Growing steadily worse

Washington correspondent for Aftenposten Kristin Nilsen follows the "steadily worse" template in this story about yesterday's tragic helicopter attack, which killed 16 American soldiers.

The problem of the Bush administration is that a growing number of Americans believe that the government in the White House didn't prepare them for losses. They were told that the Iraqis would welcome them with flowers and grateful hurrah's. For every day that passes where lifeless bodies of young American soldiers are sent home in coffins, the frustration and fear increases among the Americans. [..]

Attacks on the Americans have become more common, now they're attacked 33 times a day. [..] [The security situation] is getting worse every day, and is a theme the government would rather not talk about. [..] The average American doesn't want to see the Americans kicked out of Iraq. 58% still believe, as President Bush, that they must finish what they've started. But the pressure is increasing. [..] In a poll for the Washington Post yesterday, 38% replied that it is time to pull out of Iraq. In July, only 26% believed the same. And for the first time, less than half, 47%, believe that President Bush is still doing a good job.

Emphasis added. This is no worse than other articles about the steadily deteriorating situation in Iraq, and the growing pressure in the US, but it's a good example. About the poll numbers, Nilsen is probably correct to speak of things growing steadily worse for the Bush administration. They're not bad - 47% support is a decent starting point for a reelection campaign - but they were demonstrably better a few months ago.

Concerning Iraq, however, the popular steadily worse mantra is a strange way to frame the situation. Worse measured by what? American casualty rates? So it would seem, but these have gone up and down, (mostly down, though these numbers don't include October), and yet at no time have Kristin Nilsen or anyone else in Norway's media written that the situation is steadily improving. Most likely, she doesn't know which way the situation in Iraq is going right now. Neither does most of us. Measured by quantifiables such as casualties, attacks, hospitals operating, or total power output, we can speak of trends, but the whole image is largely hidden in a way we Westerners are unused to. Even in the West, where everything is counted and measured, trends are clearly visible only in the long run. (And in the long run, Iraq has undergone rapid improvement since March 19.)

"Growing steadily worse" is filler analysis, shorthand for "bad things keep happening". It's inserted at regular intervals only to give the impression of insight, with none of the effort. It would be more interesting to learn what in detail is going bad or well. Reporting on successful attacks like this one is easy - the evidence is out in the open. But what does the situation feel like on the ground for regular soldiers? What is the mood like in the unstable areas of Iraq? What is it like in the stable parts? What measures have been taken to prevent attacks, and have some of them worked? As for America, who support Bush and who don't? Why? Is decreasing support an indication of the poor job Bush has done, of the good job his opponents have done, or just a return to normal conditions? "The American people" is in this context an illusion a good correspondent should be able to dispel - (unless of course the illusion serves a purpose).

Give us real analysis or no analysis - anything but another "steadily worse", with the monotone incantation of a hypnotist. "You feel the situation in Iraq growing steadily worse. Yes, for every word I speak you feel the situation getting worse. You feel that it is now very bad, and for every word I speak it's getting worse and worse." Imagine me covering Aftenposten like Aftenposten covers Iraq. "The credibility of Aftenposten's Iraq coverage took another heavy blow yesterday, as it failed to write anything original about the latest attack in Iraq. This comes on top of six months of steadily deteriorating quality in what many observers now refer to as a journalistic quagmire." Pseudodramatic, sure, but dull (or "growing steadily duller") when repeated. How much better - aesthetically, if nothing else - to say simply that Aftenposten's Iraq coverage still sucks, and here's why? Well it does, and this is why.

As for Iraq, I would describe the situation as worrying, and about as worrying today as it was a month or two ago. The Americans are doing many things right, but they do not control the security situation. I assume they've adapted to the threat and are doing what they think they can do to stop it. But this means that unless the numbers or resources of the opposition are shrinking noticably, the Americans will either have to get more resources themselves or think very different about how they spend them. One way to do both is to sign up Iraqi help, through an Iraqi police force and/or military. So far they're doing the first, and I'm excited about the potential. There's a limit to how much foreign soldiers from an alien culture can to do to fight a threat they can't distinguish from the local civilians, whereas the locals themselves might be able to tell the enemy apart by their strange accents and/or behavior. (This assumes there's a significant section of the Iraqi population who support the American project, and there is.)

The big unknown here is on the side of the terrorists. How many are there? Where do they recruit? Who is supporting them? If all we have is Baath'ists who fight because they've got nothing to lose, it's only a matter of time before they're defeated. If, on the other hand, al-Qaeda terrorists are trickling into Iraq faster than their comrades are able to blow themselves up, and their resources faster than it can be spent, then this is going to be bloody, and take a long time.

Either way, the Americans must stick with it. It's ridiculous to summon the ghost of Vietnam with such low casualty rates, and September 11 did change American attitudes, but remember that this may go on for many years - regular small attacks, and a big one now and then. With the war having been turn into a partisan issue, a future Democratic president might score some points on withdrawing (or heavily reducing) the American presence prematurely. I'm not so concerned about the war on terrorism in general, but the future of the Iraqi project does worry me. I have no party preferences on internal US policy, but for foreign policy reasons I really do hope for a reelection of Bush (or a hawkish Democrat), despite the wmd's.


I'm going out on a limb here to guess that Kristin Nilsen reads more in the New York Times than in the New York Post. As little as I approve of Bush's job performance, the Times seems to lack the ability to look at the situation with anything approaching objectivity. Today's headlines, for example, include an article about the "epicenter of anti-American hatred" in Iraq - we'd be hard pressed to find an article in the Times about the "epicenter of American support," although I'm sure one can be found.

If Ms. Nilsen took the time to read thoughtful op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal or some of the more interesting articles in the New York Sun, she may find herself a lot smarter.

--The big unknown here is on the side of the terrorists. How many are there? Where do they recruit? Who is supporting them? --

Read rantburg. Lots of info there. Rumor has it only 1 in 25 infiltrate. We've turned over parts of their border to the Iraqi police.

How many are there? Heresay kill stats by Iraqi police about 300 a day.

The Saudis wanted everyone in their kingdom w/sons to report where their sons were, when was the last time you heard from them, etc.

Where do they recruit?? Oh, please. Norweigans have no idea where they recruit????

November 3, 2003

Bjorn, OT: Some in Europe are paying attention.

Check out the exchange beginning here at LGF about the french girl who was wearing a cross being attacked by 2 muslims. They "superficially" cut her face and called her a "whore."

Unless you are Norwegian kafir??????

There's a better sense about what's going on in Belgium, too by poster bruxellesblog.

Does anyone else, cetainly in America, feel this whole, “we were not warned” meme is the essence of the whole Democratic national security philosophy, in that it is excrutiatingly childish?

“We were not warned” that the whole region in general, is going to be messy, bloody, irrational, diffcult, etc. etc.?

“Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh…… Where’s my eternal peace, you promised me immediate eternal peace…. Wahhhhhhhhhhh!!!”

Certain types, particularily in the media, are so used to talking down to us from their pedestal of superior wisdom that they are now incapable of recognizing it even while doing it any more.

Memo from America to such types….. “Grow the hell up”.

We were not warned?

Nope, only have thousands of years of history to learn from.


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