WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced yesterday that he would remove half of the 5,000 British troops in Iraq by next spring. Given the uncertainty of conditions on the ground in Basra, where British forces have been based, it is no small matter. Whatever one thinks of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, no serious person could ignore the consequences of a victory for Al Qaeda and the forces of Islamic extremism in that tormented nation. Yet, based on American media coverage of Mr. Brown’s decision, there are not serious persons aplenty among the news elites that matter.
None of the major television networks offered live coverage of Mr. Brown’s appearance before the House of Commons, where his announcement faced acrid criticism. Instead, ABC, CBS, and NBC happily served up their regular daytime fare of soaps and mindless sitcoms. CNN was caught up in a story about the death of two Boston firefighters. MSNBC told us everything we wanted to know about sex offenders. Not to be outdone, Fox News was agog over gluttonous scenes from the “Waffle House World Waffle Eating Championship.” (In typical American fashion, this “world series” of waffle-eating involved participants drawn mostly from the state of Texas.)
All the big media, of course, eventually reported Britain’s troop reduction. Yet they did so, not with any strategic military perspective, but mostly in political terms—the unpopularity of the war, the electoral calculations of Mr. Brown, etc. Apparently anxious to find gaping rifts between Washington and London, The New York Times now describes the once-close alliance on Iraq as “fraying.” Indeed, reporter Jane Perlez discerns in Mr. Brown’s announcement a rupture of the first magnitude:
“A hallmark of Mr. Brown’s three months as prime minister has been the relative distance he has established with the American president.”
A hallmark? The origin of that word comes from Goldsmith’s Hall in London, where various objects were once tested and stamped. The Oxford dictionary defines hallmark as “a distinctive feature,” and then offers the following example: “Tiny bubbles are the hallmark of fine champagnes.” Whether any “hallmarks” of any kind could be established in three months of any administration is a question we’ll leave for others to sort out.
Here are some tiny bubbles, though, worth mentioning: Most of the U.S. media have given scant attention to the sacrifice and valor of British troops serving in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Most Americans have little idea what our allies have helped to accomplish in these crucial theaters in the war on radical Islam. We rarely hear how Iraq’s most responsible leaders regard Britain’s engagement against the enemies of democracy in Basra, or how the local population there views a reduction in British forces.
Yesterday’s announcement by Mr. Brown gave the American media another opportunity to tell us these things—another road less traveled. Instead, we know much more about the endless traumas of Britney Spears, the alleged Bush-Brown divide, and how to eat 29 waffles in 10 minutes without suffocating. If, as Thomas Jefferson once observed, “information is the currency of democracy,” then it’s not just the American dollar that’s in trouble these days.
Joseph Loconte is a Washington-based columnist for BritainAndAmerica.com and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.