One of the big buzzes in the blogosphere these days is a set of photographs by a reporter from the AP of the execution of several election workers, which I remarked on a few days ago in passing. The Belmont Club has been following the story closely and asking hard questions about how, exactly, a report from the the AP happened to be in position to take the pictures and so unconcerned about his own safety. It makes me wonder at what point will I simply stop wondering about such things and just assume that most Old Media organizationsa are acting as propaganda arms of the caliphascists?
Early this month my journalist friend was back in town and we ended up having a discussion about the Middle East which was actually interesting and non-confrontational, despite our strongly divergent opinions. Her main complaints were
I’m not going to talk much about the former because frankly I wasn’t paying attention to what a bunch of politicians had to say on the matter. I had long abandoned main stream news by that point. My view remains that for all of the Bush administration spinning, they still played better with the facts of the matter than their political opponents and certainly far more so than Old Media.
As for the aftermath, I think that’s an area where one can legitimately criticize. I don’t, however, get too worked up about it for several reasons (all of which occurred to me long after my discussion with my friend had ended).
I will avoid the trope of “nothing goes perfectly” and consider instead the more realistic question of — what were the superior alternatives? I am not thinking of plans here, but of factions and people who would have controlled the process. It’s so easy to write out a plan, or even to take plans from other people, but who would have carried them out? The UN? The State Department? I still think that most of what Bremer got wrong was due to too much influence from the State Department and Congressional oversight1. The defeatism and obstructionism of President Bush’s political opponent is a big reason many of us support Bush, even if we have strong disagreements because the alternatives have made themselves even worse.
The other point, which I think is the stronger one, is that the problems with the reconstruction in Iraq are essentially caused not by Coalition mismanagement but the actions of group of well funded violent psychopaths with active propaganda support from Old Media. Yet even my friend didn’t view them as the problem, seeing them as a natural outgrowth of mistakes by the Bush administration. I see now that it was a classic example of denying moral agency to non-Americans, that the actions of the Iraqis and the caliphascists are not based on their own interest and decisions but are solely re-actions to American actions.
I sometimes wonder if this isn’t another aspect of the liberal mindset not being able to come to grips with the tragic vision, that not everything and everyone is within our power to control. This is the essential argument of the “mis-handled” theory, that ultimately it is Bush’s responsibility to prevent the vicious attacks in Iraq, not the attackers to be civilized or the Iraqis to help. In the liberal view, if Bush and company had only provided the right incentives and mix of programs, the caliphascists would not have tried to disrupt and destroy the potential Iraqi civil society through violence and murder. Somehow I just cannot bring myself to believe that.
1 One of the more interesting complaints from my friend (who, by the way, was actually in Iraq on assignment right after the invasion) was that the CPA managed to get the worst of both worlds on spending money on the reconstruction. A few favored large companies (such as Halliburton) got no-bid, minimal oversight contracts while all of the other companies had to suffer through Congressional committee oversight and maximal red-tape. In addition, she claimed, the favored companies got to cherry-pick projects without regard to proper sequencing, i.e. it doesn’t help much to put up a new school if there’s no sewer and electrical infrastructure. I don’t have any other sources for this claim but it wouldn’t surprise me. I do know that the CERP funds were ill-managed at the high levels in this kind of way.