Tuesday, July 31, 2007

George Packer has questions on O'Hanlon/Pollack piece

And good questions they are:

Who organized their schedule?

How much time did they spend in each place they visited (Baghdad, Ramadi, Mosul, Tal Afar)?

How many Iraqis did they speak with, and whom? Did they meet Iraqis without American officers present?

What could and couldn’t they independently confirm from their briefings by military sources? For example, how do they know that, in Mosul and Tal Afar, “the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside”?

Well, judging from their myriad appearances on the tee-vee yesterday, the answer to that first question is the miliatry. They apparently organized the whole thing. The rest, I don't know.

Packer also points out the upbeat notes struck in the piece, which contrasts markedly with their recent skepticism and pessismism on the war, and he ends with a zinger: "What’s missing from the Op-Ed is a necessary humility."

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 9:16 AM

Monday, July 30, 2007

One-third decline or "All-time high"?

An opinion piece in the NYT today that alleges we are winning in Iraq has been getting whacked around a bit, but there seems to be a question about one of the statistics the authors chucked out there, specifically: "[C]ivilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began."

The authors seem to be relying on a Defense Department report obtained by Reuters, which, indeed, notes a sharp decrease in attacks against civilians in June (Following a four-month rise). But what O'Hanlon and Pollack fail to note is that the same Reuters report noted that the civilian decline was offset in recent months by sharp increases in attacks on Iraqi and "Coalition" forces. Indeed, June was the month when the average daily attacks reached an all-time high -- 177.8.

One could argue that one of the new strategies of the surge was to move troops from giant Forward Operating Bases into smaller posts in Iraqi cities -- which could lead to higher attack rates. But the authors don't even bother addressing this issue -- they only cherry-pick the stat to make things look more stable than they really are.

ALSO: In the article the authors claim that in Ramadi they "strolled down its streets without body armor" and in a Baghdad neighorhood they walked around without incident. Wouldn't it be worth noting whether these leisurely strolls were achieved with or without military cover? I'm assuming it's the former, but less informed readers might conclude the latter.

UPDATE: Robert Farley performs a much more thorough -- and devastating, I think -- dissection of the piece, including a discussion of the "one-third" number.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 10:21 AM

Friday, July 27, 2007

Nuking the Goalposts

Shorter Dean Barnett:

Even if all of Scott Beauchamp's allegations prove true, it really doesn't matter because The New Republic is run by a bunch of poopyheads.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 3:33 PM

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Heads we Win, Tails we Win

I was curious to see what, exactly, was fueling all the nutjobbery over the "Scott Thomas" affair -- you know, the erstwhile pseudonymous "Baghdad Diarist" for The New Republic. Andrew Sullivan [a former TNR editor] has his thoughts, so does Ezra Klein. And Matthew Yglesias gets cranky. Most of the analysis has to do with worldviews clashing with real-life and etc., etc. All worth a read. But on a purely practical level, this commenter going by the handle "graceyneice" over at Hugh Hewitt's site gets pretty close to the truth of what's really going on here:

If Beauchamp's stories are true, he's screwed for not reporting it, if the stories are lies (which I believe they are) he is screwed.

It's a no-lose! If the claims are true, he's a bad soldier who needs to be punished (if he's not, there'll be hell to pay, believe you me!). If any of his claims are false, we get to claim an Emm-Ess-Emm scalp. Champagne either way.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 11:48 PM

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The evolution of Carl Kassel's voice

The iconic NPR newsreader and scorekeeper of Wait!Wait! has sounded different lately, no? In the last week that I've been listening, his distinct baritone drone has sounded higher in pitch, less resonant, more pinched. He almost comes across as a younger, less assured Kassel. Indeed, I first noticed the change when I didn't recognize the man on the radio, then thought it might be a son, then realized that it was, in fact, Carl Kassel.

Anyone with a clue about what's happened ? Or am I just, ahem, hearing things?

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 11:03 AM

Compare and Contrast

Ah, the constant source of glee that is the Power Line:

Michael Yon is teh awesome for printing unsubstantiated rumor and hearsay!

The New Republic is teh suck for printing unsubstantiated rumor and hearsay!

[Let me add that if TNR did not made even a cursory attempt to validate the claims made by a pseudonymous soldier -- as they seem to be suggesting -- that would be a very bad thing]

LATER: Upon further reflection, the TNR example is more along the lines of "unsubstantiated first-hand tales told by an anonymous source," rather than "rumor and hearsay." Eh.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:50 AM

BREAKING! Matt Damon is totally boring!!!

GQ reveals the exciting news that the star of the Bourne films does not like to talk about his bartender wife, his out-of-wedlock child, or anything having to do with anything -- other than how underappreciated he is as a star. Also, he discusses Montgomery Clift ('Monty' to Matt and Liz) while admitting he's never seen any of his films.

Still, the piece did include this interesting tidbit about the Obama-backing actor's opinion on John Edwards [sorry, no linky]:

I would not be disappointed if he was the president. What a bunch of bullshit to call him the Breck girl for getting a haircut. How much did Bush pay for the fucking flightsuit?

Is Damon a Greenwald reader?

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:20 AM

Monday, July 23, 2007

The exciting TNR-is-he-a-fake-soldier? hullabalo

This screed seeks to excoriate the pseudonymous soldier who wrote a piece in The New Republic regarding the horrors that soldiers are supposedly committing in Iraq. I remain agnostic on all fronts. However, if the post had, perhaps, say, a single fact that could counter the original piece, I might be willing to believe it. But the author seems incapable of mounting such a defense, so what's the point? That aside, I believe is the most telling part of the piece:

...[T]here is also a bit of assumed wisdom on our side as well. That is that most journalists are gutless weasels possuming a ride on the backs of better men and women than themselves. They are parasites whose sole function seems to be advancing a narrative of evil America, cause of all that is ill with this world. There is no problem they are unwilling to lay at the feet of greedy rapacious America, busy killing brown people all over the planet, and now even slaughtering Gaia herself. Damn us!

Journalists are gutless weasels riding on the backs of better men and women? That's a fairly glib, robust charge, and it's pretty much all you need to know about the character of the author of that post.

To be fair, other Blackfive posters have tried to dispute the article with facts and alleged incongruities in correspondences from soldiers who think they know which unit this alleged soldier is corresponding from. TNR says it is investigating.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:47 PM

Why we will never lose in Iraq

If you're Hugh Hewitt, that is. Was strolling through a transcript of Hewitt's interview of Joel Achenbach that included the typical Hewitt-style ambush tactics, when I came across a passage so astonishing I had to pull it out:

I think actually, we deploy our technologies every single day in the War On Terror in Iraq, and everywhere else, to great effect and great success. And I think if you'd talked to some military people...I'm a civilian, like you, but I try and talk to a lot of them. They think we're doing a hell of a job there, that we're winning, and that we're simply not getting the message back to the American people that the effort is not only good and noble, but working. And I think your column may have fallen into the defeatist tinge a little bit, and a little bit ambivalent about whether we can ever win this thing.

This was from June, 2006. Four months after the Samarra mosque bombing. When, according to most accounts, the country's security had descended from simply bad to the equivalent of Hell on Earth. And yet, here is Mr. Hewitt, blithely asserting on his radio program that "We're winning" and our strategy is "working." It is lunacy. Or lying. What people like Gen. Petraeus need to understand is that Hugh Hewitt is a very calm, very intelligent, very friendly, nut.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:50 AM

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Getting Closer

Many serious-minded people have wondered what it will take to win in Iraq. Behold, Power Line [quoting this person favorably]!

The men who decimated German and Japanese cities as part of the effort to win World War II as quickly as possible would have been perplexed by descendants who now send American troops house to booby-trapped house and expect to achieve anything but more war, "limited" though it may be.

To which the astute commenter vladimir estragon replies: "OK, which cities should we decimate?"

Or, as a man I ran into in Bayonne once said: "What we need to do is nuke Baghdad. Just nuke 'em all."

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 11:33 AM

Friday, July 20, 2007

Al Gore-Sea Bass story a complete fake


Rather, the restaurant later confirmed, the [Chilean Sea Bass] had come from one of the world's few well-managed, sustainable populations of toothfish, and caught and documented in compliance with Marine Stewardship Council regulations.

And yet it was mentioned by Rush Limbaugh's fill-in host today -- doesn't that make it true? Well, it will be in the minds of wingnuts worldwide, who will tell the tale again and again when they gather 'round the campfire. Good work, People Magazine! [via, shockingly, InstaPundit, who fanned the flames of the original bogus story]

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 5:37 PM

Fear strikes out

Blogger-reporter Michael Totten parachutes into Baghdad and immediately tempts the Fates:

After having spent several days [in] Baghdad’s Green Zone and Red Zone, I still haven’t heard or seen any explosions. It’s a peculiar war. It is almost a not-war.


You’d think explosions and gunfire define Iraq if you look at this country from far away on the news. They do not. The media is a total distortion machine. Certain areas are still extremely violent, but the country as a whole is defined by heat, not war, at least in the summer. It is Iraq’s most singular characteristic. I dread going outside because it’s hot, not because I’m afraid I will get hurt.

Well, then. Mr. Totten doesn't explain just how many days he's spent outside the Green Zone, or whether he was with or without military cover (I can guess). Maybe all those tortured corpses they find in the streets every day are all holograms, or something. The Iraqis have nothing to fear!

For the record, I haven't spent a day in Baghdad, but here's somebody who has, and here's what he had to say to a Senate panel yesterday:

If there is one word I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq -- on the streets, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods and at the national level -- that word would be fear.

That's Ryan Crocker, our Bush-appointed envoy to Iraq. Jeez. Doesn't he know it's the heat that gets to you in Baghdad, not the terror-loving-insurgent-crazies?

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 12:54 PM

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More questions on story of baked Iraqi child

WorldNetDaily, the conservative website, interviewed Michael Yon recently about his story of the baked child -- a child, he claimed, that al Qaeda served to his parents. He emails WND:

Perhaps it's urban legend. I have no idea. But my reporting was spot on. … I quoted someone and offered zero opinion. [ellipses in original]

Well, that's a telling statement. Moreover: "My reporting was spot on"?!! This, I'm afraid, is complete nonsense. As I've pointed out before, with claims this fantastic, it is incumbent on the reporter to nail down the facts before printing. If the AP -- an organization that Yon and his brethren have excoriated consistently for their sloppiness and sloth -- played this game of "I heard a rumor" would Yon be so easy on them? I think not.

You want to be taken seriously? Do some more reporting on the matter, come back to me with some real facts, some real witnesses, some real dates, and something other than the word of one anonymous Iraqi official who may or may not have an agenda to advance with this sort of tale. If you have the goods, show me.

Relatedly, WND claims to have found another tale of another boy baked and served to his family (this time beheaded, roasted, and served on a bed of rice!), from 2006. There is no sourcing on the matter, just a tale relayed as Word-of-God fact. Hilariously, WND takes this as further confirmation that Yon's tale is accurate, not just a permutation of what increasingly sounds like -- yes -- an urban legend.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:51 AM

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I don’t want to pick on Michael Yon. After all, he’s in Iraq and I‘m not. He’s putting his life on the line, and I’m in a comfy apartment. But I am taken by this piece of reportage, which purports to convey a third-hand story about some al Qaeda types serving a boy, with stuffed mouth, to his family, as food.

Predictably, this has set off many of the usual suspects, who have concluded that said incident proves that mainstream reporters are somehow covering for evil al Qaeda. I’ll leave that type of cognitive dissonance to those more capable than I, but I would like to address this Yon story.

Namely: how in the world does he know this is true? Sounds to me like he got this story – at least – third hand. Of course, reportage sometimes relies on third-hand sources, but in a story like this, my first instinct would not be to print, but to determine whether what this source was telling me was even remotely true. But here’s how Yon justifies publication:

…[T]he resulting controversy about whether what the man said was true, or whether his words should have been written if the writer couldn’t verify them, seems precious. There is no imaginary line of credulity that al Qaeda might cross should it go from beheading children to baking them.

Now look here. That is just about the worst excuse I can ever think of for printing something. For example, I may know that a certain person is a burglar, but does that make it easy to conclude that he is also a pedophile? It strikes me that reportage like this – fantastic as it is – should be nailed down before it gets aired. I have no doubt that Yon heard what he heard. But I hear a lot of things, too, I just don't put them down for everyone to read.

Yon hints that he has more details on the matter. Great! Let’s hear them. Better yet, let’s go back to this official, ask where the incident occurred, get more information, ask if there was anyone else there who witnessed the incident, etc.

It comes down to credibility. The naysayers in certain precincts of blog-world keep telling us that the big news organizations have lost credibility because they keep screwing up. They point to people like Yon, who they say are giving us the first-hand unvarnished truth. And in many cases, what he is doing is laudable. But of late, he seems to have acquired a penchant for conveying rumor and fourth-hand tales; then when challenged, he dismisses such talk as “precious.”

Which is not to say that this incident didn’t happen. Sure it could have. But Yon’s reportage doesn’t convince me one way or the other.

One last thing: he talks about how it’s easy to conclude that al Qaeda served children as food, after all they beheaded them in the past. He pushes this forward as if it as an incontrovertible fact. Is it? He’s basing it – again – on his thin reporting on the matter.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 3:06 PM

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Yes, he is that stoopid

Super-patriot bloggers on the case!

MICHAEL YON POSTS ANOTHER REPORT FROM IRAQ: Warning: The photos, of what Al Qaeda did to a village and its inhabitants, are pretty graphic. It's interesting to contrast his first-hand reporting, with names and photos, with what we're getting from the A.P.

Hah! See, this is funny, because the rightwingosphere is once again showing us that things are going super duper in Iraq, and maybe there were only, like a few people decapitated, not a few dozen. Well then.

Curiously, Prof. Reynolds fails to highlight this section of reportage from Mr. Yon:

Later in the day, some of the soldiers from the unit I share a tent with, the C-52, told me that one of their Kit Carson scouts (comprised of some of our previous enemies who have turned on al Qaeda) had pointed out an al Qaeda who had cut off the heads of children. Soldiers from C-52 say that the Kit Carson scout freaked out and tried to hide when he spotted the man he identified as an al Qaeda operative. Just how (or if) the scout really knew the man had beheaded children was unknown to the soldiers of C-52, but they took the suspected al Qaeda to the police, who knew the man. C-52 soldiers told me the Iraqi police were inflamed, and that one policeman in particular was crazed with intent to kill the man who they said had the blood of Iraqi children on his hands. According to the story told to me on 30 June, it took almost 45 minutes for the C-52 soldiers to calm down the policeman who had drawn his pistol to execute the al Qaeda man. That same policeman nearly lost his mind when an American soldier then gave the al Qaeda man a drink of cold water.

Ohhh-kay. So we're getting this jumbled story third-hand from some soldiers who tell Yon that another "scout" had said that he'd heard that an al Qaeda guy of some sort had been responsible for beheading children. Or something. Michael Yon doesn't know whether this is true, just shrugs his shoulders and mumbles: "Maybe, maybe not." Please, Prof. Reynolds, explain to me how this is any better than what we get from the dread AP.

As an aside: Is there any doubt that if the preceding Yon post (complete with photos of muddy, decaying Iraqi corpses!) were written by someone not named "Michael Yon" that said author would be accused of aiding the enemy sapping our soldiers' morale?

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 4:39 PM


The inimitable Digby:

Don't you think it's a little irresponsible for the press to fail to report all the good news in Glasgow today?

She's a national treasure.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 1:23 AM

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