Politics & Policy

Give Surge a Chance

McCain, the media, and the war.

How can Iraq get better? An attitude change would help.

#ad#A positive attitude alone won’t win a war, but it helps. Instead, defeatism reigns supreme here at home. Nowhere has that been more evident than in the recent attacks on Arizona Republican senator John McCain, one of the initial backers of the Coalition troop “surge” in Iraq (he was for it before the White House was for it).

There are the Democrats, of course, who are playing politics with troop funding. And there’s also the media.

I am one of the last people who wants to whine about “the liberal media.” It’s a boring complaint, one that dares readers to skip the rest of the article; but also, it’s not entirely true or fruitful. Fact is, there are some brave and honest people reporting from war zones even as I write (from New York, not Baghdad, I might add). And they deserve respect and an audience, in no small part because they’re reporting about what some of America’s finest are doing.

That said, though: CNN’s Michael Ware went overboard recently when he vented at former Vietnam prisoner of war John McCain on air, questioning his credibility. In an angry rant, Ware told Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer, “Well, I’d certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that’s because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road.”

“Is Baghdad any safer?” Ware continued. “Sectarian violence — one particular type of violence — is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain’s confidence.”

Ware, one of those supposedly objective-reporter types, added: “I mean, Senator McCain’s credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry. To suggest that there’s any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I’d love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.”

McCain was to be in Baghdad the following week, but Ware dismissed McCain’s congressional delegation: “Essentially they’re here to view the impact of the surge on the Baghdad security plan and essentially to sell its merits, to say that, yes, it is having an impact and to take that message home to an American people desperate to hear signs of progress.”

What precipitated Ware’s anger at McCain? Senator McCain, from the U.S. at the time, had insisted that the surge was showing signs of progress. My own instinct was to worry he overstated his case when he said on Bill Bennett’s morning radio program, “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today. The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq.”

That’s the statement that so enraged Ware. But you know what? ABC News, no member of the vast right-wing conspiracy, a week later actually raised McCain an ice-cream cone. Anchor Charles Gibson declared there are indeed signs that the surge is “having a large and positive effect.” And ABC reporter Terry McCarthy, who visited five neighborhoods in the middle of Baghdad, said that “children’s play yards are filling up. . . . People have time to stop to drink tea or eat ice cream. . . . It’s really great to see people in Baghdad having fun in a city that otherwise sees just violence and despair.”

So, in other words, what McCain said. And though I hesitate to question Ware, who’s on the ground in Iraq where I’m not, the truth, I suspect, is close to what W. Thomas Smith Jr., a Marine, recently wrote from Baghdad: “It’s not all doom and gloom here. There are some good, progressive things happening, which are rarely reported, and I will explain in the coming days. But there also are a lot of bad things happening that don’t make the nightly cut.” Media, politicians, and citizens could afford to heed those words, and wait and see.

 © 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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