CBS's Gloomy Harry Smith on Iraq: All Pessimism, All the Time

On Tuesday morning’s Early Show on CBS, host Harry Smith continued to spread media pessimism about the situation in Iraq while interviewing Michael O’Hanlon from the left leaning Brookings Institution in the 7:00 half hour. Smith began the interview by asking O’Hanlon about the return of violence in Iraq, "We just watched this piece with Kelly Cobiella, there had been this peace, this lull, this sort of seeming cessation of violence during the election period and for awhile, the violence is back again, there are lines at gas stations because the price of gas has gone up in Iraq, it seems a little bit like business as usual has returned there, what do you make of this?" Smith later expressed his doubts about democracy in Iraq and their future ability to establish a government, "people are encouraged to participate in this democracy, can they form a government was the question we were asking a couple of weeks ago, do you see any signs that this is actually going to take place?"

However, for all of Smith’s pessimism, there are good signs that even O’Hanlon had to point out. For instance, the fact that the price of gas is rising in Iraq is a good sign because, as O'Hanlon says, "although the fact that gas prices are up is good news, they've been subsidized at the rate, I think, 20 cents a gallon being the cost or so which is totally a drain on the Iraqi budget. So some of these things have to happen and that's just one of the stories that we have to keep in mind." Later, O’Hanlon praised the Bush administration for having a correct strategy and conceded that the training of Iraqi security forces is going fairly well. "...they still see us as occupiers even though we're really not, and therefore we have to come up with this strategy, as the Bush administration has rightly done, of downsizing as quickly as possible. So I think Secretary Powell was right, the military is feeling a lot of strain, but the core reason here why we're going to downsize is because Iraqi security forces are now more capable, and we have to downsize to lower this perception that we are occupying the country."

Although O’Hanlon had this praise for the situation, he still harped on the Sunni discontent over the December 15 elections, "...but I'm more troubled by the fact that the Sunni Arabs, who voted as you know in large numbers a couple of weeks ago, seem to be very unhappy now with the election, believing they were fraudulent, calling for a rerun of the elections. That's a bad sign because we need the elections to lead to a Sunni Arab buy in to the whole political process, and if that doesn't happen, the longer term prognosis is not very good." Sunnis make up 1/5 of the population in Iraq, yet O’Hanlon seems to think we need to make concessions to them or else they may return to violence. Logically, it would seem, it would be more in our interest to tell the Sunnis in no uncertain terms to drop the violence, and concessions can be discussed, but if they continue to support the insurgency, not only will they be further isolated from the political process, but the opportunities to gain concessions they want will be lost as well, and by the sheer numbers, the Sunnis can not win a civil war.

Secondly, Sunni protests are viewed in this interview as a negative, where as it can and should be seen as a sign of political inclusion and free speech. In elections, there are always winners and losers, and as we’ve seen in US politics, it is not unusual for the losing side to not only be disappointed in the results, but to declare the winning side cheated, committed fraud, intimidated voters, etc., in essence anything that tries to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the vote. In reality, it is very simple, if preliminary results hold, the religious Shia coalition got the most votes, and lets not forget, the Shiites are the majority in Iraq so it makes perfect sense that their political parties would do well.

For the media and other talking heads to suggest that because the Sunnis are upset at the results, it puts democracy in Iraq at risk is a farce. The only way Iraqi democracy is put at risk is if the will of the voters is ignored and the Sunnis are given more power than they have earned through the electoral process.