Nailing down a clear picture of the war in Iraq is a work in progress in Washington, D.C. Making it harder is the national media, which is misrepresenting what is happening at boot level, softening the face of the enemy.
If the public cannot get a true view of the brutality and horror the enemy is capable of, then how can it be expected to reasonably assess our involvement? Michael Yon, an independent journalist and Special Forces veteran, went over to Iraq to get the record straight. Yon, who blogs his findings at www.michaelyon-online.com, was inspired after attending the funeral of a high school friend killed in Iraq. Servicemen at the funeral encouraged him to do what the media was not doing: get the full picture.
In December 2004, he first went to Iraq and Afghanistan to blog about what he saw, spending most of the year working as reader-supported war reporter. Yon returned to Iraq this summer and reported on the troop surge, giving readers as close to real-time battlefield reports as possible. His encouraging assessment: "Progress is palpable."
In June, Yon reported on the discovery of about a dozen women and children slaughtered by Al Qaeda and buried in a mass grave. In an abandoned village, with the main road lined with butchered animals, American and Iraqi soldiers found the dead -- including decapitated children.
"Had Al Qaeda murdered the children in front of their parents?" Yon speculated. "Maybe it had been the other way around: Maybe they had murdered the parents in front of the children. Maybe they had forced the father to dig the graves of his children."
The Associated Press, in the same area as Yon, barely reported on the discovery. If I were President Bush, faced with public -- and, increasingly, Republican Party -- opposition to the war, I'd quote from Yon: "I told the Iraqi commander, Capt. Baker, that it was important that Americans see this; he took me around the graves and showed more than I wanted to see." (Yon posted disturbing images of the gravesite.)
To let the American people know why we are still fighting, I would also quote from Yon when he relayed an account about families in Baqubah that were reportedly served their young sons, baked and stuffed, for lunch by Al Qaeda. Not for the sake of sensationalism and horror; simply because this is the evil that we face.
This is not about promoting melodrama for political gain or endorsing some ghoulish voyeurism for gore lovers. This is about not hiding or softening or obfuscating the true nature of our enemy.
This is not to say the battle for public opinion is lost. If only responsible politicians and media outlets would tell the whole story: about our progress, as well as our defeats, and about the brutality of the enemy that seeks to kill us in Iraq and in the Untied States.
For his part, Yon tells me from Baqubah: "This is a war that will be won or lost largely in the media arena." Yon says, "I stay because we might lose this war, but we can still 'win.'"
The story just has to get out before the people back home surrender.