Despite my dislike for the New Yorks Times’ editorial policies and the way it appears to infect its news reporting, one of the bright spots of the mainstream news media is John Burns, the veteran Times correspondent for the Middle East. His work cannot usually be characterized as biased, and he regularly provides balanced coverage.
His report today on the Iraqi election is no exception. Burns notes that while the Iraqis still remain skeptical about American motives, they clearly delighted in the ability to select their own leadership, and that the religious differences that has frightened the Left into hysteria is overblown:
Nobody among the hundreds of voters thronging one Baghdad polling station on Sunday could remember anything remotely like it, not even those old enough to have taken part in Iraq’s last partly free elections more than 50 years ago, before the assassination of King Faisal II began a spiraling descent into tyranny.
The scene was suffused with the sense of civic spirit that has seemed, so often in America’s 22 months here, like a missing link in the plan to build democracy in Iraq. Gone, for this day at least, was the suspicion that 24 years of bludgeoning under Saddam Hussein had bred a disabling passivity among the country’s 28 million people, an unwillingness, among many, to become committed partners in fashioning their own freedoms.
At the Darari primary school, east of the Tigris River in central Baghdad, the courtyard teemed with people of all ages, and of all ethnic and religious groups, doing what American military commanders here have urged for so long: standing up for themselves, and laying down a marker, with their votes, that signaled they could not be intimidated into surrendering their rights by the insurgents who have terrorized the country with guns and bombs and butchers’ knives.
Burns also relates a story that shows the Arabic predilection for conspiracy theories remains strong:
Nor, it seemed clear, could Americans assume that elections made possible by United States military power would reverse, except briefly, the hostility toward their country. Many voters said they would not have been there choosing new leaders if the United States had not led the invasion that rid them of Mr. Hussein. But as often as not, the words seemed reluctant, as if crediting Americans for anything was a step too far.
One man, Ahmed Dujaily, 80, a London-trained engineer who was agriculture minister under King Faisal II, put it politely. “We thank the Americans for destroying the regime of Saddam,” he said. “But often, they were not careful for the people; they did many wrong things. Now, we know what they are looking for. They are looking for oil, and military bases, and domination of the new regime. They will have their military headquarters for the region in Iraq, and when they will leave, nobody knows.”
Of course, Dujaily has plenty of company for his paranoia. Lynn Woolsey, supposedly a rational representative of American politics, said much the same thing on MS-NBC yesterday, claiming that the American military were in Iraq to generate profits for Halliburton. In fact, her fellow party members appeared all over the television talk shows yesterday urging Bush to abandon Iraq as soon as the transports could fly. Small wonder Dujaily thinks the way he does; al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya probably have news hours built for American defeatism on display.
Burns doesn’t rise to the bait, however, reporting that Baghdad had never seemed more relaxed to veteran travelers in the region, both for the residents and the American soldiers which helped secure the city:
American soldiers on checkpoint duty hundreds of yards back from the Darari school showed what a morale boost the elections had been for them as they relaxed in the sunshine beside their Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles, with lowered weapons and ready smiles for the voters passing by. There had been no day like it since the first American units arrived to the cheers of crowds and the tossing of flowers in April 2003, and that lasted barely 24 hours, as unchallenged looting began to devastate the city.
Foreigners who have been visiting Iraq for 15 years and knew the tension that crackled under Mr. Hussein could remember no other day when the city, in wide areas, seemed so much at ease.
The sound of distant bombs, mortars and rifle fire punctuated the day, and televisions quickly spread the message that there were at least 28 new Iraqi victims of the insurgent violence in Baghdad. Overhead, American attack helicopters bristling with missiles were never far away.
But much of the larger part of the tableau, to those who have lived in a city paralyzed by the war, was the fact that great streams of people flowed down avenues and side streets emptied of traffic where, for months, the watchword has been haste and vigilance about the risks of sudden death.
Most Western coverage missed this perspective on Baghdad, even though milbloggers like Beef Always Wins had the photographic evidence to prove it. John Burns, as always, proves himself an invaluable resource for those who want to stay truly informed on Middle East events. Be sure to keep up with his reports while the New York Times still employs him.
If you want to know more about Burns, read this post (I don’t think the original article is still available) and see how he was the first reporter to unveil Moqtada al-Sadr as an inept clown. It provided welcome contrast to the MSM screeching that anointed Sadr as the brains behind the coming Shi’ite revolution in Iraq.
UPDATE: Actually, the original article is still live on the system.