Our mainstream mass media are serving us poorly, and it doesn't really matter if your politics makes you see them as "corporate media" or as "liberal media" (an idea, I must admit, that I've found laughable and unsupported for a quarter of a century, during which time I spent nearly two decades working at NBC News -- vapid, shallow, obnoxiously self-righteous, yes. Liberal, no). What everyone seems to agree upon, however, is just what a terrible job our mainstream mass media are doing informing us about the world.
That's a start. I hope we can accelerate this process a bit, because people are dying, and we need to know about it so we can do something about it.
To that end I will tell you about a new report, Accepting Realities in Iraq by Gareth Stansfield of Britain's Chatham House (one of the world's leading organizations for the analysis of international issues) and the University of Exeter.
The report argues that US policy in Iraq must change to face a number of realities to which the Bush administration has been blind up until now. Among these realities, the report claims that(emphases mine):
• There is not ‘a’ civil war in Iraq, but many civil wars and insurgencies involving a number of communities and organizations struggling for power. The surge is not curbing the high level of violence, and improvements in security cannot happen in a matter of months.This all jibes pretty closely with a recent Speigel interview with Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, former Professor of National Security Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, and respected military historian.
• The conflicts have become internalized between Iraqis as the polarization of sectarian and ethnic identities reaches ever deeper into Iraqi society and causes the breakdown of social cohesion.
• Critical destabilizing issues will come to the fore in 2007–8. Federalism, the control of oil and control of disputed territories need to be resolved.
• Each of Iraq’s three major neighbouring states, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, has different reasons for seeing the instability there continue, and each uses different methods to influence developments.
• These current harsh realities need to be accepted if new strategies are to have any chance of preventing the failure and collapse of Iraq. A political solution will require engagement with organizations possessing popular legitimacy and needs to be an Iraqi accommodation, rather than a regional or US-imposed approach.
Biddle told der Speigel that the war we're fighting in Iraq is not an insurgency at all:
You know, you have to fight the war you've got, not the war you wish you had. And we should be fighting a real war on terror, not doing our part to further Al Qa'ida's goals. To wit: Michael Jacobson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy points out that while the Bush administration's "Iraq policy" (if it can be called that) in the past has conformed to the classic insurgency approach, resulting in a 25% increase in casualties between 2005 and 2006, a new approach might be presenting itself> Citing the State Department's annual report on global terrorism developments, Country Reports on Terrorism 2006, Jacobson observes that (my emphases):
...the classical strategy for waging counter insurgency is oriented around winning hearts and minds. You engage in a process of political reform in which you introduce democracy to make the government's ideas legitimate. You engage in a campaign of economic development assistance. And you try and train an indigenous military to wage the war. All those strategies are what the Bush Administration's approach to Iraq has been. They make some sense, if the problem you are trying to solve is a classical ideological insurgency. Except, Iraq is not.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is then?
Biddle: It's a communal civil war in which the war is not fought over a set of ideas. Rather, it is about the survival and self interest of communal groups within the nominal state. Sunnis are not fighting for an idea of what's best for all Iraqis; they are not trying to persuade Shiites that a Sunni government would be good for them. They are fighting for the self interest of Sunnis against the self interest of Shiites -- and vice versa. Because it is not a war of ideas you cannot expect to win it by changing people's minds. It's a war of identity. Identities can't change in the way minds can.
While the United States still must eliminate the leadership of terrorist organizations, the report notes that "incarcerating or killing terrorists will not achieve an end to terrorism." According to the report, one of the most important and challenging aspects of combating terrorism is "addressing the underlying conditions that terrorists exploit," which include "geo-political issues, lack of economic opportunity and political participation, ethnic conflict, ungoverned space, or political injustice."Sounds like a good idea to me. It ought to, since those of you who read this blog know I've been saying this for years. Those of you who know me even longer than I've been blogging know that this is something I've been saying since the late 1990s.
As for that "ungoverned space" mention in the State Department's report, has anyone been looking at Pakistan lately? As I've mentioned to Howie, when we are hit again by terrorists, the attack is more likely to come from Pakistan than anywhere else.