Thursday, July 12, 2007


Wishful Thinking, and Just Wishes

By now, many have taken in The Washington Post editorial today, describing “wishful thinking” on both sides of the latest debate over our efforts in Iraq. The Post offers helpfully:

If American men and women were dying in July in a clearly futile cause, it would indeed be immoral to wait until September to order their retreat. But given the risks of withdrawal, the calculus cannot be so simple. The generals who have devised a new strategy believe they are making fitful progress in calming Baghdad, training the Iraqi army and encouraging anti-al-Qaeda coalitions. Before Congress begins managing rotation schedules and ordering withdrawals, it should at least give those generals the months they asked for to see whether their strategy can offer some new hope.

TigerHawk, noting the Post’s editorial, suggests an apparent advantage for advocates of retreat:

The advocates of retreat have more supporters because they are asking that we take a risk in return for a certain benefit -- fewer American casualties and lower costs today. The retreatists also have more credibility than the Bush administration, which has made one incorrect prediction after another since before the war began.
The problem, of course, is that retreat also allows for the possibility of genuine catastrophe, not just in Iraq but in the region. That risk has to be weighed against the costs of continuing the fight, which after four years are pretty well-defined. We know that compared to our national income and population, the costs of remaining in Iraq are relatively low. In both human and financial terms, Iraq has been and will probably continue to be an inexpensive war for America to shoulder.1

1 Total defense spending, including Iraq, remains a much smaller proportion of GDP than it was even during the 1980s, much less the height of the Cold War. Casualties remain low, even including the seriously wounded. Yes, it is "stretching" our military, but only because in the recent reorganization of our military we guessed the next war would look like the Gulf War rather than Vietnam or the Philippines. We could fix that, and should.

In fairness to rest of TigerHawk’s assessment, he also speculates as to whether supporters of the war were right to entrust the effort to President Bush.

Other voices have joined in expressing similar cautions about a “precipitous withdrawal” from Iraq, or the dire consequences that follow there from, but often from the same set of assumptions that Iraq is a disaster, there’s a native-grown (rather than externally provoked or potential) civil war, and that we have failed in our efforts until recently.

I challenge these assumptions as largely ignorant, political motivated, naïve, or ill-informed. Iraq was never the mess the media made it out to be, we have had stunning successes, even in Iraq politically, and our enemies grow more and more desperate every day. This is all before one takes into account the very significant progress resulting from surge operations and a full fledged assault against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

There’s a kind of backwash of reflection going on in some quarters, where one could otherwise reliably count on to criticism of President Bush, every office and workstation of his administration, or supported public policy. One wonders if all these sober reflections are merely eyewash for a much hoped for “Grand Bargain” whereby the President surrenders his will (and integrity) in some vain hope for a constructive way out of the “mess that is Iraq.”

Also commenting on the Post Editorial:

Captain's Quarters (longer version at Heading Right)

I wouldn’t call it wishful thinking, more the wish itself, found in Jules Crittenden’s fierce criticism of the Associated Press and other traditional media. Jules rightfully assails these pretenders of Modern Journalism over their complete inadequacy, even malpractice, in ignoring the biggest story yet untold: the much discussed, but as yet unanalyzed, Surge.

Jules asks, are they lazy, stupid, or willfully ignorant? Lots of people have responded with their selection. Even some war critics don’t think there’s any unspoken fourth alternative.

I fully share Jules’ disgust with the AP’s work for the past several years, the politicization of their reporting, and their abysmal and agenda-driven reporting on Iraq. I’ve done my share of fact-checking and subjective-opinion-finding in AP reporting.

Here’s just a bit from Jules critique:

…the AP, these days, prides itself on putting together series and conducting special projects and in-depth looks just like a real newspaper. It’s been all over the problems war widows and the war wounded face, for example.

But the AP, as the primary source of international news for most American newspapers, deserves a closer look at its efforts on the ground in Iraq. The AP probably shapes more readers’ views about what is happening in Iraq than any other organization, and its performance there remains abysmal.  

Here’s one from the AP yesterday about a contested village north of Baquba.  The story is all about failure.  The failure to control this village. The failure of Iraqi forces to provide follow-on security in areas U.S. troops have cleared.  It tells us, “Fleeing insurgents appear to be trying to capture more territory farther north in Diyala, where Iraqi security forces are fewer.”

It doesn’t say why.  Because they have been run out of Baquba, after being run out of Baghdad and Anbar.  The three-week operation to clear Baquba has been highly successful, with the loss of one soldier, according to Michael Yon.  Can this possibly be true? One soldier killed in three weeks of what is routinely described as bitter fighting in Baquba, fighting that has run al-Qaeda out of the much-vaunted IED-saturated stronghold where al-Qaeda was executing people in the city square. How is that not a screaming headline?

If the headline would read the way AP wants it to read, as in disaster and defeat, the story would be told and retold several times a day.

I am not a professional journalist like Jules, just a pajama-clad amateur, but I find the incompetence, malfeasance, and utter contempt displayed by the media infuriating. I am not opposed to bad news. I expect media to be confrontational and oppositional. But in the same way that I want leaders held accountable, and ready to admit mistakes, I want the media held to the same level of accountability.

They can make mistakes, and their prejudices, preconceptions, and social preferences are not always (or even often) born out by reality. If they possess no other quality or character, I demand only that they be honest. Otherwise they surrender their rightful place in society, and should serve only as rags or advertising for their preferred causes.

The not telling of this story – and the not telling of hundreds of other stories since 2003 – represents the greatest disservice to our Nation by an entire institution, since the post Reconstruction judicial obstructionism that created and maintained separate but equal for 80 years after the Civil War. A lie is just as much a lie when it goes unspoken, if left unchallenged by those with the power to confront and refute.

(Links to WAPO and TigerHawk via Memeorandum)

(Cross-posted at MILBLOGS)

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