The failure brigade

Posted: Oct 17, 2003 12:00 AM

There is a marked tendency among those on the left to believe the worst about the United States. This is particularly true when it comes to military action.

Before the war in Afghanistan, the failure chorus warned that Afghan fighters had withstood the mighty British and Soviet empires, that the winter weather would paralyze our troops and that the Taliban could count of the aid of Islamists worldwide. Before the Iraq War, the negativity brigade warned darkly that our troops would be subject to poison gas or chemical attack (yes, the same people who are now loudly proclaiming that Iraq never possessed those weapons); that the Israelis would be drawn into the conflict thus igniting a larger regional war; that Muslims worldwide would unite against us; that the price of oil would skyrocket; that Iraq's oil fields would burn out of control creating an environmental catastrophe; and that patriotic feeling would cause the Iraqis to fight to the death against us just as the Russians had fought the Nazis at Stalingrad.

Once the war had begun, many in the press declared that we had become bogged down in a quagmire after only a few days of fighting. When the Iraqi armed forces capitulated in the south, we were told that this was a clever way to draw us into a sustained "house by house" battle in Baghdad that would take months or years to win, if we won at all.

When Baghdad fell just three weeks after the war had begun, we were told that not since Nebuchadnezzar's time had Baghdad experienced such a terrible spate of looting and crime. The United States and Britain had just demonstrated that an enlightened coalition could liberate a nation enslaved by a tyrant in three weeks with very few civilian casualties, very little damage to the nation's infrastructure and extremely low casualties for the coalition itself. But the news media in Britain and the United States were singing lamentations.

Where oh where were the precious antiquities from the Iraqi Museum? (They were all fine, it turns out.) Why is the electricity still not functioning properly? Why are there shortages of water? What about the street crime?

Once each problem is solved, a new lament is discovered. I must say I predicted this back in February. It was just after Baghdad fell, and there was rejoicing in the streets. I was giving a talk at the local Barnes and Noble bookstore (it was on C-SPAN) and was asked, "What will the liberals say now?" I responded, "Well, in about a month they'll be complaining that Iraq is not yet a functioning democracy."

Does this drumbeat of negativity have any effects? I think it does. The first baleful effect is that the press is failing in its duty to provide the news straight. Yes, there are ambushes on our soldiers and bombings of embassies, and these must be covered. And there is a certain amount of lawlessness, and that, too, should be reported. But there are a great many aspects of the rebuilding of Iraq that the press is failing to convey.

More than 45 countries have offered military assistance in rebuilding Iraq, and that number now rises with this week's Security Council resolution pledging more aid. Thirty thousand Iraqis have traveled to Hungary for military and police training. The United States is training thousands of Iraqi police, with 34,000 already on the job. It isn't quick or easy to find suitable police in a country where, for 30 years, eligibility was determined by family or political connections -- to say nothing of a willingness to commit any human rights abuse in the name of the regime.

U.S. and international efforts are also rebuilding sports stadiums, schools, hospitals and power grids. They are doing so in the face of sabotage and murder. A little appreciation from home could go a long way.

Moreover, the Saddamists and Islamists who have gathered in Iraq to defeat us are not acting irrationally. They have historical reasons to believe that if they can inflict enough casualties on the United States, we will run. They cite Somalia, Lebanon and Vietnam.

What we are doing in Iraq is right morally and strategically. And it is succeeding on the ground. But the press has the power to distort reality. By presenting an overly bleak picture of the challenges we face, they can demoralize us.