Americans aren't being told the full story of how much progress has been made in Iraq since the troop surge began, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said at a news conference in Baghdad Sunday. An incident alleged to have occurred at that news conference suggests why. While Sens. McCain and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were speaking, they were being mocked by CNN reporter Michael Ware.
"Here you have two United States senators in Baghdad giving first-hand reports while Ware is laughing and mocking their comments," an official who was at the new conference told Matt Drudge. "I've never witnessed such disrespect. This guy is an activist, not a reporter."
Mr. Drudge did not identify his source, and Mr. Ware issued a denial on a CNN broadcast Monday. "I didn't say a word. I didn't even ask a question," Mr. Ware told CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, which wasn't exactly responsive to the official's criticism that Mr. Ware was "laughing and mocking their comments" while the senators were speaking.
In an earlier broadcast, Mr. Ware told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer that Sen. McCain and his companions were on a propaganda mission:
"Essentially they're here to view the impact of the surge on the Baghdad security plan and essentially to sell its merits to say that yes, it is having an impact and to take that message home to an American people desperate to hear signs of progress," he said. That sounds a lot more like opining than reporting to me.
On what basis does Mr. Ware accuse Sen. McCain, war hero and frequent Bush critic, of being an administration shill?
Sen. McCain cited as evidence of progress that his delegation was able to drive to the Green Zone in the center of the city from Baghdad International Airport, rather than helicopter in, as on previous visits, and because his delegation (under heavy guard) was able to visit a market that has been a frequent target of suicide car bombings.
"Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today," Sen. McCain said.
"The fact that Sen. McCain and a delegation can drive from the airport and walk around parts of Baghdad in a heavy security envelope is not new," Mr. Ware told Ms. O'Brien. "Generals and American representatives have been doing such things throughout the war. Indeed it's the old reinvented as new and in now way a sign of real progress."
The fact that civilian deaths in Baghdad have declined by 40 percent since a pre-surge peak in January indicates something is going right. So does the fact that insurgent groups in contentious Anbar province are battling al Qaida. But you don't hear much about this from "mainstream" journalists.
Tom Ricks of the Washington Post is a much more respected journalist than is Mr. Ware, for good reason. But he also relentlessly emphasizes the negative.
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey was in Iraq for a week in the middle of March. He wrote an after action report for his superiors at West Point, where he is a visiting professor.
Gen. McCaffrey does not sugar coat the situation: "Iraq is ripped by a low grade civil war which has worsened to catastrophic levels," he said in his opening paragraph. "The population is in despair. Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate."
But Gen. McCaffrey also said: "Since the arrival of Gen. David Petraeus... the situation on the ground has clearly and measurably improved... There is a real and growing ground swell of Sunni tribal opposition to the Al Qaida-Iraq terror formations... In my judgment we can still achieve our objective of a stable Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, not producing weapons of mass destruction, and fully committed to a law-based government."
Gen. McCaffrey also warned that "a disaster in Iraq will in all likelihood result in a widened regional struggle which will endanger America's strategic interests (oil) in the Mideast for a generation. We will also produce another generation of soldiers who lack confidence in their American politicians, the media, and their own senior military leadership."
Mr. Ricks belabors Gen. McCaffrey's dire assessment, but mentions only in passing (deep in the story) his view of the grounds for optimism since the surge began, and mentions not at all Gen. McCaffrey's view of the consequences of a premature pullout.
Most Americans have known for some while that the situation in Iraq is bad. That's not news. What is news is how much improvement there has been since the change in strategy. But few news organizations are reporting much about it. No wonder Sen. McCain is frustrated.