In this essay Nick Oliveto presents an argument in favor of continued media coverage in Iraq, even after the soldiers have left, because while the war might be officially over, the problems continue.
On December 31, 2011, the last US soldier will leave Iraq, effectively ending Operation Iraqi Freedom. He will have buried four thousand of his fellow service men and witnessed the injury of over 32 thousand others. He will leave behind the desert, the dust, and the destruction. He will also leave behind over a hundred thousand Iraqi civilian casualties. The United States Government will leave behind a fragile democracy lead by Nouri al-Maliki and the over 800 billion dollars required to fund the war. If the depth of news coverage in Iraq maintains its proportionality to troop presence, then by the end of this year, then the last soldier will take the media with him.
US Combat Troops left Iraq on August 19, 2010, leaving a little over 50,000 US service members in the country. This number is almost half the number of soldiers in Iraq during the surge of 2007. When the troops left, the media coverage dropped, seemingly with troop levels. At the surge’s peak, 24% of all news was dedicated to the Iraq War, but dropped to 3% in 2008 – the conclusion of the surge – according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Journalists’ absence was immediately noticed as many key events in the country failed to even make it onto the evening news. For example, nine months after parliamentary elections, the Iraqiya and State of Law parties finally formed a government to little fanfare, and throughout February and March of this year major riots flared throughout the nation in protest of the ineffective government, but received only passing media coverage.
This cessation should not come as a shock, but as another demonstration of American eagerness to move onto new things. Nearly eight years of daily casualty reports, suicide explosions, and what seemed to be little apparent progress toward a stable Iraqi democracy has worn on the American psyche, which was already troubled by the fracturing debate leading up to the war. So it comes as no surprise that not only is the media ready to leave Iraq, but that the American people are ready to stop hearing about it. But the job of the media in society is not to pander to the public’s whims, but to inform. If issues exist that are of interest to the American public, then the media has a responsibility to inform the public of them.
While the United States will have no major military interests in the country, it will still have concern for the outcome of ongoing state-building efforts. These efforts are far from over and will not be completed by the end of the year. These efforts include combating a small, but insistent insurgency, a crippled economy, and a young and inexperienced government. Should any of these problems become aggravated, the hard-fought, expensive gains made by the US forces over these seven years could be quickly lost. The result could be a failed state similar to Afghanistan after it was left in ruins upon the Soviet’s retreat in 1989 – a population poor, unemployed, and angry at the United States.
From this perspective, media coverage of the issues plaguing Iraq: insurgency, poverty, and government inefficiency are more vital now more than ever. Even more so considering in the US government’s absence, these media outlets may be the only source of information for those still monitoring the region. Citizens in the country cannot even practice self-reporting through social media, as seen in other Arab countries, like Yemen and Bahrain, because wireless internet and broadband communications barely cover the country’s capital, let alone other areas.
If the media continues, or even increases, its coverage, the world will be empowered to help this new and needy country. Nongovernmental organizations will know what supplies and projects need funding. Humanitarian aid groups will know target populations in need of aid. Also, current news stories are largely limited to war correspondence, particularly with US soldiers. If the United States leaves, but the media maintains a robust reporting capability, it can even work as a constructive force. The media serves as a spotlight in open societies, continually keeping watch over governments, exposing societal ills, and informing the public, so that problems may be redressed. Should the media perform these actions and not abandon Iraq in the year’s end, then the last soldier to leave has one more thing he can be proud to leave behind.