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Let's take a harder look at the allied coalition in Iraq

ASK THIS | August 07, 2004

Presidential candidates like to say the election is about the future but when there's an incumbent, as in 2004, the single most important issue is more likely to be the incumbent's record.

By Barry Sussman

  1. President Bush says a broad coalition of countries has sent troops or workers to Iraq. How does this coalition compare with the one formed by Bush's father in the 1991 Gulf War?
  1. What countries are part of the coalition? How many people did they send in 2003 and how many do they have there now? What kind of help are they offering? Are any helping pay the expenses and, if so, how much?

If news organizations are to do their job, they've got to be taking a hard look at every aspect of George W. Bush's record as president. Instead, many have focused on strategy and tactics, on personality attributes, on how close the polls show the candidates, and on ads. Some of this reporting is excellent, especially coverage of the ads, in our view. But it's very limited.

Hard, fairly clear data exist on many important issues. We have in mind, for example, the administration's conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the national debt and deficits, jobs and the economy, global warming and other environmental issues, energy, justice in America, education and housing, and others. We're referring here to just plain old, unembellished facts, as best they can be sorted out.

Some questions cry out for examination. Whether your news organization is large or not so large, you owe it to your audience to provide answers. Much of the reporting can be done on the Internet.

For starters, there is the war in Iraq. (We'll save Afghanistan for another day.) Reporting isn't going to resolve arguments such as whether the Iraq war is part of the fight against terrorism or if it's a costly distraction, but it will inform them. For example, several Internet sites show there were lots more countries in the 1991 Gulf War coalition, including Arab countries. There also were perhaps five times as many troops (540,000 from the U.S. alone, almost 300,000 from other nations), for an engagement that lasted about six weeks. Other (mostly) factual questions dealing with Iraq: 

Q. There is a running tally of how many Americans died; it's at more than 900 as this item is written. How many have been badly injured or maimed? How about Iraqis: How many have died, how many have been badly injured or maimed?

Q. The administration, or the Pentagon, won't allow photos of flag-draped coffins. For a moment some months ago, that was challenged. Shouldn't the press be challenging it now?

Q. What about costs? Were the administration's estimates accurate or far off base? Have other countries chipped in to pay for the war? If so, how much?  How about a breakdown on how much is being spent, and on what?

Q. By comparison, how much did the first Gulf War cost, and who paid for it? Didn't other countries chip in a lot? ($5 billion from Japan?)

Some sources for reporting these stories: the U.S. State Department, the White House, the Defense Department, the BBC, and, for figures on the first Gulf War (Desert Storm), various Web sites.

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