There's a concerted, at times hysterical, effort underway by war supporters to attack the media for being too negative about Iraq, while they insist that American troops are upbeat, happy, and filled with patriotic purpose every waking moment they patrol Iraqi cities and villages. This scenario is most heavily peddled by those who've visited Iraq, and it's used as a way to bludgeon critics by saying "I've been there. Have you?" The implication, of course, is that if you oppose this war but haven't actually been to Iraq, then your opinion is not only uninformed, it's useless, if not treasonous.
This tactic was shamelessly employed by Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) last Friday night on "Real Time with Bill Maher," as she attempted to shut down fellow panelist Richard Belzer and the audience who applauded his antiwar comments. "I've been there! I've been there!" she kept squawking, trying to convince those watching that the average grunt in Iraq is not only highly-motivated and wants to war to continue, but that he or she is fully informed about the geopolitical and historical framework in which they are serving. Doubtless there are educated soldiers and Marines who understand and accept, to varied degrees, what they've been ordered to do. In every war, many of those sent to fight believe in the stated mission, regardless of the actual pretext or hideous reality. To be expected. But Belzer, after acknowledging this, could have countered by asking Ros-Lehtinen what she thought of groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War. They've "been there" too, in serious ways that she cannot imagine. (Or what about one-time rightwing poster boy Pat Tillman, who said to his close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer as they watched bombs drop on Iraq, "You know, this war is so fucking illegal"?) Does this then mean that Ros-Lehtinen has no right to question their opposition to a war that, unlike her, they actually fought? Or do only American politicos sauntering about under heavy guard for the purposes of stateside PR get to speak about Iraq?
This logic can be extended to war supporters in the US who've never been to the Middle East, much less Iraq. It can be used on those who blast Saddam Hussein's regime: "You say Saddam was brutal, but were you there when he was in power? No? Then how do you really know?" And so on. Belzer might've asked Ros-Lehtinen, after she droned pompously on about the dire need to confront the mad tyrant Saddam, what her opinion was about those in her party, like Donald Rumsfeld, Bob Dole and Alan Simpson, who not only went to Iraq while Saddam was in power, but shook his hand, slapped his back, did photo ops, assured him of further US support, and in Simpson's case, offered Saddam tips on how to deal with America's Liberal Media, which had said bad things about our stout regional ally. Following her own example, Ros-Lehtinen's view couldn't be taken seriously, since Rumsfeld, Dole and Simpson were there with Saddam, and she was not.
In this world of instant connections to global hotspots and unfolding events, one can, given the time and energy, learn a great deal about places one will never personally see or conditions one will never directly experience. Bush made this very point while speaking at a war rally in West Virginia the other day. He suggested that war supporters use blogs and the Web to "spread the word" about what's happening in Iraq. Not a word about citizens flying to Baghdad to soak in the wonders of our glorious invasion. And while visiting a war zone would undoubtedly strengthen one's opinion, pro or con, only a small number of American civilians can afford to do so, or really want to. As for the Iraqis, most of whom have no choice but to endure endless cycles of violence, they can probably tell Ileana Ros-Lehtinen a thing or two about their ongoing "liberation." After all, they've "been there," remain "there," and continue to die "there."