Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The news IS out there...if you dare to find it

This post at Michael Totten's made me nod so hard my neck hurt.

I've heard similar things myself every time I've gone to Iraq. Now I know Iraq isn't Hezbollah HQ. However, like this, it's based on a large information gap that most Americans just aren't in the loop on.

The last time I was in NY (last month), I was having a discussion with some members of the NY Tech Meetup Group. I was the only one that had been to Iraq. We were having a discussion surrounding technology and how it translates to societies that aren't as technologically advanced. There were still people there that were astonished to know that Iraq had net cafes even in the marshes of Basra. There were people that said that people in 3rd world countries didn't rely on technology the way that we do, and because of that there are primitive ways of communicating that are in place that work better. (This was based on a discussion of the communication breakdown during Katrina's wake.) Anyhow, one thing led to another, and someone asked me the first question.

First thing almost everyone says when they hear that I've been to Iraq. "So, you're military then?"

Second, when they find out I'm not: "Aren't you scared?"

Third, when I've told them that more of the country than not is actually secure when broken into provinces....
"Yeah but.........."

Anyhow, the questioning then leads to this, for which I am honestly grateful. "So what's your view of things over there?"

But then, they don't always really want to listen to your view if it doesn't jive with theirs. Because then someone's world would have to spin into grays and not black and whites, which are much more comfortable to deal with. The reality is gray.

In this discussion we ended up somehow getting off on a tangent. As I recall, I re-told the story of when I was there on the second anniversary of OIF. Of how American flags were flown next to Iraqi and Kurdish ones on that day. Of how people said to me "thank you, thank you" all day if they knew I was American. Of how I came back to where I was staying that night to a television blaring reports of anti-war protests in London, in NY, in DC on that date marking the anniversary of the beginning of OIF.

Then people say, "well why don't we hear that here?" "I mean, you are telling me this happened, but I never saw it reported!" To which I always respond, "why do you think?" I, for one, actually do not think that in many cases it is deliberate in regards to Iraq. No, you heard me, I am not blaming it on media bias. Not because I think there is none, but because I think that it isn't the largest contributing factor.

(-Note to both sides-dispense with the blame game-blame the media, blame the corporations, blame the power bases, blame Soros, blame Rove, it doesn't do a damned thing to convince someone that you are able to listen to their viewpoint when you do that, you might as well stop right there....not to speak of the valuable time and energy that could be put to use DOING something about how you feel....but I digress.)

Back to my answer on why I think nobody sees that kind of story.

I think that it is simply that most foreigners in Iraq are in one of two places. They are either in the "zone" (green, international, whatever you want to call it), or they are embedded with the military. Now, if you are in the zone, you DO have the opportunity to talk to Iraqis (plenty of them live and work there), but there are a few issues there. One, most of them won't talk to you if you are press, especially television, for fear of being killed in retaliation. Two, there is an inherent assumption that because they work in the green zone, they don't represent Iraq-(odd, popular elected officials are housed there, but somehow, they don't represent Iraq). Three, the language barrier is a hard one to overcome. Same with the Military, but different problems. The first issue is the same, there is a fear of being seen talking with the Military. It was not like that in the beginning of OIF, but today, many more Iraqis are worried about terrorist spies. The second issue is close as well, inherent assumption that if they are talking to the military, then they are supportive of OIF, so why bother questioning them.

Drill down one more level. Mix with the people directly. Dangerous, yes, it can be, if you don't do your homework, and you don't have trusted people. As an American, I know that I'm a commodity there. I'm worth money to terrorists, who have it in spades in a lot of cases, and as always, the lure of money is powerful. There is also the inherent assumption that every American is "rich" by Middle Eastern middle class standards. And, there's the hope that as an American, possibly you have some pull and can get them into the US, and some people will try to use you for that (can't say I blame them there, I love my country, and I can understand that people who have lived in that stress want a vacation, sometimes a permanent one from it). You have to test relationships. I tend to be a pretty trusting person, and thus have gotten myself burned a few times already in the Middle East, luckily, a few small burns teach you to stay away from fire quite quickly.

I'm also quick to say that the terrorism there is worrisome to me. There was a particular thread of this conversation that came to me first when I was reading Totten's post above. It was when this gentleman said to me, "we have talks with Hezbollah and Iranian and Syrian governments, and we know that they are committing atrocities, so why don't we talk with Zarqawi?"....I couldn't get words out quickly enough. My voice was shaking. "You don't have 'talks' with someone who has absolutely no agenda except to kill you, he doesn't want to have 'talks', he isn't a head of state, or a political body, elected or self appointed....we are dealing with realities here, not hypotheticals, and reality tends to be shades, yes we deal with people that we don't approve of (to put it mildly in some cases), we exhaust diplomatic options first where available, why do you think there were 12 years of UN resolutions regarding Iraq?" "But you do not, and can not 'talk' to someone who has out and out declared to your face that all they want is to kill you." By the end of the conversation, there was one question left from the guy I was talking to, and it wasn't the first time I've heard this question either.

"How come you'll tell me this, but the Administration doesn't?"

To which my first response is always "that's a fair question....but, ask yourself...would you listen if they did?"

I think that our government (note I don't say the Administration, since it isn't just "their policy", last I checked Congress backed OIF legislation) has done a lousy job talking about our foreign policy. DoD blames State, and State blames DoD, and round and round they go. Same with the Administration and Congress.

But, I also think that it's not the government's job to educate you on what's really going on in the world. Educate yourself. The information is right there....literally at your fingertips.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!! Your honesty and insight is extremely refreshing.

BTW, what where you doing there? Work?

6:12 AM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

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9:44 AM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

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6:04 PM  
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1:48 AM  
Anonymous Dr. Health said...

There were still people there that were astonished to know that Iraq had net cafes even in the marshes of Basra.

2:28 PM  

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