October 29, 2003

HERE’S AN INTERESTING AND BALANCED report from Baghdad by Tish Durkin, in The New York Observer:

My piece was about the total disconnect between what matters to most of the people in Iraq and what seems to matter to most of the people elsewhere who are upset about Iraq. Or, as a young Iraqi friend said to me right after I arrived at the end of August: “Everybody in the world is so obsessed with weapons of mass destruction. Nobody in Iraq gives a shit.”

Most of the people outside Iraq seem to be obsessed with giving the Bush administration what they think it deserves. Most of the people inside Iraq—i.e., the Iraqis—are fixated on getting what they think they deserve. For all too many champions as well as critics of U.S. policy, this is all about American vindication versus American mortification, and Iraq is a car to be stripped down for its rhetorical parts. Some parts make the Americans look good, so the White House and company take those and wave them around. Other parts make the Americans look bad, so the antiwar crowd takes those and waves them around. Still other parts—most of the car, of course—are harder to classify, or are subject to change from one week to the next. These pretty much get junked.

For the Iraqis, who tend to view this as a place and themselves as people, both sets of analysts are transparent opportunists. Nonetheless, from here, it is disturbing to note the momentum that seems to be gathering behind those who are back home chanting for the U.S. to get out now. It is scarcely less disturbing to contemplate the belief of some leading American politicians that they can go halfsies: keep funding Iraqi reconstruction, for instance, but put the funding in the form of a loan. (Whoever thought of that probably had a cash bar at his wedding.) This is not because the occupation is some sort of triumph. But if this is about the Iraqis, it simply doesn’t matter whether it is in the context of American glory, American gloom or something in between that these people finally get a decent shot at a decent life. It only matters that they do get it, and the only question is how.

Read it all, and compare it to this lame Newsweek report by Rod Nordland, which goes out of its way to dis Chief Wiggles:

There’s even a blog from inside the Green Zone, put out by someone who says he’s a military intelligence soldier using the psuedonym Chief Wiggles (http://chiefwiggles.blogspot.com). Lately the boosterish Chief Wiggles has been using his blog to find donors to give him bicycles so soldiers can pedal around the zone giving out toys to children.

Calling Chief Wiggles “boosterish” indicates, to me at least, that Nordland can’t possibly have been reading his blog, which makes clear that the Chief is working hard to make a difference, and often suffering in the process. No doubt he would be more appealing to journalists if he were exuding existential despair, and smoking a Gaulois, but I’m kind of glad that he’s the way he is, and kind of unhappy that Newsweek has sent a reporter who can’t tell the difference between boosterism and a sense of responsibility.

Meanwhile, the Newsweek article’s headline, “The World’s Most Dangerous Place,” indicates that whoever wrote it hasn’t been to, well, a lot of other places in the world. (And don’t these people have editors? It’s “pseudonym,” not “psuedonym.”) Quite an embarrassing performance, overall, but sadly it’s on a par with Newsweek’s war coverage in general.

UPDATE: Via email, Bill Hobbs piles on the criticism of the Nordland article:

Even worse, he used Chief Wiggles’ old blogspot URL.

Wiggles’s blog is now at http://chiefwiggles.blog-city.com/

And he implied Wiggles might not really be who he says he is, although the DoD has issued a press release identifying Wiggles: Link and Link

Pretty embarrassing, I’d say.

MORE: Reader David Henry emails:

Glenn, the Chief was on Scarborough Country on MSNBC just a few nights ago. Nordland ought to have his face slapped for such a sorry article. Very poor job of journalism. I could do better and I’m just a meatcutter.

Hey, meatcutting takes training!

STILL MORE: Major Richard Cleveland emails:

Screw Rod Nordland. After 18 years in the US Army, and too many many deployments away from my family, I still love what I do. It’s because I get to meet, every single damn day, guys like Chief Wiggles. They are real, and there are a bunch of them in the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.

That’s been my experience, too.

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