Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Commentary: Lest We Forget … It’s the War, Stupid!

In case you didn’t already know, last week marked the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. If you didn’t, don’t feel too bad, for you are in good company. A Pew Research Center poll recently found that only 28 percent of American adults surveyed were able to say that approximately 4,000 Americans have died in the Iraq war. The same survey found that 84 percent of Americans are aware that Oprah Winfrey endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president.

In cased you missed it, the Pentagon reported that four U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb blast in southern Baghdad late Sunday, raising the death toll for American forces since the start of the war to an even 4,000 casualties, thus officially marking a new milestone.

As the American public’s attention span continues to shrink and shift away form the seemingly endless war in Iraq, so does the press. According to the News Content Index conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war has sharply declined since last year, dropping from an average of 15 percent of the news hole in July to just 3 percent in February.

Moreover, a Pew's News Interest Index survey found that Iraq was the public's most closely followed news story in all but five weeks during the first half of 2007. However, it was a much less dominant story between July 2007 and February 2008, not to mention the Iraq war has not been the public's top weekly story since October 2007.

Maybe if Oprah broadcast her show live from the Green Zone in Baghdad for a week or two, her global presence would ignite a surge of media coverage and Americans would tune into the war more.

Until then, who is to blame for the current surge of sound-bite news coverage of the war in Iraq? The mainstream media? The American public?

Answer: both.

While the corporate media is driven by quarterly profit margins and prey upon its viewers’ psychological vulnerabilities, it is the media consumer who ultimately decides what the media reports and does not report. Although the laws of supply and demand do come into play in this profit-driven context, journalists have a higher calling and obligation to reporting the truth and what people need to know, in lieu of what people want to know.

Nonetheless, as Greg Mitchell’s new book, “So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq,” suggests, the mainstream media has blood on its hands when it comes to its flawed coverage leading up to the war in Iraq and the five years since it began.

Since former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards first announced his bid for the Democrat nomination in January 2007 in Des Moines, the American public has been consumed by the presidential race, which has helped feed the mainstream media’s obsession with covering the political horse race. Meanwhile nearly 1000 soldiers have been killed in Iraq since Edwards announced his candidacy.

While coverage of the presidential race receives top billing in the media, exit polls from many of the states that have already held their primaries and caucuses indicate that the economy is the top concern among voters, trumping health-care costs and the war in Iraq. The loss of jobs to overseas companies and the recent subprime lender meltdown have helped contribute to voters’ fears about the economy.

But rarely does the mainstream media hold the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accountable for the impending or not impending economic recession. Newscasters and political pundits keep asking the million-dollar question, “Are we in a recession?” and pawn this off a if it was news in and of itself. Meanwhile our government keeps dropping an estimated $10 billion to $12 billion a month into the bottomless money pits of Iraq and Afghanistan. And this is only the front-end cost of the war.

Oftentimes economic experts have argued that the best way to revive an economy is by going to war, but ironically. President Bush’s decision to invade and indefinitely occupy Iraq is what has helped push our economy to the brink of a recession.

It’s the War, Stupid

I sensed the political winds changing during the Michigan primary, or nonprimary as far as the Democratic race goes, when the GOP focused on the economy as a means of shoring up support. This makes sense, given the industrial make-up of Michigan’s job market. Ever since then, the economy has been the top issue polled among likely voters, but the Democratic candidates only serve to shoot themselves in the foot if they ignore the $3 trillion white elephant in the room: the Iraq war.

Obama has made an attempt to connect the dots, but he hasn’t been vigilant enough about framing this argument in the minds of voters. It doesn’t help that the mainstream media has stoked a new fire in the Obama camp, fanning the flames of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s controversial comments.

On the other hand, his opponent, Sen. Hillary Clinton, has had to spend time putting out small fires on the campaign trail, oftentimes ignited by her very own high-level surrogates such as adviser James Carville and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, the inferno in Iraq rages on.

Not only have the front-end costs of financing the Iraq war helped cripple our economy, but it’s the back-end costs that will keep the economy bed-ridden for years to come. In their new book, “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict,” Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz argue that Americans will spend decades treating the physical and psychological wounds of Iraq veterans, and when the economic consequences of the invasion are taken into account, the costs will surpass the $3 trillion benchmark, nearly a third of the current debt the Bush administration has already helped accrue since its 2001 takeover.

Not only did the Bush administration not have an exit strategy for ending the war, but it had yet to implement a budget plan for paying for the strategy not have. Sounds like something straight out off Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” only more tragic, for the true cost of the war is the loss of human lives. These costs cannot be measured, nor can they be absorbed or paid back.

According to the National Priorities Project, the government has already spent more than $500 billion on the war in Iraq and estimates that Iowa taxpayers have paid $3.5 billion for the cost of the Iraq war through 2007. For the same amount of money, the group estimates that health care for 1,033,512 Iowans could have been provided, or 562,896 scholarships for university students could have been awarded, or 77,321 elementary students could have been hired.

This year, while Iowa lawmakers struggle to find funding to provide children with health care coverage or turn to the lottery as a means of replenishing funding for veterans and their families, try and remember one thing and one thing only:

It’s the war, stupid!

And you don’t need Oprah to tell you this to make it so.

Originally posted on the "Iowa Independent"


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