Sunday, April 09, 2006

Iraqi Freedom Day

Today is the third anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, officially dubbed "Iraqi Freedom Day" by the Iraqis. I wanted to post something inspirational about liberation from tyranny and the march of freedom in the Middle East. But I have just spent the past three hours in the television studio with Ambassador Khalilzad, who conducted separate interviews with ABC News, Wolf Blitzer/CNN, ITN, and Brit Hume/FOX, and quite frankly, I'm exhausted.

And I wasn't even the one on-camera.

The irony of this is that three years ago on this day, I was in another television studio discussing Iraq. In the spring of 2003, while completing my dissertation, I worked part-time as a military analyst for New England Cable News, America's largest 24-hour regional news network. I had done a number of live analysis, taped segments, and even viewer call-in shows on Operation Iraqi Freedom, and on April 9, 2003, I was scheduled to be the on-air analyst from noon to five.

At about 1000, I turned on the television to catch the latest news from the front, and to figure out what I would need to cram on in order to sound semi-intelligent. But to my surprise, the Marines had already entered central Baghdad, and the images filling the screen were of Iraqi crowds celebrating, and of a few Iraqi men trying to attach that length of rope to the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square. I was sitting transfixed at this amazing sight for less than a minute when the phone rang, and the producer from NECN was asking me if I could come in early to do live commentary.

I probably got my old Chevy Cavalier to do over 90mph as I rushed to the studio, afraid that I'd miss the statue being torn down. When I got there they rushed me to a seat next to the anchor's desk, offered me a slice of pizza as they affixed the earpiece and microphone, and in less than a minute I was live on the air. Although the statue was still standing, the Marines had driven a M-88 up to its base and wrapped its steel cable around the neck of the statue. Knowing that this moment was being recorded for historical posterity, I frantically tried to think of something historic to say when it came down (yelling "TIMBER" actually crossed my mind. Unfortunately, I wimped out, and quietly said "And there it goes" when it was uprooted, preferring to let the images speak for themselves.

Suffice it to say, it never crossed my mind back then that I would be in Baghdad myself three years later.