When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki called for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troop (Der Spiegel, 7/19/08), U.S. corporate media coverage of his statement displayed a remarkable condescension.
The New York Times‘ Steven Lee Myers (7/10/08) suggested that al-Maliki didn’t mean what he was saying and was just doing what Iraqi politicians have to do, explaining that the prime minister’s announcement “is partly a nod to Iraqi political realities, since Iraqi politicians must call for the end of the American occupation. No one in Iraqi realistically expects to throw out the Americans anytime soon–and few in Iraq believe that it would be safe to do so immediately.” Left unsaid is why Iraqi politicians “must” call for the end of the occupation. Apparently “no one” thinks it will happen, but maybe–just maybe–it’s what the Iraqi people actually want.
In fact, a multitude of polls show that the majority of Iraqis have consistently favored withdrawal since 2004, when a USA Today poll (3/22-4/2/04; Informed Comment, 4/29/04) reported that 57 percent of Iraqis wanted the immediate withdrawal of coalition forces. That’s what Iraqis have continued to tell pollsters throughout the occupation (Extra!, 11-12/07), including a poll in early 2008 for Britain’s Channel 4 (2/24-3/5/08) that found 70 percent of Iraqis saying that they wanted multinational forces to leave.
A subsequent Times report (“In Iraq, Mixed Feelings About Obama and His Troop Proposal,” 7/17/08) on Iraqi opinions of Obama’s timetable for withdrawal stressed the idea that Iraqis might want U.S. forces to stay for a while. The piece was based on 18 street interviews with Iraqis, hardly a comprehensive sample. The Times discovered evidence of “a deep internal quandary in Iraq: For many middle-class Iraqis, affection for Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war.”
Deep into the piece, though, readers learned that, “despite some fears about such a departure, that stance is not unpopular here”–a rather roundabout way of acknowledging that most Iraqis actually weren’t experiencing the “deep internal quandary” the New York Times was reporting.
USA Today, meanwhile, examined (7/9/08) the consequences of al-Maliki’s announcement for the American political establishment, concluding that it “represents a lesson for the Bush administration: be careful what you wish for.” Reporters Richard Wolf and Jim Michaels wrote that although the White House “has long sought an Iraqi government that can protect and govern its people independently,” it is now in a tough spot because al-Maliki has called for such a risky move.
White House critics might suggest that an Iraq that makes its own decisions about its future is actually not something White House ever wanted in the first place. But while journalists assume that Iraqi politicians who advocate for their constituents are being disingenuous, they tend to give the proclamations of American politicians a good deal more credence.