Politics & Policy

Boots & Horror

Assessing the surge.

Editor’s note: This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact: Carmen Puello at cpuello@unitedmedia.com.

Nailing down a clear picture of the war in Iraq is a work in progress in Washington, D.C. Making it harder is the national media, which is misrepresenting what is happening at boot level, softening the face of the enemy.

If the public cannot get a true view of the brutality and horror the enemy is capable of, then how can it be expected to reasonably assess our involvement?

Michael Yon, an independent journalist and Special Forces veteran, went over to Iraq to get the record straight. Yon, who blogs his findings at www.michaelyon-online.com, was inspired after attending the funeral of a high-school friend killed in Iraq. Servicemen at the funeral encouraged him to do what the media was not doing: get the full picture.

In December 2004, he first went to Iraq and Afghanistan to blog about what he saw, spending most of the year working as reader-supported war reporter.

Yon returned to Iraq this summer and is reporting on the troop surge, giving readers as close to real-time battlefield reports as possible. His encouraging assessment: “Progress is palpable.”

In June, Yon reported on the discovery of about a dozen women and children slaughtered by Al Qaeda and buried in a mass grave. In an abandoned village, with the main road lined with butchered animals, American and Iraqi soldiers found the dead — including decapitated children.

“Had Al Qaeda murdered the children in front of their parents?” Yon speculated. “Maybe it had been the other way around: Maybe they had murdered the parents in front of the children. Maybe they had forced the father to dig the graves of his children.”

The Associated Press was in the same area as Yon, but barely reported on the discovery of the rotting bodies. If I were the president of the United States, faced with public opinion–and even, increasingly, members of his own party in Congress–against the war, I’d quote from Yon, who wrote: “I told the Iraqi commander, Captain Baker, that it was important that Americans see this; he took me around the graves and showed more than I wanted to see.” (Yon also posted some graphic pictures of what he saw.)

And I’d also quote from Yon–and others reporting the brutal truth from Iraq as best they can (presumably the president, since he’s president, has access to even more stories and evidence in the same vein) –when he tells the story of families in Baqubah who were reportedly served their young sons, baked and stuffed, for lunch by al Qaeda. Not for the sake of sensationalism and horror; simply because this is the evil that we face.

This war is not lost. And even U.S. public opinion might not be lost, either — if only responsible politicians and media outlets would tell the whole story: about our progress as well as our defeats of course, and about the ugly brutality of the enemy that seeks to kill us, not just in Iraq but here in the U.S. as well (if intelligence and our director of Homeland Security’s “gut” are to be believed).

For his part, Yon tells me from Baqubah: “This is a war that will be won or lost largely in the media arena.” He’s there, embedded, for as long as he can, as he sees reporting from there “a call.” Yon says: “I stay because we might lose this war, but we can still ‘win.’” The story just has to get out before the people back home surrender.

© 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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