Media Addicted to Bad News from Iraq

We all sense — or know firsthand — the perils of addiction and dependency. You just can’t kick the habit. You gotta have one more dose or drag of …

Negativism on Iraq?

In American journalistic circles, the habit reclaims some who might have taken a measure of encouragement from turnout in the Iraqi election a couple of weeks ago. As news of the vote count swirls, addiction reasserts itself. Hack! Cough!

The rap is that, all the votes having been counted, the Shiites came out ahead, with 48 percent. The Kurds were next, with 26 percent, followed by the secular Shiites, who pulled 14 percent.

The Washington Post‘s front-page story found the outcome ironic. Had not the United States been hoping to hand over power to a secular regime? Instead, “Iraqis went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base. It is the last thing the administration expected from its Iraq policy.”

The New York Times for its part suggested that a “weak” Iraqi government is in prospect — one possibly in need of American help in brokering disputes.

I introduce none of this material in order to heckle the media. I would merely ask: When does good news start to count as good news?

Several factors seem to shape and occasionally obscure coverage from Iraq. First, the seemingly ceaseless bombings, which cause many to wonder whether this Wild East saga has any end. Second, the sheer complexity of the rivalries: What do Americans really understand about people who feud over murders that occurred in the first millennium A.D.? Third, the anti-war fervor of the past year and a half, which makes Bush skeptics wary of seeing the bright side, if any.

What do we do in kicking our We’ll-Never-Get-Out-Iraq-in-One-Piece addiction? We might start by taking a deep breath.

Opportunities for deep breathing hardly abound in a land where you can’t quite know, on leaving home, whether the ambulance crews will be trying in a few minutes to reunite your elbow and index finger.

Consider, anyway. A few weeks ago, the very idea of holding a successful election in Iraq seemed mad to many. The local homicidal maniacs promised the streets would run with the blood of prospective voters. Several score voters died: the point being that scores of thousands would have died if the maniacs were as big and bad as they profess to be.

Now, the election returns, on which the positive news is — what? Surely, that power in the national assembly will be widely dispersed. That is exactly as we, and the Iraqis, too, should like things: no single interest group capable numerically of ramming a particular structure, a particular outcome, down the national throat.

Even the communists won two seats in the national assembly. Something called the National Independent Elites and Cadres Party outdistanced them by precisely 18 votes. Further behind were the Reconciliation and Liberation Entity and the National Rafidain List. I myself would not know a Rafidain were it to jump up and say boo. It is no bad thing, even so, to find they have a hand in this thing. All Iraqis desirous of rebuilding their country should have a hand in this thing.

It is messy, yes. Democracy, in its various guises, is messy. The blessing it confers is the obligation it imposes: The big and the small must to one degree or another work together. Working together is easily preferable, on practical as well as aesthetic, grounds to blowing each other up.

Shall we just calm down and watch how all this works out? It isn’t necessary at this point to glimpse the governmental form into which Iraq will settle itself eventually. It’s enough to know that forms of a different sort are for now being observed: those that engender restraint, respect and decorum. That should do for a while.

Note to the nail biters and hand wringers: Shhhhh.