IN THE NEWS
One of the great failings of the mainstream press (my favorite whipping boy this week, it seems) is its inability to portray the Iraqi insurgency with any degree of specificity. Like any revolutionary movement, it has its familiar elements, as well as its uniquely national characteristics. In this case, it's not even a single movement, but a collection of different groups, often with very different objectives and methods.
The biggest confusion, of course, exists between non-Iraqi terrorists and home-grown Iraqi guerrillas. This line divides groups not only along methods (suicide car bomb attacks are not the same as sniping with RPGs at US troops), but also goals. The "foreign fighters," inasmuch as they are part of al Qaeda or an allied group, want to topple Western influence in the Islamic world altogether and instate some Talibanesque Islamist regime. It's not just the current phase of pan-Islam; it's a pan-Islamist programme they seek to advance, and the occupation of Iraq has given them a bevy of Western targets and Western-created grievances to exploit.
These are not, repeat, not the same groups as, say, Muqtada al-Sadr's now-famous Army of the Mahdi, or other Iraqi insurgent groups. Their goals and methods vary, too, but their cleavages are not as great as the chasm dividing Zarqawi et al. and the Iraqi guerrillas. Recently, the actual Iraqi insurgents collectively denounced the goals and methods of the foreign terrorists--not just PR, but a genuine expression of the distance the insurgents want to put between their cause and that of al Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam, and company.
How are we doing in Iraq? Or, to turn the question around, how are our enemies doing? That all depends on which enemies we're discussing.
The US government, from military briefers in Iraq to White House officials in Washington, don't help the matter. Of course, it's the job of the press to do more than repeat what politicians and bureaucrats tell them. The insurgency, I believe, is the great non-story in Iraq, the one that should be given more prominence in every backgrounder piece, every one- to two-paragraph summary in a news article, or commentary. Instead, we still hear the fiction repeated of some monolithic insurgency.