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Have you seen the litter in downtown Basra?


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Clifford D. May

My phone rang this morning before 6 A.M. It was a CBS News producer. “I’m sorry to wake you,” she said. “But we have some extraordinary pictures coming in and we wondered if you’d like to come on the air and talk about them.”

“What do they show?” I asked groggily, suspecting something terrible.

“Iraqis celebrating.”

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Give high marks to Harry Smith and the rest of the crew at The Early Show. They recalled that I had been among those long arguing for U.S. military action — to remove a dire threat to America, to be sure, but also to liberate the Iraqi people from a tyrant and a butcher.

I stuck to those predictions during the early days of the fighting, arguing that Iraqis would show their true feelings only after they were convinced that Saddam Hussein was gone and would not rise again from the grave like some monster in a Jamie Lee Curtis movie.

This was a hard sell with much of the Elite Media. You’ll recall the many commentators who predicted that even those Iraqis who were “not particularly fond of Saddam” would resent the U.S.-led invasion, would “patriotically” take up arms to defend their homeland against the foreigners. Some reporters conducted interviews with Iraqis to back up these predictions — what the reporters failed to tell you was that standing behind them were government “minders” wielding the power of life and death over the interviewees.

I knew that was a misreading of the situation not because I’m such a brilliant analyst but because in my day job, at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, we’ve been working closely with Iraqi leaders-in-exile (see Free Voices for Iraq at www.defenddemocracy.org and www.womenforiraq.org).

A couple of weeks ago, I went to speak at the University of Nebraska along with Qubad Talabany, a representative of Free Kurdish areas and the son of Jamal Talabany, one of Kurdistan’s two most important leaders. As we were driving between Omaha and Lincoln he received a phone call. A very lively conversation ensued.

“That was my mother,” he explained. “In Kurdistan. The Americans have arrived. The paratroopers are landing now. Everyone is celebrating. It’s like their long-lost cousins have returned. They only wish they had more American flags to wave.”

But no journalists were embedded with the airborne units and so there were no pictures to show on television. Nevertheless, there was every reason to believe that Iraqis in other parts of the country would similarly welcome their liberation — once Saddam’s thugs were no longer in a position to hang women who waved to our troops and to cut out the tongues of men who praised them.

Here at home, it’s not been easy to get pro-American Iraqi exiles interviewed by the Elite Media — the clear preference is for Arabs and Muslims who detest America. The Early Show was an exception. And ABC’s Barbara Walters did a fine interview with several of the Women for a Free Iraq, in which she gave them an opportunity to describe in some personal detail the barbarism of the regime they had fled. But that interview was followed by a conversation between Walters and Peter Jennings in which Jennings made it abundantly clear that he did not find these women credible, in which he made it obvious that, in his view, they did not represent the Iraqi “street.”

Even today, many in the Elite Media are reluctant to acknowledge the obvious. To see just one example, open this morning’s Washington Post to page A26. There you’ll find a picture of a crowd of Iraqis jubilantly cheering coalition forces. The headline under the photo reads: “Many in Basra Resent British Failure to Control Theft.”

So there you have it: Saddam’s mighty military machine has collapsed, civilian casualties have been held to a minimum, our troops are not being showered with chemical weapons, the oil wells aren’t ablaze, the Turks aren’t fighting with the Kurds, the Israelis aren’t being hit by Scuds, a hundred bin Ladens haven’t managed to detonate 1,000 suicide bombers in America’s shopping malls, Arab leaders friendly to the U.S. aren’t being hanged from street lamps — but how come we still haven’t dealt with the burglaries in downtown Basra? It’s an outrage! Quick someone, call Sean Penn and Michael Moore!

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism, and an NRO contributor.



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