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Thinking empirically about Iraq

Ann Coulter sees Abu Ghraib as the new Tet offensive: “By lying about the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War, the media managed to persuade Americans we were losing the war, which demoralized the nation and caused us to lose the war. . . .Now liberals are using their control of the media to persuade the public that we are losing the war in Iraq. . . .The constant drumbeat of failure, quagmire, Abu Ghraib, Bush-lied-kids-died has been so successful that merely to say the war in Iraq is going well provokes laughter. The distortions have become so pervasive that Michael Moore teeters on the brink of being considered a reliable source.”
My biggest frustration with the media is not that its coverage is distorted (I expect no less), but that because of these distortions I find it almost impossible to figure out how well or badly things actually are going in Iraq. Come to think of it, though, I doubt that the media would have the ability to help us figure that out even if it were to report events in good faith.
There are at least three largely objective ways to measure our progress in Iraq. One is the reconstruction effort — how many schools are open, how many bridges have been built, how much oil is being pumped, etc. The media almost never tells us any of this. I assume, therefore, that this effort is going well enough, although it is possible that our reporters just don’t care enough to look into it.
Another measure is loss of American life. Following the capture of Saddam at the end of last year, that number dropped month after month. Then, with the April insurrections, it spiked. Now it seems to be in decline again. A third measure is how much of Iraq we control. We don’t appear to control Fallujah, although it’s not clear that the enemy controls it either. There are a few cities in the south that we don’t control, but it seems that we are well on our way to reversing that.
A final possible measure is our standing with Iraqi public opinion. But the only way to measure that objectively is through polls, the reliability of which I question. The results I’ve seen, although not current, showed that we weren’t doing badly in this regard.
So, if we try to look at our progress objectively, how are we doing? Reasonably well, it seems to me. The problem is that these measurements don’t really tell us enough about the real situation to answer the ultimate question. In particular, they aren’t very helpful in telling us how soon, or to what extent, we can withdraw without having the situation collapse. Their only virtue is that they are more reliable than the subjective reporting of the mainstream media.

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