“Reality Asserted Itself”
THE ELASTICITY OF REALITY AND THE WAR IN IRAQ
MARSHALLING WHAT HE called “simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense,” Thomas Paine once decried what he observed to be stubborn and wrongheaded resistance to the American war for independence: “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” Paine, however, claimed to be optimistic that his cause would prevail in the fullness of time, as “Time makes more converts than reason” (Paine 1776).1
At the time of this writing, in winter 2008, it seems clear in retrospect that in 2007 an important shift took place in the situation on the ground in Iraq—a shift that checked and ultimately reversed what appeared to be an implacable slide into chaos and defeat. Whatever the ultimate outcome in Iraq, we demonstrate in this chapter that recognizing and articulating this substantial turn of events proved exceptionally difficult not only for entrenched politicians and partisans but also for journalists attempting to communicate the Iraq story to the public, and for citizens seeking to understand the status of the conflict.
Attempting to explain this dilemma, commentator Michael Yon complained, “No thinking person would look at last year's weather reports to judge whether it will rain today, yet we do something similar with Iraq news. The situation in Iraq has drastically changed, but the inertia of bad news leaves many convinced that the mission has failed beyond recovery …whether it is good news or bad, whether it is true or untrue, once information is widely circulated, it has such formidable inertia that public opinion seems impervious to the corrective balm of simple and clear facts” (Yon 2007).
The war in Iraq provides an exceptionally interesting case for testing our theory. The circumstances described by Yon suggest that at the time he made these observations, the elasticity of reality with respect to Iraq had effectively collapsed to such an extent that public opinion was al-
1Apropos of the topic of this book, Paine also observed, “There is something exceedingly
ridiculous in the composition of monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of infor-
mation, yet empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required.”