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It Reminds Me Of Iraq

I was a reporter in Baghdad right after the end of the ground war, right after Saddam's statue came down.

This week feels a bit like that week, strangely.

Let me explain.

I mean this in a very specific way.

When the U.S. and the coalition took over Baghdad, the Americans running things set up in the Republican Palace in the Green Zone. If we reporters wanted to know anything about the U.S. plans, we couldn't actually ask anyone in charge. There were no working phones. There was no email.

You just had to go to this one side gate, off to the left side of the palace, and there was an Army Private, named Frank or something, dressed in civilian clothes.

Frank had this clipboard with a questionnaire. You'd ask him something, he'd write it down. He'd walk into the palace. He'd be there a long, long time. Then he'd walk out and say, "I couldn't find anybody."

There would be a long line of American reporters and Iraqi civilians. He'd get the next question — he never took more than one at a time — and then go inside the palace, take a long, long time, and come out: "I couldn't find anybody."

For weeks, we reporters and, more importantly, the Iraqi people knew pretty much nothing about what was going on inside, who was running Iraq and what they were doing and planning for the future.

Sometimes you'd accidentally run into an American official somewhere in Baghdad and you'd find out some huge piece of news — the oil fields are operating or the entire Army has been disbanded. Most of the time, you had no idea what the people in charge were doing.

I have that same frustration this week. There is a group of people making massive decisions about all of our futures and we get little snippets, but we don't really know what's going on.

I want to make crystal clear: I am not accusing anybody of deliberate malfeasance or some secrete conspiracy to ruin our lives or anything. I know that everyone involved is insanely busy and reacting to the crisis as best they can. I am certainly not saying that our country is occupied or that an insurgency will take shape or anything else to do with Iraq.

I just mean two points:

1. We have an enormous desire to know what is going on and what it means and we're looking at it through a tiny pinhole in a greased up can (or some other metaphor that is better than that).

But there's something else:

2. We will almost certainly know everything or close to it, some day. There will be books and articles written, Congressional testimony and historical papers. This story will come out.

And not all that many people will care about the details.

I reported for months on corruption in Iraq. I would spend weeks to get the barest hint that maybe, just maybe, some weird stuff was going on at the Ministry of Health. I had no details.

These days, through court cases and inspector general reports, we get such rich detail spelling out massive corruption. I've seen stories on the front page of the New York Times with details that would have won me fame and every award in journalism in 2003. In 2008, I bet hardly anybody reads the stuff.

My hunch is this will be similar:

In, say, 2011, the economy — we hope — will be back on track and doing well and people will be bored with stories about that scary time a few years ago.

Or the economy will be a disaster and people will be focused on their own lives and the overwhelmingness of it all.

There will probably be a few scapegoats sent to jail. There will probably be some grand legislation passed designed to make sure this never happens again.

But few people will want to know about the details. Few people will care who made what decision back in that crucial week.

And Congress and regulators will be able to work, as they usually do on financial matters, without the careful scrutiny of the public.

I'm the same way. I lived in Iraq for a year. It was all consuming. These days, I don't even read those articles with all those details. Do you?