CBSN

Us Vs. Them -- But Who Are They?

(AP / CBS)
We're more than four years into the war, and the media may now be digging deeper into the brutal realities of Iraq than they ever have before. In recent weeks, reporters have been questioning whether Al Qaeda in Iraq is related to the Al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11, as the president has implied. (The answer: Not really. Al Qaeda was not operational inside Iraq in 2001.) The media have also begun looking into the assistance that Iran is providing the Mahdi Army in Bahgdad as they fight American troops. And reporters have become more confrontational in presidential press conferences, with even Fox News folks starting to sound like Helen Thomas.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times took it to another level, asking: Who Are We Fighting? According to the blockbuster expose, very often it's an ally.

Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said …

The situation has left the U.S. military in the awkward position of battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in sending extremists to commit attacks against U.S. forces, Iraqi civilians and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

I know we've got a lot on our geopolitical plates here – from the political battle over the surge on the domestic front to concerns about North Korea to wondering about our other "ally" Pakistan's political stability – but here's hoping that a little extra attention be shed upon Saudi Arabia. (And given the fact that Iraq's parliament is going to be on vacation for all of August, maybe the news media can look south during that time on occasion.) This isn't tinfoil helmet stuff here; we knew soon after 9/11 that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

The war in Iraq and the war on terror don't lend themselves to simple us/them breakdowns. And this isn't a call to arms or a call for retreat – it's merely a call to approach things as clear-eyed as possible. There are a number of inconvenient truths about the war we are engaged in now. And the media would serve us well – in the current summer lull – by getting to the bottom of some of them.

The best news stories -- like the best presents under the Christmas tree -- come with the label "Some Assembly Required." A spot news story is always important, but in a complicated world the most crucial news stories are often those that, as we heard repeatedly in 2001, 'connect the dots.' The dots of news stories are out there, like stars in the night sky, but the true public service is done by the journalist who can identify the constellation and the story behind a spot here and there.