Wednesday, June 01, 2005

John Burns Seldom Writes About America's Reputation; He Covers The War

John Burns, the great New York Times foreign correspondent, who has been in Baghdad at many key times over recent years, doesn't seem nearly as preoccupied in his war coverage as such NYT columnists as Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert with "the reputation of the United States.".

And there is quite a difference in tone between Burns and the various L.A. Times writers who come and go in Baghdad.

Burns seems to realize more than they that war is usually a series of foul-ups. He depicts a grim situation in Iraq without blaming so much of it on the U.S. military. He describes the situation, as he did in his article on the Baghdad Airport road the other day, without being so judgmental on U.S. tactics. He is consistently hardheaded about the challenge we face, remarking in his Airport road article, "The insurgency has proved to be alarmingly dynamic, with shifting tactics that have earned American commanders' respect, as well as contempt for the rebels' seeming indifference to the fate of civilians, who have been their most numerous victims.".

The L.A. Times foreign editor, Marjorie Miller, had a story on the security situation around the Baghdad Airport about the same time Burns did, and it was a workmanlike piece too. But it certainly would have been appropriate for the L.A. Times to acknowledge on this occasion that it was its foreign editor writing from Baghdad, and it would also, I think, been appropriate to say a little about what she was doing there.

I would hope Miller would be taking steps now to put L.A. Times war coverage on a more professional, seasoned basis, with more focus on the terror and less on mistakes the U.S. military may be making in trying to get a handle on it. This week, the L.A. Times had two long stories in two days on the mistaken arrest of a Sunni political leader. On two consecutive days, the New York Times gave just one and four paragraphs to this, toward the bottom of their stories.

I think it's plain that Burns writes with less animus toward the American military. He doesn't sugarcoat how the war is going, but he's writing more about the fundamentals of the terror attack that has become the salient feature of the war.

Meanwhile, I'm always glad to get comments from readers on what I'm writing in these blogs, but on two recent occasions when I've written about Iraq, I've heard from an anonymous commentator taking me to task for, as he or she put it this week, repeating "the big lie that this war had something to do with terrorism."

The commentator makes the mistake made by a good many people in this country, who reach the conclusion that since no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and since Saddam Hussein never openly claimed any connection to al Queda, that what is happening in Iraq is not part of the War On Terror.

But, if this isn't the War On Terror, why are suicide bombers killing hundreds of people month by month? Why was a Japanese hostage executed the other day? Why is there a series of sectarian killings? And just who are our soldiers fighting in Iraq? Saddam Hussein and his friends may not have overtly been allied to al-Queda before the war began, but they certainly are now, and I am just cynical enough to believe that, actually, they were then. After all, wasn't Saddam publicly paying $25,000 to the families of every suicide bomber in the Holy Land long before the second Gulf War began?

My questioner prefers to talk about our own reputation in Iraq, since there have been instances of U.S. soldiers and intelligence personnel misbehaving. Unfortunately, the commentator is failing to adequately face up to the fact that derelictions by U.S. personnel, which unfortunately do occur in the war, are small indeed compared to the barbarism of the terrorists we are fighting there.

There is not a word from "anonymous" about what will happen should the U.S. be defeated in Iraq, about the danger that terror will spread, the terrorists taking encouragement from their victory, and he or she doesn't mention that just because no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, it doesn't mean that al-Queda isn't working on obtaining such weapons, or wouldn't use them against the U.S. if it acquired them.

No, in fact, we are involved in a high stakes war on terror in Iraq and not only in Iraq. A suicide bombing killed 20 in a mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan, today. Sectarian violence has killed people in Pakistan this week. Two arrests of alleged would-be terrorists have been made inside the U.S. There have been articles about tests of anti-missile weapons for U.S. commercial aircraft pursuant to the well-founded concern that such attacks could occur here..

There is a war on terror going on. We have to fight it. If we ignore it, or try to bug out, or focus only on our own mistakes, then I fear that war can only spread out and get worse.

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