Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In the Media: Declaring "Game Over" in Iraq Over and Over Again

Tom Hanks in Cast Away (© 2000 Twentieth Century Fox and Dreamworks LLC. All Rights Reserved)When it comes to Iraq, the media loves broad-stroke narratives. In recent years we've watched the pendulum of U.S. media coverage swing from "mission accomplished" to "mission impossible."

Yet the reality has always remained somewhere in between. Iraq’s emergence from devastating tyranny, sanctions, wars and occupation was never going to be “a cake walk,” nor hopeless. The former has already been proven wrong, and the latter does a terrible injustice to all Iraqis as well as U.S. soldiers and international aid workers. It tells them we would rather let homegrown terrorists and foreign fighters speak for Iraq using car bombs and death squads, rather than listen to the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of Iraqis who abhor the killing of noncombatants and want to see an end to violence.

If Iraq’s population included only car bombers, death squads and the victims of both, then yes, the country would be without hope. Fortunately, Iraq has many brave souls struggling to make a difference in every sector of society and every city and province. The problem is not that they don’t exist, but that the media has a difficult time reporting on their efforts without exposing them to threats and attacks from criminal gangs and violent extremists.

Reading the broad-stroke newspaper headlines, sub-headers and captions these days, one gets the distinct impression we’re all presiding over the funeral of Iraq. Every day another nail is driven into the coffin. For example, here’s the blurb that the New York Times Magazine used to describe Nir Rosen’s ace reporting on Iraq’s refugee crisis: “Millions of Iraqis have fled their country, creating the largest Mideast refugee problem since 1948 -- and depriving Iraq of the very people who might have rebuilt it.”

Might have rebuilt it?! Yep folks, the gig is up. Iraq will never be rebuilt: time to throw in the towel and watch the country burn from a safer distance. Good grief!?

While we can all agree (save perhaps one lonely President) that the war in Iraq has created the worst displacement crisis we’ve seen in the Middle East since the formation of Israel, it’s a little premature to declare: “Game Over.” It’s far from over, and as we’ve seen time and time again in places such as East Timor and the former Yugoslavia, even the most hopeless tragedies can be transformed into brighter futures. Perhaps not in time for the 5 o’clock news or the next Presidential election, but eventually a brighter day will dawn.

Wilson the Volleyball in Cast Away (© 2000 Twentieth Century Fox and Dreamworks LLC. All Rights Reserved)As Ed Chigliak of Northern Exposure might have put it, just look at Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Lost on an island with nothing to keep him company but his volleyball named Wilson, you’d think the man would succumb to despair. But instead, at that pivotal moment of the film, he says to Wilson: "Gotta keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide may bring?"

Indeed, tomorrow the sun will rise. And who knows what the tide may bring for Iraq?


Wishful said...

Be careful what you wish for. The rising sun may bring an incoming tide that is a tsunami.

jt said...

Color me impressed! Nice one Gustafson! You totally pulled me in with Tom Hank's picture & then I was a goner. Really enjoyed reading this. Maybe the the sun hasn't set for Iraq yet!

Anonymous said...

If just one story, just one, of the Iraqui forces rising to the call and truly defending their people could be reported, we would feel a lot better. Too many stories of them breaking rank and running or turning their backs because it wasn't "one of them". The people just have no reliable security. Who would want to speak up?

Erik K. Gustafson said...

Re: Anonymous, indeed there are hero stories. There are Iraqis not breaking ranks. There are stories of the Iraqi fallen. While you may rarely find such accounts on the frontpage or among lead stories, we hope to fill that gap through this blog and our Ground Truth Project.

Geoff Schaefer said...

Erik is right - just because it isn't reported doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Sure, examples of progress are harder to find, but we DO find them. That should give us a little bit of hope and drive in and of itself. The fact that we can point to examples in our Ground Truth Project should demonstrate the need for us to shift the light onto these stories and start developing our solutions around these small successes. If it worked somewhere in the country, it has to work somewhere else right? We need to keep staying positive because if that hope drops, then our minds shut off creative ideas that can take these small successes and blow them up to a more all-encompassing level. And why would we want to shy away from that?

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