Friday, March 24, 2006

Iraq II: The Little People

It's easy to forget that behind all the war headlines and film clips are real Iraqis -- mothers and fathers, sons and daughters -- whose lives have been irrevocably changed (or ended) by the Saddam Hussein regime and now by a bloody post-war occupation.

One of the reasons that George Packer's "The Assassin's Gate" is such a terrific book is that he populates it with the taxi drivers, university students, doctors, translators -- and, yes, reporters -- who otherwise get lost in war coverage.

Now comes Hannah Allam, the former Baghdad bureau chief for Knight-Ridder, who writes wrenchingly in the April issue of Glamour, of all magazines, about the widow and family of Yasser Salihee (above), a KR reporter who was killed by American soldiers at a checkpoint when the car in front of him blocked his view of the troops. (Glamour's online presence sucks; you'll have to buy the mag or pick it up the next time you get your hair done at the beauty salon to read her article.)

As a longtime journo myself, I make a point of not whining about the toll that the war has taken on the news media -- some 67 reporters and 20-some media support personnel killed to date. That's the price of doing business.

But those grim statistics are worth noting in the context of Allam's article and an excellent post by former New York Daily News reporter Christopher Allbritton at his Back to Iraq blog that goes after the reprehensible Ralph Peters, the New York Post writer who can drive through Baghdad on a day of unspeakable carnage and yet report that everything is peachy.


Peggy Noonan's column in the Wall Street Journal this week is especially timely. Fresh off of a reading "Freedom at Midnight," the Collins-Lapierre classic on the coming of democracy to India, Noonan notes in drawing comparisons to Iraq that:

Each of these [British and Indian] leaders had been removed by his own history from facts on the ground. "Elitism" doesn't always speak of where you went to school or what caste, as it were, you came from. You can wind up one of the elites simply by rising. Simply by being separated for a certain amount of time from those you seek to lead.

People who know most intimately, and through most recent experience, what is happening on the ground, and in the hearts of men, are usually not in the inner councils. They have not fought their way or earned their way in yet. Sometimes they're called in and listened to, at least for a moment, but in the end they tend to be ignored. They're nobodies, after all.

This is a problem with government and governing bodies--with the White House, Downing Street, with State Department specialists, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and West Point, too. It is not so much a matter of fault as it is structural. The minute you rise to govern you become another step removed from the lives of those you govern. Which means you become removed from reality.

(Hat tip to Country Bumpkin.)

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