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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Every Four Years, the World Disappears

Hillary, Barack, Johnny Ed, Rudy, Johny Mac, Mitt, Ron... The primaries seem to be sucking up all the air in the media. The primaries are fun, infuriating, and goofy all at once. We wait for someone to do something stupid, wait for someone to say something wise (sadly, a rarity), and wait for Rudy to say 9/11 -- then we all do a shot.

But there's still a war on. Two in fact. Candidates talk about war a lot, but lately that's been about all the coverage of it we've been getting. Once again, the mainstream media drops the ball. You'd think that in a 24 hour news cycle, they'd be able to jam a little war news in there.

In Iraq, it wasn't all that long ago that we got this good news -- October 15th, 2007, in fact:

Many U.S. military commanders in Iraq believe they have dealt a large enough blow to al Qaeda in Iraq to declare victory over the group, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The Iraq franchise of Osama bin Laden's terror network has been deemed the deadliest threat facing American forces and their allies since shortly after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

U.S. generals tout recent successes against the Sunni militants as evidence that al Qaeda in Iraq, known by the acronym AQI, may have been dealt a blow from which it cannot recover.

That's right, we were winning Bush's Global War on Terror in Iraq. Never mind that there wasn't an AQI before we showed up. We had them on the run and out. A total rout. Beaten. Defeated. Gone forever. Boo-Ya!

One of the underreported news stories, pushed off to the side because Hillary "cried" maybe, is that those triumphant "Al Qaeda Defeated in Iraq!" headlines were a little premature.

L.A. Times:

Under cover of darkness Tuesday, American soldiers crept across a bridge where just days before insurgents had left a chilling warning: a severed head with a message identifying the Iraqi victim as a U.S. collaborator scrawled across the forehead with a black marker.

Through the biting cold, the troops crunched down a winding gravel road, past frost-glazed reeds, empty storefronts and spacious homes surrounded by orange and pomegranate trees. Inside, anxious families told them about the masked gunmen who have ruled their lives, less than a mile from where the U.S. military has maintained a small outpost in recent months.

About 4,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces, backed by warplanes and attack helicopters, swept into the northern Diyala River Valley overnight in the opening salvo of the latest effort to flush the Sunni Arab militant network al Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliates out of their havens, the U.S. military said.

In addition to this news, the World Health Organization tells us, "An average of 120 Iraqi adults died a violent death every day in the three years following the US-led invasion of March 2003..." No word on kids.

Bush tells us things are improving in Iraq, but the truth is that he's being extremely selective in the stories he gives us as proof. An Associated Press reporter sat in on a White House briefing with Iraq envoys. "The situations the leaders reported ranged from the dire to the celebratory," CBS and AP reported yesterday. It seems that things are either good or really, really bad. It all depends on where you are in Iraq.

John Jones, the provisional reconstruction team leader in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, gaped in awe at the report from another team leader, Angus Simmons. Simmons had talked about all the ways his team was helping boost tourism in the southern province of Najaf, home to holy sites, including assisting the Iraqis' dream of a new airport. It was a situation unimaginable to Jones in his area, which has become a messy new stronghold for extremists who have been pushed out of Anbar province by the increased U.S. troop presence there.

That'd be the Diyala province where we're now fighting the previously soundly defeated al Qaeda in Iraq. "We're still struggling," Jones said. "The key thing for us is we're making small steps." The AP reporter says that Jones' "biggest victory" was "getting access from the provincial governor." Wow...

In Afghanistan, Bush is planning a "mini-surge" of 3,000 Marines to help fight a resurgent Taliban. AP reports that "Afghanistan experienced a record level of violence in 2007, with more than 6,500 people killed."

Despite all of this, what's the big foreign news lately? An Iranian boat may or may not have done something freaky. Frankly, I'd take either side of that story with a grain of salt -- neither Iran nor the Bush administration have any credibility. Either way, no shots were fired, no one was hurt, nothing actually happened. "If it bleeds, it leads," is apparently no longer a rule for the media. The media is now where propaganda wars are fought. Actual wars are being pretty thoroughly ignored.

During election campaigns, the media seems to forget that the rest of the world exists. Iraq's heating up, Afghanistan's heating up, and we're talking about Mitt Romney's hair. If any of these war stories are news to you, then the mainstream media has failed you. In a perfect world, even if you only rely on one TV news broadcast a day, a scan of the headlines in your paper or listen to the news breaks on the radio on your way home, you'd know this stuff.

And too many people don't. Yet, if John McCain trips on a sidewalk or Barack Obama accidentally wears two different socks, you'll know all about it -- everyone will. It seems to me that if they stopped focusing on this stupid minutia, they'd have time to cover things that are actually important. If the primary coverage were about the issues and policy differences -- you know, the stuff that actually matters -- we'd know all about what was going on in the big wide world. Instead, we're mostly ignorant for eleven freakin' months or more every four years.

We do need to know about the campaign, but we don't need to know everything about the campaign. If Rudy Giuliani visits a petting zoo or Mitt Romney gets another of his daily haircuts, I don't freakin' need to know about it.

We need to know about the world. It doesn't stop existing every four years.


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