If you want to read a Washington Post column today, it’s probably better to skip Downie and read Anne Applebaum on the need for a decent (not quickie) trial for Saddam Hussein. She writes that it’s important for the Iraqis to realize they have all been oppressed by Saddam’s totalitarian rule, or they make break down into civil war.
For me, the most interesting part is about the press. She cites the view of Leszek Balcerowicz, who was the Polish finance minister during his country’s economic transformation at the beginning of the 1990s. “Ruminating recently on the parallels between post-communism and post-Baathism, Balcerowicz noted that along with inflation and price controls, one of the most serious obstacles to reform in Poland was the information imbalance. Because there was no free press before 1989, Poles knew little about the real state of their country. After 1989 there was a lot of free press, and it was all negative. Fed on a diet of ‘isn’t everything terrible,’ many began to idealize the past and reject the present. Something similar may be happening in Iraq today. Increasingly, everything that is wrong in Iraq, from the malfunctioning infrastructure to the ethnic tensions, is blamed on the U.S. occupation. A wider debate about how Iraq got to where it is — how Hussein mismanaged the country, murdered whole villages and stole the nation’s money — might help persuade Iraqis to invest in the present.”
Surely, “isn’t everything terrible” isn’t just a problem with the emerging Iraqi press, but the old American media as well.