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October 20, 2004

AUSTIN BAY'S LATEST COLUMN looks back at the Zarqawi memo from last year:

Zarqawi's intercepted message to his Al Qaeda comrades admitted that his terror band was "failing to enlist support" inside Iraq and was "unable to scare the Americans into leaving."

Zarqawi lamented "Iraq's lack of mountains in which to take refuge," which many commentators read as an echo of his experience in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda.

Zarqawi's document also suggested a strategic solution to his group's failure: launch attacks on Iraqi Shias and start a "sectarian war" that he suggested would "rally the Sunni Arabs" to his cause. This war against Shiites, Zarqawi thought, "must start soon -- at 'zero hour' -- before the Americans hand over sovereignty to the Iraqis."

Despite orchestrating scores of savage attacks, Zarqawi has failed to ignite that sectarian war. Early in the summer, suicide car bombers (presumably under Zarqawi's aegis) began attacking Iraqi police and National Guard soldiers as frequently as they targeted Shias and coalition troops. This suggested to some analysts that Islamic radical Zarqawi was cooperating with elements of the "secular Iraqi resistance" -- former members of Saddam's regime and holdouts in the Sunni Triangle. If that alliance existed, it was one of convenience, not long-term compatibility. That terror offensive, however, has failed to deter recruits. Iraqi security forces continue to grow in size and strength.

Zarqawi lacks political support and is increasingly desperate. His declaration of solidarity with Al Qaeda is both an emergency plea for Islamist reinforcements from Syria and Saudi Arabia, and the shrill cry of a true believer just rational enough to recognize he's caught in a political and military vise.

Read the whole thing. More evidence that the campaign isn't working can be found in this quote:

One of those who survived the blast was a national guard soldier named Qusay Hassan. He spoke with anger following the death and maiming of his comrades, and his spirit seemed unbroken.

"I will not kneel before these terrorists," Mr. Hassan said. "If I don't join the army, who is going to defend the country from the terrorists?"

Indeed. More here:

Foreigners are mystified at how Iraqis continue to join the police and army, despite the car bombings and other attacks directed against them. It's not just for the money. For many of these recruits, there is a dead relative, murdered by some Sunni Arab thug working for Saddam. It's civil war, and the coalition wants to prevent it from turning into an orgy of revenge. What gets little reported in the West is the enthusiasm among Iraqis, and especially members of the government, for just bombing Fallujah into rubble.

That would undercut the "it's Vietnam all over again" story line. And it's not. Does this mean that everything's hunky-dory in Iraq? Nope, and -- as even the rather negative Andrew Sullivan notes, you don't need me to tell you that, when every attack gets headline treatment. But stuff like this, which provides perspective, doesn't get the attention it deserves.

As I wrote a while back, the problem with the constant barrage of coverage on the latest mortar attack or car bombing is that it's not only a ceaseless assault of bad news, but it's both unrepresentative (because it's only the bad news) and, just as bad, it's probably the wrong bad news. If there are serious things going wrong, they're not so much that people who don't like us are trying to attack us, as that more serious things (like the CERP matter I've mentioned here regularly) are going unaddressed. And the ceaseless negativity of the media treatment -- coupled with the media's rather obvious desire to make Bush look bad before the election -- leads to this problem I discussed a while back:

To make an Amartya Sen sort of point, what's unfortunate about the slanted (and lazy) nature of most of the reporting is that it doesn't point out real problems in ways that can let them be fixed, and that will bring them to the attention of people who can fix them. When the coverage continues to come from the same tired Vietnam template, applied to a very different situation, it's not terribly useful and I suspect that it's largely tuned out by folks in the White House who assume (more or less correctly) that it's intended to hurt them.

But that means that they have to rely on the reports of people in the chain of command, who have their own agendas. The press is supposed to be a check on that sort of thing, but it's fallen down on the job in postwar Iraq. Fortunately, the Internet has taken up some of the slack, and is (I'm being hopeful here) spurring the Big Media folks to take a second look at what they're doing.

Sadly, my hopes there have gone largely unfulfilled. Perhaps that will change after the election. More on these issues, and why I report the stuff I do here, in this post.

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