EDITORIAL: Iraq: We learned it from watching you, U.S.

Remember that late ’80s, early ’90s anti-drug ad with a curly-haired father yelling at his son while he holds open a cigar box full of drugs and drug paraphernalia? The father grows increasingly angry and demands to know “Where did you learn this?” The exasperated son finally breaks down and yells, “I learned it from watching you, Dad; I learned it from watching you!” While this commercial’s impact on the cokehead parents of the ’80s is questionable, it certainly, and unfortunately, seems to work as a metaphor for certain U.S. military actions in Iraq.

According to both the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times last week, the U.S. military is reportedly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-America/pro-war stories as a way to raise Iraqi morale around the war and American revamping of Iraqi politics and culture. This editorial board, thankful members of the free press as guaranteed to us by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, deplores any such unethical actions on the part of an American military that is meant to be bringing peace, justice and democracy – all of which is hindered by a corrupt press.

Even the most pragmatic of arguments that “this is the way it is over there” or “anything to help bring the conflict to an end sooner” will not suffice in this instance. Democracy, before it is a method of governing, is first an ideal and an essential component of that ideal is the virtue of liberty. Any military action that is in contention with this ideal is not fit for a country that is just starting to stand on wobbly, democratic legs.

What makes this story even more gut-wrenchingly hypocritical is the U.S. State Department is currently teaching seminars and workshops on what a free press looks like in a democratic society. It must never be forgotten that Saddam Hussein understood just how powerful the press could be and kept some of his most tyrannical rule over it, threatening death to those who tried to counter his propaganda machine. Because of this tainted history for the Iraqi press, the United States must work even more diligently – in both word and deed – to ensure that Iraq has the skills and knowledge needed to successfully enact a democracy. The hindering of free speech will not accomplish such lofty ambitions.

Thankfully, the president has already said if the U.S. military is indeed found to be paying for press that he will take action. This editorial board isn’t necessarily looking for some general’s head on a stake for this, but if corruption has occurred, change is necessary. We do understand that in war, certain efficiencies are desired, but we also believe a free press is not an area where America can waver – even for a moment.

Ultimately it boils down to the United States practicing what it preaches. If a free press really is valuable (and these words wouldn’t be on this page if it weren’t), then we must treat it as such, even if the Iraqi culture hasn’t yet fully embraced or understood it .

The above editorial is the consensus of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.