The First-Handers

Hearing about Iraq from the people who were there.

Talking about Iraq and talking about Iraq with candor and honesty are two very different things, as we are reminded virtually every time President George W. Bush makes a public statement about the war. Indeed, possibly the biggest reason that our nation failed to recognize how tragically events were spiraling out of control in Iraq during 2003 and 2004 was because we as a public weren’t hearing from the right sources. While the Bush Administration clogged the airwaves spinning yarns about children with sweets and flowers welcoming our troops, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld held court in circus-like press conferences that were more about his braggadocio than Iraq, a very different situation was developing on the ground than the one being described by these men and their media counterparts at Fox News.

While it might be too little, and it’s awfully late, a few of the credible voices we should have been listening to all along are beginning to receive the notice they deserve, and it seems no coincidence to us that the people who are the most insightful and realistic about the war are not politicians of either party. George Packer, reporter for The New Yorker, who chronicled the critical days after the fall of Baghdad in his book “The Assassin’s Gate” and Thomas Ricks, a reporter for the Washington Post, whose book “Fiasco” is essential reading on how the war and negligent occupation began, are two of the best sources for honest information, as is a documentary recently released and playing in the Twin Cities by Brookings Institution scholar Charles Ferguson titled “No End in Sight.”

Politicians of both parties have attended dog-and-pony shows in Iraq, conducted mostly in the fortified Green Zone where they are safe from the reality of that country, and return to America saying whatever they saw there lends credibility to the political position they had even before they went. They might be the ones on Sunday morning talk shows, but their political talking points are not helpful to those trying to understand the conflict.

Tomorrow night we have the opportunity to hear from someone who spent more than a year in Iraq. Thomas Wise, a Minnesota native and diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, will discuss his experience as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team supporting local leaders in Iraq. The event begins at 7 p.m. in the Humphrey Center Auditorium and is free, and we encourage the student body to take advantage of this and hear from someone who experienced Iraq as a resident, not just a spectator.