As I (and many other people) pointed out the night of President Obama’s speech, the war in Iraq is not over, despite the fanfare on the cable news networks. At least one news outlet is not accepting the “end of combat operations” uncritically. Tom Kent, standards editor for the Associated Press, said this in a memo to staff:
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country’s future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.
As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that “the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.”
However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.
In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
This is a stark contrast to the bells and whistles Glenn Greenwald chronicles in his blog post about the AP memo.
On August 18, NBC News anchor Brian Williams began his broadcast — shown live to West Coast viewers, something done only for very significant occasions — by excitedly declaring: “It’s gone on longer than the Civil War, longer than World War II. And tonight, U.S. combat troops have pulled out of Iraq.” He immediately called in Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel, who was exclusively embedded with the 4th Stryker Brigade. Engel excitedly announced that “the last American combat troops rolled” into Kuwait just moments ago.
We were then treated to grainy video of the khaki-dressed Engel “rolling out” with the Brigade, interviews with American soldiers describing what a historic event this was, all while the “NBC NEWS EXCLUSIVE” logo was plastered on the screen — quite reminiscent of the embedded media coverage that glorified the invasion itself. Even Williams noted the similarity: “We watched the invasion happen on live television thanks to, at the time, some brand new and exclusive technology. Well, tonight again we have watched the pullout of combat troops the same way.” At the end of the 7-minute segment, Williams heaped praise on Engel, whom he hailed as “our own young veteran of this conflict,” for this “astounding bit of reporting.”
I’m encouraged that AP acknowledges the reality of this milestone and it’s important that we all keep a critical eye on the war in Iraq and ensure that we see a real withdrawal of troops and private contractors that is worthy of celebrating.