Victory in Mosul overshadowed by White House dramatics
The television news has been filled almost exclusively recently with stories about the “terrible” son of the president and his apparent flirtations with “evil” Russian officials -- right up in New York’s Trump Tower, yet! You could be forgiven for thinking there was no other news happening anywhere.
On cable news networks -especially FOX and CNN -- little else has been covered besides Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and various miscellanea trying to figure their way out of a story that, shall we say, “engaged” the media.
What we are seeing is not a question of fake news, which is President Trump’s imaginative creation that also exists in the Russian foreign ministry. No. It is that both major cable news networks (and many small ones, too) have, since Trump was elected, featured about 90 percent speculation and opinion, by my calculation, rather than genuine news.
Major world stories of historic importance get a once-a-day glance, if that. As sad proof, I offer the ultimate victory over ISIS to retake Mosul officially on July 10, a fight waged mostly by a refit Iraqi military. This world-shaking victory told us a lot about Iraq, but also a lot about ourselves.
I admit to having a personal as well as a professional interest in this story because I went to Iraq as a correspondent in 1973 and was the first Western correspondent to interview Saddam Hussein. And because I have visited Mosul and was thrilled to see the biblical lands (Babylon, Nineveh, Ur) that mothered both Christians and Jews.
And also because I felt I knew the country, developing rapidly, that we would make the terrible mistake of invading and largely destroying in 2003.
But early this month, the new Iraqi army fought bravely and effectively, house-to-house and building-to-building, as it drove ISIS-crazed fighters from the ruins of Mosul. This was a remarkable turnaround from the battles of three years ago, when the Iraqi army turned and fled. We broadcast that disgrace all over the world.
Perhaps I’m an old-fashioned journalist, but I have to think that we Americans, who tore up their country for nothing and now may have to stay for years to address the next acts of the drama, at least owe the Iraqis the respect of soberly noting the dignity with which they are now behaving.
But I also am professionally and morally obliged to add that newspapers have been doing a far fairer job at covering the fight for Mosul than has television. Which tells you, again, something about the differences between the newspaperdominated “press” and the TVdominated “media.” The first is news; the second, entertainment.
After Mosul fell, next came the questions from the cable commentators:
What would happen now? How on Earth could such a realm of darkness be rebuilt? COULD it be rebuilt? And even if it could, wouldn’t the different, always-warring ethnic and religious groups -- Shia, Sunni, Turkman, Kurdish, Yazidi, Christian -- just start destroying one another again?
But once again, this was not news; this was speculation. News is selfcontained: It starts and ends, at least that day, in and of itself. It does not leap to the next question, for that is, by all journalistic ethics, the next day’s story and/or the realm of the opinion writer.
We must, of course, address the problems facing Iraq -- and us. Poor Mosul is littered with buried explosives and munitions; troops are finding booby traps in vacuums and ovens; tens of thousands of people are still desperately trying to flee the ashes of the ruined city, once the second city of Iraq.
“When I look around the world, in some ways there’s nothing like Mosul that we’ve encountered,” Stanley Brown, the State Department official empowered to remove weapons there, told The Washington Post. “The level of contamination, though, is not one of those where we’re talking weeks and months -- we’re talking years and maybe decades.”
Then there is an even bigger problem, but this one is in the Iraqi military and the vast, endlessly troubled expanses of the Middle East, from Lebanon to the borders of Iran. The Persian Shiite militias, called Popular Mobilization Units and containing as many as 150,000 fighters, also fought bravely in Mosul and elsewhere -- and they want very different things from the Iraqi army.
The Shiites have already formed an overland “resistance highway” that would link Tehran to Damascus and Beirut directly and do away with, once and for all, the threat they have historically seen from Iraq.
There will be many, many more stories from this part of the Middle East. There always have been. So for now, let’s forget Donald Trump Jr. Let’s give those same Iraqis we had given up on some credit for uncommon valor in a hellscape of the world.
Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer@juno. com.