Iraq isn't the big story this month. Gas prices are. In May, the Associated Press reported, U.S. military deaths plunged to the lowest monthly level in four years and civilian casualties were down sharply, too. Gasoline also hit $4 a gallon. And you don't see as many "No war for oil" bumper stickers as you used to.
The success of the Bush surge -- with Iraqi forces having led offensives in three major cities and taking on Shiite militias -- has been greeted in America with a collective shrug. "My perhaps overly cynical view is that it's probably too much to hope for -- a lot of good news stories coming out of Iraq," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said during a recent conference call. But also, with the al-Maliki government clearing once dangerous areas and violence dropping, "Iraq no longer occupies the status as the overarching, all-encompassing crisis that requires full national attention."
Reporters based in Iraq have seen improvements. NBC News' Richard Engel told the New York Observer about a recent trip to Najaf, "I was walking around the city doing interviews, without any kind of security or back up at all. That felt great. I hadn't done that in years. A Chinese restaurant, takeout, just opened up down the street from our bureau. There were no businesses opening in '06 and '07. People are getting out more. You see more people on the streets going to markets. When I go to do interviews, I can stay longer."
And yet, there is a "marked drop-off in the appetite for stories from Iraq," ABC news' Terry McCarthy told the Observer. "That's partly due to the election, partly because of the fatigue, and partly because things have started to go right here. The spectacular car bombs, the massive attacks, you just don't see them anymore. A drip, drip story that's getting a little better day by day doesn't make a headline."
CNN's Michael Ware calls it "audience fatigue." Other journalists, who have risked their lives covering the war, complain that Americans aren't paying attention to their stories on Iraq.
If reporters think their work is unappreciated, imagine how U.S. troops in Iraq feel. They're working miracles -- to insufficient applause.
Four years ago, before the U.S. troop death toll hit 1,000 in September 2004, the war was the moral issue. When liberal Democrats were trying to take over Congress in 2006, they used the war to clobber President Bush and told America that if they were in power, the war would end. Well, they took control of Congress, and the war continues. So now there are fewer political points to be won banging the war.
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