Acknowledging Good Reporting
I feel compelled to issue a fatwa: Whereas in the past, the only New York Times reporter writing about Iraq that was worthy of praise, in my erudite opinion, was Sabrina Tavernise, I must say that the recent (...that is, past few months) bylines by Sam Dagher, Rod Nordland, and Campbell Robertson, have indicated a far more sober and reasoned reading of what is going on there. They sometimes write stuff that I take issue with, but on the whole it is very, very good. Certainly far better than what the paper gave us in the past.
Marc Santora, also of the NYTimes, does not measure up, and don't get me started on Ernesto Londono of the Washington Post, and pretty much the rest of the WaPo's coverage which lends itself to sensationalism and cynicism. The Los Angeles Times has never really registered with me as a must-read on Iraq, probably for good reason.
Even though I disagree fundamentally with his blatant activism, I would also take Nir Rosen's reporting (as opposed to his opinionating) very seriously. It is good to know that Hannah Allam (McClatchy) is back on the Iraq beat: depite a few misses, she's a stellar and highly credible reporter, which is why an error on her part gets magnified in my view. I can also trust that Eli Lake, over at the Washington Times, will always report the heck out of an Iraq story, and do it very well.
I don't watch much TV, so I don't know how the Iraq story is being reported there. I'd imagine it is shallow and superficial, given the target audience and air-time constraints.
Kenneth Pollack's most recent piece in the National Interest is thoughtful and compelling, even though I disagree with some of its key insights and recommendations. I always had good things to say about Colin Kahl, but unfortunately he has joined government (DoD), and his views will be far more guarded. Micheal O'Hanlon at Brookings is another person I disagree with often, but I'd think long and hard before refuting his well-contructed arguments.
Furthermore, I have a sense that as the Iraq debate becomes less of a shouting match, important nodes in the US government, even in such hopelessly partisan institutions such as the State Department and the CIA, are beginning to look at Iraq with calm and wise reflection. I've noticed a significant change in my daily interactions, and I am far more hopeful that this will result in a nuanced, far-reaching policy that understands what the New Iraq means to the rest of the region.
Among Iraq-focused Western bloggers, I haven't seen much improvement, or humility. Although Michael Collins Dunn at the Middle East Institute blog never fails to alert us to excellent arguments. Another emerging authority is Joel Wing (Musings on Iraq) who does a masterful job of compiling a narrative about Iraq that makes sense.
Most established Op-Ed writers don't seem to get it. The notable exception, of course, is Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal, who's skill, insight and wit make me fume with envy. Moreover, one should always pay close attention to the writings of Salameh Nematt at The Daily Beast; no one has a better feel for emerging trends in the region than he does.
Needless to say, the beautiful words of Fouad Ajami and Bernard Lewis should be learnt by rote. What they offer is scripture, and I see myself a lowly disciple. There are also a crop of young academics writing about Iraq who I have very high hopes for. They shall revolutionize the field, and bring back honesty and modesty to scholarship. Andrew Exum (Abu Muqawama) comes to mind, as does Thomas Heggehammer, Truls Tonnessen and the rest of the Norwegian Mafia. Thankfully, there are many other to keep an eye on.
I'm issuing this fatwa because I don't see this blog surviving beyond the upcoming January elections. And so begins the process of me recommending other commentators for the loyal readers who'll continue to have a need for an Iraq kick. That doesn't mean that I will stop writing, rather I will be writing in Arabic for an Iraqi audience on another website.
It's a mixed bag, but at least the tone has changed in an important publication such as the NYTimes, and it can be relied upon to get a balanced story on Iraq in the future.
Note: sometimes one takes for granted some of the people one admires, and in that vein, I like to include Bill Rogio (Long War Journal), Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Lee Smith in this fatwa.