The key quote, in my newspaper piece today about media coverage of the Iraq war, was supplied by national security expert Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon intelligence aide who later worked for John McCain at the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Cordesman said the negative tenor of the coverage is an accurate reflection of conditions on the ground; more importantly, the latest assessments of those conditions by U.S. officials are equally grim. He said: "Their reports track very closely with the daily news reporting. In general, they're more negative than the media."
I wrote my piece on Friday. During the past 48 hours, Cordesman's argument has been confirmed two more times.
First came news on Saturday that the State Department has drafted a new planning document which is designed to salvage the U.S. reconstruction mess in Iraq. The draft plan states that much of the reconstruction effort (the "good news" that the media has purportedly ignored in Iraq) has been wasted, because, as one U.S. official said, "Doing massive reconstruction in the midst of an insurgency drives up costs and diverts funds."
By the way, why were the reconstruction people working "in the midst" of an insurgency in the first place? Because, according to retired Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, who served as the Pentagon's chief operations officer in the runup to the war, the war planners suffered a competence breakdown. He's writing today in the new issue of Time magazine:
"What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures...(such as)micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq...My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results."
Anyway, back to Cordesman's point. The second new piece of evidence appeared today, in the form of a report co-written by the U.S. embassy in Iraq and the U.S. military command. It basically concluded - back in January, before the Shiite shrine bombing in Samarra, which tipped Iraq closer to open civil war - that one-third of Iraq's provinces are seriously unstable. And that figure is worse than it sounds, because the Baghdad region, which is pivotal to the entire country's stability, is included on that list.
Baghdad, as well as the oil-rich Basra province, are rated as "serious" problems. According to the report, "serious" is defined as having "a government that is not fully formed or cannot serve the needs of its residents; economic development that is stagnant with high unemployment, and a security situation marked by routine violence, assassinations and extremism."
Well, maybe the "good news" that the media is supposedly missing can be found in the nine southern provinces, which have been generally touted as peaceful by Bush administration officials. Nope. In the embassy/military report, none of those nine provinces are rated as stable.
By now you might be wondering what the Bush administration, which is so often upbeat about Iraq, is saying about this downbeat report by its own people. Can it possibly explain away a report that rates five provinces as "serious" and a sixth (Anbar province) as "critical?"
The explanation came this morning, from Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. He told Fox News: "I wouldn't worry about the question of terminology. I wouldn't focus on it."
In other words: Pay no attention to the bad news that we ourselves have documented.