Pointing his finger at members of Congress and dignitaries like Brookings’ analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who make brief sojourns to Iraq and then return with “bold pronouncements of ‘what I saw’ at the front,” former Washington Post Baghdad correspondent Jonathan Finer warns today that “those who pass quickly through the war zone should stop ascribing their epiphanies to what are largely ceremonial visits“:
As Washington anticipates a September report assessing the troop surge, there is good reason to be skeptical of such snapshot accounts.
A dizzying number of dignitaries have passed through Baghdad for high-level briefings. The Hill newspaper reported this month that 76 U.S. senators have traveled to Iraq during the war, 38 in the past 12 months. Most never left the Green Zone or other well-protected enclaves. Few, if any, changed the views they held before arriving. [...]
Those who visit Iraq undertake significant risks, which are inherent in traveling to Baghdad, no matter who’s providing their security. Policymakers should be commended for refusing to blindly trust accounts from diplomats, soldiers or journalists. But it’s worth remembering what these visits are and what they are not. Prescient insights rarely emerge from a few days in-country behind the blast walls. [...]
It goes without saying that everyone can, and in this country should, have an opinion about the war, no matter how much time the person has spent in Iraq, if any. But having left a year ago, I’ve stopped pretending to those who ask that I have a keen sense of what it’s like on the ground today. Similarly, those who pass quickly through the war zone should stop ascribing their epiphanies to what are largely ceremonial visits.
(HT: Kevin Drum.)