in Baghdad. “Our efforts in conjunction with the efforts of the Iraqi security forces have been significant in reducing the number of attacks throughout the country,” Austin said. “[Iraqi security forces] have collected up a number of caches, and they’ve also conducted operations in Basra and Amarah. And as we watch that unfold, we see them take out a tremendous amount of lethal accelerants off the battlefield.” Austin said he’s pleased with his force’s hard work, but continues to focus against finishing the fight with al-Qaida in the north and efforts against Iranian-backed “special groups criminals” in the south.
There is still much to be done, Austin concedes:
As security maintains progress, coalition forces have the opportunity to shift more of their efforts toward central services for the Iraqi people, the general said. “We have a long way to go, but we’re here to help ensure the Iraqi security forces provide sustainable security that’s going to allow the government to continue to grow and allow the economy to flourish,” he said.
My first question is: which media outlets attended this roundtable (and presumably others like it) and why don’t their stories get published in the U.S.? My next question: while progress has accelerated recently, this rather extraordinary transformation did not happen overnight, so why weren’t the Democrats in Congress — including those who have been traveling to Iraq — reporting back this same information?
Hmm. Now that I think of it, my two questions are not unrelated. Had the media been reporting the positive military and political developments all along, it is unlikely the Democrats would have gotten away with (let alone, tried) their “see no progress, hear no progress, speak no progress” routine for so long. (And good news is still buried: the Washington Post, for example, notes on page 11 the report of Lt. General James Dubik to lawmakers on Capitol Hill that Iraqi’s army and police will be fully-manned and operational by mid-2009.) Conversely, had Democrats who had access to commanders here and those who went to Iraq been publicly candid about what they were being told, the media might have reported the positive developments as they progressed. And had both of these happened, perhaps we wouldn’t have had to wait until July 2008 for the Democratic presidential nominee to visit Iraq , decide that things really have changed, and maybe alter his position too.
There is good reason to be critical and disturbed about the Bush adminstration’s mishandling of the war for too long. But there are also ample grounds to be deeply disturbed about the hide-the-ball routine played by virtually the entire media and one political party during an election year.
Put differently, what did Barack Obama know about Iraq and when did he know it?