Comfy SOFA doesn’t sit well with media

The war in Iraq, the defining conflict of a generation, the major foreign policy blunder of our time, is set to come to a close. Take a moment. Be happy. The war is coming to an end. I repeat: The warâÄôs end has officially been declared. Not by President George W. Bush, not by Barack Obama , but by the democratically elected Iraqi government. (Please take a moment to appreciate this statement.) On Nov. 27, 2008, the Iraqi parliament approved a new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Essentially, they have proclaimed that we are becoming unnecessary, and we should begin packing our belongings. For Iraq and the United States, the passage through Parliament by a large majority marks a watershed moment, bringing a great increase in Iraqi sovereignty over American and other foreign troops on its soil. The new SOFA dictates that American forces must completely withdraw from Iraqi land no later than Dec. 31, 2011. Furthermore, combat troops are to withdraw from major urban areas by June of next year. The agreement also has far-reaching implications for how the American military will conduct operations within Iraq. American forces have been reduced (and I mean this in a good way) to seeking Iraqi authorization for even the most routine operations. The agreement requires that U.S. troops obtain Iraqi permission for all military operations and that they hand over the files of all detainees in U.S. custody to the Iraqi authorities, who will decide their fate. While a large force will remain in the country, this new SOFA sure sounds like a great step toward Iraqi sovereignty and mission success. Of course, this agreement will not placate the most obstinate objectors; those who desperately cling to the notion that the United States has imperialist aims in Iraq, thus wishing to forever occupy their land. To some, nothing but complete and immediate withdrawal will satisfy their indignation. I am inclined to agree with these folks in some respects, but I am also inclined to realism âÄî the kind that recognizes our obligations to the Iraqi people, our obligation to respect their wishes and our responsibility to leave the country better off than when we arrived. When America embarked on this mission more than five years ago, the stated goal was a self-sustaining, autonomous Iraqi government that was capable of defending itself. To date, we have never been so close to this aim. To be sure, challenges remain and the successful future of Iraq is anything but certain. But taking a moment to appreciate the current success is appropriate, if not compulsory. Yet, there has been a noticeably absent recognition in the media of this achievement. Reading The New York Times over the weekend, I couldnâÄôt help but feel a sense of dread. The new SOFA marks the beginning of the end in Iraq, and one would think we should be happy about it. But the stories read as if this historic development is only a speed bump down a road of inevitable doom. Writing on Saturday for The New York Times, reporter Steven Myers thought it most appropriate to highlight the possible and, in my opinion, rather unlikely conflicts this agreement could lead to. In the end, he begrudgingly acknowledges âÄúa victory for Bush.âÄù Other news outlets seemed equally eager to dismiss the significance of this agreement, choosing to focus on the disruptive opposition of radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his relatively minor 30-person voting bloc. I canâÄôt help but think the almost universal disapproval of the Iraq war in the media plays a role in the existing disregard and willful nonobservance of current success. I am inclined to be joyful about this development. I must openly acknowledge my bias: I am hoping for success in Iraq. I fear I might be a minority in the media in this respect. I desperately want to know that 16 months of my life was not wasted in service of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and I desperately wish for a sovereign and successful Iraqi nation. I seek information that serves this belief. Is hoping for success such a bad thing? To root for America to fail would seem counter-intuitive, unless, of course, you have made prior claims about the inevitability of failure and unless your hatred of Bush outweighs your desire to see America succeed. Many tacitly hope for our failure because theyâÄôd rather their own ideas be validated than see the success of BushâÄôs policies and the dissolution of their past proclamations of certain defeat. Independently, the idea of a sovereign democratic state in the Middle East is undoubtedly a good one. Surrounded by theocratic and despotic regimes, Iraq stands as the lone reed of hope for egalitarian society in the Arab world. I recognize that Iraq is far from ideal and defined more by sectarian division than egalitarian unity, but its current state still shows a remarkable improvement from where it stood a decade ago. Just two years ago, the media was all but united in the belief that Iraq was doomed. I question if past pessimism leaves media outlets incapable of offering positive appraisal of current-day Iraq. Of course, thorough scrutiny of government, especially concerning issues of war and peace, is the solemn duty of journalists, and I am in no way advocating a placid press. But perhaps a more dangerous prospect may be a media unwilling to acknowledge and accurately report positive developments in the face of past convictions. Ross Anderson welcomes comments at [email protected]