This blog posting from IraqPundit caught my eye yesterday and I thought it was very important to share some of it here.
Maybe this is a good time to pass along more such news, not to “refute” the Times‘ portrait of Baghdad as a city of fear (it’s certainly that), but to demonstrate the chasm between the Times’ approach to Iraq now, and Iraqis’ view of our own troubled country.
I spoke to an aunt in Baghdad the other day. She and her husband live in a mixed area that locals call “The Judges’ Neighborhood.” They and their neighbors have seen a lot of terrible violence, and have experienced far more than their share of fear.
I’ve talked with this aunt frequently, and while she’s always tried to sound as if she and her husband will be just fine, this recent call was different. This time, she had palpable optimism in her voice. For the first time in a long, long time, she told me, she and the people around her feel that things might turn out okay after all.
Soldiers have been going door to door, she said, trying to locate those who had been chased away from their homes, to help them return. People are coming back to the neighborhood; daily life on the streets in her quarter is beginning to assume an air of routine. Her friends and neighbors are increasingly hopeful that things are taking a meaningful turn for the better. For them at least, the latest security crackdown is showing signs of success.
Are my aunt and her neighbors kidding themselves out of desperation? That’s possible; it’s hard to live without hope, and people can be creative at manufacturing reasons to be optimistic. (Though the truth is that Iraqis are not, as a rule, an optimistic group, and are inclined by cultural habit to see things darkly. But that’s another story.) It’s true that the murderers in Iraq are still at work. On the other hand, I’m far more inclined to take seriously a picture of Baghdad that comes from a life-long Baghdadi than one coming from a Westerner who has parachuted into town for a while, and who doesn’t speak the language.
Yet Iraqis who desperately want to lead normal lives are not the only ones with an incentive to interpret events in their own interests. If one listens to the usual suspects among certain journalists, academics, and politicians, the ongoing crackdown is futile and doomed to fail. But that’s a conclusion that many of these figures reached even before the security sweep began. In other words, some of the crackdown’s critics have created incentives, professional and personal, to perceive Iraqi and American failure. People can be creative at manufacturing reasons to be pessimistic, too.
I don’t know whether the Baghdad crackdown will ultimately succeed, but I know that so far it has benefited at least a pair of communities where my own relatives live. I hope that greater security and a sense of peaceful routine soon spreads throughout Baghdad, and allows the city’s many communities – there are more than two – to resume living in trust. And I’ll let those who see things differently speak for themselves.
But wait….there’s more! Michael Yon, who by any account is the most seasoned War on Terror correspondent, has this latest dispatch: Meanwhile.
With the odometer running over many embeds, Mellinger has taken me about 4,000 miles (total) up and down Iraqi roads, visiting units from north to south, east to west, showing that the military truly opens their doors to writers who will stick it out. They don’t even have to like you: my fights with the Army are well-known, yet they continue to open their doors. There’s a lesson in there. I wrote that Iraq was in a civil war shortly after covering the first elections. I wrote about commanders who did poorly, and ISF units that couldn’t shoot straight, and I wrote about the veneer of victory in Afghanistan cracking under the weight of a poppy-fueled Taliban resurgence. Yet they still let me in.
It’s a reminder of why I am so proud of my country, despite our many problems. It’s also a caution about why we must stick with our people who have been mostly abandoned at war. I understand the position of the journalists. Especially the ones who get blown up or shot at fairly regularly, but the informed interest of ordinary Americans is critical to the outcome of this war. And the truth is that our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of whom rarely (if ever) see a writer, are abandoned by default.
Low morale in a particular unit can be the result of poor leadership in that unit, or just not getting mail, for instance. But gauging morale is not a simple affair of asking a few soldiers. A person has to live with them across Iraq. Having done so, my opinion is that overall troop morale is good to high. (If their morale could be bottled, it would probably would sell like crack, then be outlawed.)
And, finally, can you believe THIS from NBC News King Brian Williams?
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Now I want to ask you the big question. How is the surge going in Baghdad?
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Well, I’ll tell you. It`s in its early stages and with – if you mention the so-called surge, you have to talk about it in tandem with this new policy of these small outposts, these – what they are really is glorified police stations.
We saw it today in Ramadi. There is patently no way a few weeks ago we could have stood outside an armored vehicle and had a conversation as we did today in Ramadi.
They have changed policy there. The war has changed.
Is it better? That’ll be for other people to judge. But it is already being felt here, that is, the increase in troops. The first ones are already here.
There’s a huge field behind us they are clearing for the 3rd Infantry, for their next tour of duty here. And so, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s on a continuum.
But, again, the combination, with this change in policy – getting out, decentralizing, going into the neighborhoods, grabbing a toehold, telling the enemy we’re here, start talking to the locals – that is having an obvious and palpable effect.
MATTHEWS: Do they – have you been there long enough, Brian, this time over, to sense whether it’s different than the last time you were there?
WILLIAMS: Already there are some obvious differences in security in some spots. It doesn’t take that long on the ground to instantly compare it to previous visits. So, yes.
We covered a lot of ground in one day. And when you travel with a three star and a Black Hawk, you can do that. We had a lot of heavy armor on the ground to facilitate our travels.
Still a very dangerous place. There are pockets of peace and serenity where the soldiers can go to relax, the contractors can do their jobs.
But yes, Chris, all of them revolving around the issue of security. There are some very obvious differences, starting with the arrival at the airport.
MATTHEWS: Has there been any cost to morale? And again, it’s a hard one to get perhaps this quickly after a couple of days there, Brian.
But the British withdrawal of troops from Basra, are people feeling we`re out there on point all alone as a country now?
WILLIAMS: I heard no talk of that, and that’s all I can speak to.
Today, the message that we’re prepared to report tonight on “NBC Nightly News” is this kind of tale of two wars.
I’m fresh from, you know, weeks of putting together “NBC Nightly News” and televising this debate in Washington, a lot of members of Congress saying we should be out now.
And today, we literally airlift into a place like Ramadi, where they are so proud of the latest city block they say they have been able to “peacify.” They have been able to forge an agreement with the local religious leaders and knock al Qaeda one city block further away from the center of town.
They are so involved in the battle. Many, many soldiers told me today the local people are so worried they’re going to leave cities like Ramadi and Hit. That’s the war they know.
And they say very politely, they can talk all they want in D.C.; we’ve got to enforce the policy, the job we’re here to do.
Well, Brian’s shrill TV colleague Keith Olbermann must be having a continuous stroke over all of this positive news!