Vic­tory in Mo­sul over­shad­owed by White House dra­mat­ics

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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.

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