Michael Totten, blogging from Baghdad, has a fascinating look at life in one Baghdad neighborhood:
“This is not what I expected in Baghdad,” I said.
“Most of what we’re doing doesn’t get reported in the media,” he said. “We’re not fighting a war here anymore, not in this area. We’ve moved way beyond that stage. We built a soccer field for the kids, bought all kinds of equipment, bought them school books and even chalk. Soon we’re installing 1,500 solar street lamps so they have light at night and can take some of the load off the power grid. The media only covers the gruesome stuff. We go to the sheiks and say hey man, what kind of projects do you want in this area? They give us a list and we submit the paperwork. When the projects get approved, we give them the money and help them buy stuff.”
Not everything they do is humanitarian work, unless you consider counter-terrorism humanitarian work. In my view, you should. Few Westerners think of personal security as a human right, but if you show up in Baghdad I’ll bet you will. Personal security may, in fact, be the most important human right. Without it the others mean little. People aren’t free if they have to hide in their homes from death squads and car bombs.
The “surge” is making progress, but that progress is normally hidden from public view by a media unwilling to report on it. Not all Iraq is as peaceful as the Graya’at neighborhood of Adhamiyah, or we wouldn’t be needed. The goal is to make as much of Iraq like Graya’at so that we aren’t needed any more.
What’s more important to note is that the kind of work being done here, interacting with local Iraqis and developing networks that help us identify and stop the terrorists, can’t be done from Kuwait or Okinawa or by a Predator drone flying at 35,000 feet. If we don’t have a presence in Iraq, we can’t do the things necessary to make life better for the people of Graya’at or anywhere else in Iraq. At the same time, terrorists will have unfettered access and will turn Iraq into another Afghanistan — a totalitarian hellhole in which radically austere Islamic law is enforced with the barrel of a gun or the blade of a knife.
For all the talk about how there’s no “military solution” to Iraq, most of what goes on in Iraq isn’t combat — it’s the sort of economic and political development activity that Totten witnessed in Graya’at. That sort of local-level development is ultimately what matters most in democratizing Iraq — a state can have the best-designed government ever put in place, but still fail as a democracy unless there is a civil society to support it. The goal of the “insurgency” in Iraq has been to disrupt the formation of civil society in Iraq by keeping everyone in fear — and slowly but surely that campaign is failing.
Totten’s on-the-ground reporting is exactly the sort of thing that the mainstream media should be doing — but have largely chosen not to. We in the States don’t get a balanced picture of what happens in Iraq, and most people are basing their opinions off of misinformation, disinformation, and gut-level feelings based on those faulty premises. If the American people truly knew what was going on in Iraq and could see it for themselves, those polling numbers would be the exact opposite of what they are now. That’s a message I’ve heard time and time again from those who have been in Iraq, and thankfully independent journalists like Michael Totten are doing the critical work of getting the fuller picture out.