Back from Holiday
Greetings. I’m back from my holiday, and now I’m recovering from it. I spent a week in NYC and a week in Beirut, with too little time in each. Beirut was, frankly, more restful, despite a car bomb two blocks from the apartment where I crashed. (What, do I attract these things now?)
Anyway, it’s been a busy and stressful two weeks in the world, what with the jaw-dropping performances of President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi in the Rose Garden and before Congress. I watched the press conference and practically yelled at the television that the vision of Iraq didn’t mesh with the reality of what I had experienced on the ground: constant violence, the ever-present hum of fear, a growing insurgency and increasing bitterness toward the occupation — if more bitterness is even possible. I felt that it would have been wonderful to have the Baghdad press corps and the Washington press corps to trade places for a week while Allawi was in town. On the one hand, the president and prime minister would be challenged by reporters who had just been there and could call BS on them. “Ah, Mr. Prime Minister,” someone could ask. “I was just in Samarra, and you’re painting an exceedingly rosy picture of conditions for elections. No one here thinks they’re going to be held any time soon, including your interior ministry. Comment?”
And on the other hand, we’d get rid of the Washington press corps because they’d all be kidnapped. (Joke!)
Then there was my friend Farnaz’s email, which echoed many of my own complaints and concerns from September. The difference is she was writing a private email to her friends and family while mine is out there for all to see. There’s been a lot of speculation that the Journal came down on her, but I’ve learned that’s not the case and her vacation is just that — a scheduled vacation in line with her regular rotation. I have no idea of Karl Rove called the Journal or not to complain, but let’s just say I’m skeptical. I hate conspiracy theories.
And the debates! Wow! Who knew Kerry would come on so strong? I missed the first one, as I was in Beirut and the time difference was just too much for me, but I saw last night’s, and I was shocked to see Bush so fidgety and, yes, still peevish. His answers were pretty damn thin. In fairness, he did seem to calm down in the second half of the debate, but if people just watch the first half, it won’t look good for him. Kerry, for his part, was calm, but he did dodge several questions, including what he would do about Iran. I’m kind of curious about that as well. How about it, Senator?
An aside: Is anyone else, uh, peeved that the give and take is so compressed? I mean, honestly, I’d like to see more from each candidate than 90 seconds for a response and then 30 seconds for a rebuttal. Give ’em three minutes for a response and 90 seconds for rebuttal. From the questions asked last night, I think the American people are mature enough to deal with a longer debate format.
As for Iraq, well, it’s pretty much the same as when I left: chaotic, dangerous, reeling from everyday violence that’s the new normalcy. The attack on the Sheraton was really nothing unusual — it gets hit fairly often by rockets. But this time, there were television cameras around and CNN was desperate for footage. Most of us here in the press corps not living in the Palestine or Sheraton hotels were a little amused by the amount of play the attacks got. No one was killed or even seriously hurt, except for that lone, charred palm tree in front of the hotels. It will never give shade again, thanks to those evil-doing tree terrorists.
But I shouldn’t make light of it, really. It could have been much worse, and the only reason I can engage in macabre humor with a relatively clear conscience is because it wasn’t a very serious attack. The casualties, next time, will probably not be confined to the arboreal variety. And that’s no laughing matter.
There’s not much to report on this dispatch. I’ve been back only a couple of days and laid up with a nasty migraine for much of them. In the two weeks I’ve been gone, it feels like I’ve lost the plot of the story here, and it will take a few more days to get up to speed. In the meantime, there’s debate spin to digest.