WHY IS THIS SO HARD?

To join in with excellent new colleague Adam Serwer on the media's weird approach to Iraq coverage, let me offer Exhibit A: John Dickerson's article in Slate today, which suggests that Obama is throwing up some Nixonian shield of secrecy over his Iraq policy. The piece has all the best tropes of the genre:

  • Impossible to know anything without having been to Iraq. Dickerson is mad because Obama's Iraq trip hasn't changed his mind about his strategy. To Dickerson, this means Obama could be a Bush-like ignorer of facts, but on the other hand it is possible to assess the strategic situation in Iraq without going there. Intelligence reports, journalism, numerous experts, testimony from key policy-implementers, etc. are all available to U.S. Senators who need to make strategic judgments.
  • A decrease in violence means a change in policy. Obama recognizes that conditions have improved in Iraq (though, as we learn today, not necessarily because of the Surge) but he hasn't changed his strategy. But doesn't a decrease in violence give U.S. forces all the more reason to leave -- especially when top Iraqi officials support a withdrawal time line?
  • Opposing the surge is opposing COIN. Dickerson suggests that Obama's opposition to the surge included opposition to counter-insurgency doctrine. This is just false.

But there's another problem with this article's basic assumption: Obama has done a lot of work, from major policy speeches to op-eds to making his advisers available to the public, to make clear his Iraq policy. Dickerson is unhappy because Obama has not, in the few days he has been back from Iraq, revealed any new details of his policy, and that Obama adviser Susan Rice didn't provide him with examples of questions Obama had asked his staff about Iraq. These are all certainly things that, for a journalist, are worth teasing out. But compared to his opponent, who has revealed no specifics of his Iraq policy while making wildly contradictory statements about it, should Dickerson really be criticizing Obama for being ... the most transparent of the two candidates? I suppose it wouldn't be Slate if he didn't ...

--Tim Fernholz

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