For the last couple of weeks, I have traveled the region to get a view from the Americans and from Iraqis. I wanted to know if things were as bad as portrayed in the media.
And I have to say two things. Well . . . Yes, things are as bad as portrayed in the media in that the bad things they show are taking place. In fact, sectarian violence is increasing. As a results, many more Iraqis are being killed and injured on all sides since the attack on Samarra. In fact, things are pretty terrible. I went on multiple patrols and saw anger and violence against Americans. When the IED exploded in our convoy, I saw the dirt fly. I felt the explosion. I know that somebody very close to where I was wanted all of us to die. But it didn't happen. One man was injured and I still think about that!
At the same time, where the media has sometimes failed is in providing context and showing some of the good things that are also going on here. And there absolutely are good things going on.
Remember, truth is truth.
Wells are being dug. Schools are being built. Hospitals are being upgraded. But I guess that is not newsworthy, unless you are sick and couldn't go to the hosptial. Or if you are a kid who used to go to school on a mud floor and now you don't have to. That seems pretty newsworthy to me!
I talked with the Army Corps of Engineers and have looked first hand at some of the rebuilding that is going on. More than 3000 projects are taking place as we speak, including schools, hospitals, and other public works products. What the media often fails to acknowledge is that this country was rotting from the inside out when the US invaded in 2003. Therefore, we didn't just start at ground level.
We started in a six foot hole.
Maybe the fact that both things are going on is not a clean picture. The media sometimes doesn't like that. It's true. We like nice clean soundbites. But what happens when a story, or a war in this case, can't be put in a small soundbite.
I should add that sometimes the American people don't have the most patience. I'm certainly not telling you anything new. But from a realistic point of view, sometimes things take longer than any of us would like. Now, whether the policy itself that put us here is a good one, or how the war is being conducted is a smart one, I suspect that is open to debate. And I also think that it is patriotic to have that debate. But my decision to go to Iraq was fact finding as much as anything else for me.
My intention was never to go to Iraq with the specific intent to support or refute the US government policies. In fact I suspect that what I have reported probably does a little bit of each. And maybe that is as it should be. Because the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
We are doing good but the bad is continuing. Are we doing enough good is maybe the question? The second is more specific. Are those that want us out gaining ground or losing? Are we going the right direction?
In addition to the elections, a second major event took place today as well. Operation Swarmer is the largest air assault operation since 2003. It is taking place north of Baghdad in areas like Samarra, Balad and elsewhere.
I had a chance to sit down with Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Commanding General of Joint Operational Forces in Iraqi. He told be that the Americans are working hard with the Iraqi Army (IA) to establish joint operations and to provide additional training to the Iraqis so that they can continue to improve.
The drive behind Swarmer appears to be an acknowledgement that the insurgency has been gaining ground and that if the coalition forces fail to respond, it may gain additional footholds throughout the country.
If the so-called unity government and Swarmer both succeed, more stability should result and ethnic tensions should lessen. However, if either fails, Iraq may be in a very tough position. There are those including foreign fighters and domestic insurgents that are hoping for failure. However, many in this country simply want a safe place to raise their families.
Who will win this fight remains to be seen. But what is certain is that the only way home for seom 140,000 is a more stable regime. I have seen confidence in our troops. But whether that will be enough as we pass the three year mark is truly very hard to say.
All I can say is that this trip has been life altering for me. I was regularly impressed with are men and women in uniform. I was also impressed with the amount rebuilding that has been accomplished. Finally, I was saddened by the continuing violence that grips this country.
No easier answers. No easier answers. But I guess if I gave you one, one that would fit into a sound bite, then I would be lying like the rest.