Here?s a Scoop

Posted: May 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Journalists want to talk about ?news,? not ?olds.? If a story broke two days ago, it?s not likely to get coverage today unless there?s a new angle to discuss. And that?s a shame sometimes, because when a story has been insufficiently covered, you wish they?d revisit it.

For example, on May 15, insurgents attacked an American military convoy. No, that?s not really news. But the fact that they used a shell containing the nerve gas sarin should have been. Sarin is so powerful that just a tiny amount can kill instantly. But this discovery didn?t fit the media template that ?there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.? So it enjoyed very little coverage.

USA Today put the story on page 10. The Wall Street Journal mentioned it on page 4. In The New York Times, the news was buried on page 11. Plus a Times editorial pooh-poohed the sarin, claiming ?finding some residual weapons that had escaped a large-scale destruction program would be no great surprise.?

Former chief weapons inspector David Kay also fell into line. ?It?s more of a technical violation, and it does not relate to a weapons of mass destruction program,? he told NPR. ?I would not be surprised if there were 100 of these scattered around Iraq someplace.?

Whoa. Another hundred chemical weapons? Now, there?s some news.

Plus, back in January, Kay told London?s Sunday Telegraph, ?We know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam?s WMD program.?

So we may have another 100 chemical weapons floating around Iraq, plus an untold number in Syria. That?s a lot more firepower than Osama bin Laden had when he killed 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11. Exactly how many chemical weapons does a country need before it has what the media will consider a ?program??
And while we?re discussing the media and Iraq, maybe it?s time for a new look at an old story: why the war was worthwhile.

First, Saddam Hussein was a terrorist. He paid blood money to Palestinian suicide bombers who killed Israelis, and he would have killed Americans if he could have.

 Second, our Iraq policy wasn?t working. We?d had ?no-fly? zones in place since 1991, and they hadn?t contained Saddam. Every day, our forces were at risk. We were spending money and asking our pilots to risk death, for no gain. It only makes sense that, if you attempt a policy that repeatedly fails, you try something else. Because we did, Saddam?s no longer in a ?box,? as Madeleine Albright frequently claimed. He?s in a cell.

 Third, we?ve heard a lot about how unpopular this war has made us overseas. That may or may not be true. But in the long run, we?ve actually strengthened a key international institution: The United Nations.

After all, the U.N. passed some 18 resolutions ordering Saddam to disarm. But when it came time to back up its words with force, the world body wasn?t interested. By actually going to war and removing Saddam, the Bush administration did more to bolster the influence of the U.N. than those 13 years of sanctions did.

In fact, what the U.N. had actually done, through its corrupt Oil-for-Food program, was make Saddam richer than ever. He spent a lot of that treasure on palaces for himself, even as his people starved to death. He was a Weapon of Mass Destruction to the 300,000 Iraqis he killed over three decades in power.
He had to go. Without him, there?s a chance for Iraq to have a positive future.
And on the narrower question of ?will the Muslim world hate us because of Iraq,? the answer must be ?No.? The United States has done more for Muslims than any Islamic nation has.

Here at home, they enjoy complete religious freedom. Plus, we?ve sent Americans to fight for Muslims in Kosovo and to die for Muslims in Bosnia. Because of American intervention, Muslim women are now free to attend school in Afghanistan and Muslim men may run for office in Iraq.

It?s true that too often we?ve tied ourselves to wayward Muslim governments, and that can anger the Islamic ?man on the street.? Pre-1979 Iran comes to mind, and so does contemporary Saudi Arabia.

But today, in Iraq as in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, we?ve tied ourselves to Muslim people. We?re helping them. In the long run, they?ll understand that and appreciate that.

There?s plenty of ?news? coming out of Iraq today, from roadside bombings to prison abuses. But sometimes, the information we ought to already know also deserves to be news. We seldom hear that Iraq is better off today that it was under Saddam. But it is. Stop the presses.