How to Stay in Iraq for the Next Million Years

Think of the top officials of the Bush administration as magicians when it comes to Iraq. Their top hats and tails may be worn and their act fraying, but it doesn't seem to matter. Their latest "abracadabra," the President's "surge strategy" of 2007, has still worked like a charm. They waved their magic wands, paid off and armed a bunch of former Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists (about 80,000 "concerned citizens," as the President likes to call them), and magically lowered "violence" in Iraq. Even more miraculously, they made a country that they had already turned into a cesspool and a slagheap -- its capital now has a "lake" of sewage so large that it can be viewed "as a big black spot on Google Earth" -- almost entirely disappear from view in the U.S.

Of course, what they needed to be effective was that classic adjunct to any magician's act, the perfect assistant. This has been a role long held, and still played with mysterious willingness, by the mainstream media. There are certainly many reporters in Iraq doing their jobs as best they can in difficult circumstances. When it comes to those who make the media decisions at home, however, they have practically clamored for the Bush administration to put them in a coffin-like box and saw it in half. Thanks to their news choices, Iraq has for months been whisked deep inside most papers and into the softest sections of network and cable news programs. Only one Iraq subject has gotten significant front-page attention: How much "success" has the President's surge strategy had?

Before confirmatory polls even arrived, the media had waved its own magic wand and declared that Americans had lost interest in Iraq. Certainly the media people had. The economy -- with its subprime Hadithas and its market Abu Ghraibs -- moved to center stage, yet links between the Bush administration's two trillion dollar war and a swooning economy were seldom considered. It mattered little that a recent Associated Press/Ipsos poll revealed a majority of Americans to be convinced that the most reasonable "stimulus" for the U.S. economy would be withdrawal from Iraq. A total of 68% of those polled believed such a move would help the economy.

Anyone tuning in to the nightly network news can now regularly go through a typical half-hour focused on Obamania, the faltering of the Clinton "machine," the Huckabee/McCain face-off on Republican Main Street, the latest nose-diving market, and the latest campus shooting without running across Iraq at all. Cable TV, radio news, newspapers -- it makes little difference.

The News Coverage Index of the Project for Excellence in Journalism illustrates that point clearly. For the week of February 4-10, the category of "Iraq Homefront" barely squeaked into tenth place on its chart of the top-ten most heavily covered stories with 1% of the "newshole." First place went to "2008 Campaign" at 55%. "Events in Iraq" -- that is, actual coverage of and from Iraq -- didn't make it onto the list. (The week before, "Events in Iraq" managed to reach #6 with 2% of the newshole.)

True, you can go to Juan Cole's Informed Comment website, perhaps the best daily round-up of Iraqi mayhem and disaster on the Web, and you'll feel as if, like Alice, you had fallen down a rabbit hole into another universe. ("Two bombings shook Iraq Sunday morning. In the Misbah commercial center in the upscale Shiite Karrada district, a female suicide bomber detonated a belt bomb, killing 3 persons and wounding 10 ... About 100 members of the Awakening Council of Hilla Province have gone on strike to protest the killing of three of them by the U.S. military at Jurf al-Sakhr last Sunday, in what the Pentagon says was an accident ... Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that officials in Baqubah are warning that as families are returning to the city, they could be forced right back out again, owing to sectarian tensions ... ") But how many Americans read Juan Cole every day ... or any day?

On that media homefront, the Bush administration has been Houdini-esque. Left repeatedly locked in chains inside a booth full of water, George W. Bush continues to emerge to declare that things are going swimmingly in Iraq:

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