Commentary Magazine


Topic: John Burns

The Times‘s Great War Correspondents

I often take issue with articles and columns in the New York Times, but it remains a great newspaper with many first-rate, fearless news-gatherers. One of them was severely wounded Saturday while accompanying U.S. troops in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. Photographer Joao Silva stepped on a mine while on patrol. Thankfully, he survived. Medics administered immediate assistance, and he was evacuated by helicopter. Typical of his professionalism and dedication, he continued snapping pictures even after being hit. He will undergo his long-term recovery at Walter Reed hospital in Washington. (The story is here.)

Silva is hardly the only Times journalist who has placed himself in harm’s way in search of a story. Reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last year and freed in a raid which killed his interpreter. Farrell only had to spend four days with his captors; his colleague David Rohde spent seven months in Taliban captivity before escaping.

Their self-sacrifice has not been in vain. For all the many problems of the Times, its war reporting has been outstanding, thanks to the efforts not only of the individuals mentioned above but also many others such as Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins, C.J. Chivers, John Burns, Alissa Rubin, and Carlotta Gall. They have been fearless truth-gatherers and have generally described the wars they have covered fairly and accurately. Certainly in Iraq, they provided a better picture of what was happening than the hopelessly rosy-eyed descriptions generated by U.S. military commanders from 2003 to 2006. In Afghanistan, I have also found their reporting generally to be on the money.

I wish Silva a speedy recovery and hope his colleagues remain safe when they are on the front lines — as they often are.

I often take issue with articles and columns in the New York Times, but it remains a great newspaper with many first-rate, fearless news-gatherers. One of them was severely wounded Saturday while accompanying U.S. troops in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. Photographer Joao Silva stepped on a mine while on patrol. Thankfully, he survived. Medics administered immediate assistance, and he was evacuated by helicopter. Typical of his professionalism and dedication, he continued snapping pictures even after being hit. He will undergo his long-term recovery at Walter Reed hospital in Washington. (The story is here.)

Silva is hardly the only Times journalist who has placed himself in harm’s way in search of a story. Reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last year and freed in a raid which killed his interpreter. Farrell only had to spend four days with his captors; his colleague David Rohde spent seven months in Taliban captivity before escaping.

Their self-sacrifice has not been in vain. For all the many problems of the Times, its war reporting has been outstanding, thanks to the efforts not only of the individuals mentioned above but also many others such as Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins, C.J. Chivers, John Burns, Alissa Rubin, and Carlotta Gall. They have been fearless truth-gatherers and have generally described the wars they have covered fairly and accurately. Certainly in Iraq, they provided a better picture of what was happening than the hopelessly rosy-eyed descriptions generated by U.S. military commanders from 2003 to 2006. In Afghanistan, I have also found their reporting generally to be on the money.

I wish Silva a speedy recovery and hope his colleagues remain safe when they are on the front lines — as they often are.

Read Less

RE: Newsweek Squeak

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

Read Less

What Iraqis Want You to Hear

Two days ago ABC News released a new poll of Iraqi public opinion, and John Burns at the New York Times made a very perceptive observation that should be taken into account when looking it over.

Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

This feels right to me, not only thanks to my experience in Iraq, but also in places like totalitarian Libya where no one dared criticize the regime in public, and where everyone I spoke to did so in private where they were safe. Saddam Hussein commanded a murder and intimidation regime in Iraq, and today’s insurgents wage a murder and intimidation campaign in the streets. In Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi civilians were murdered just for waving hello to Americans, and for accepting bags of rice as charity. Fear should not be ignored when gauging Iraqi public opinion, and that includes fear of American guns as well as fear of insurgents.

I’ve been to Iraq five times, and never once have I heard an Iraqi say anything hostile about Americans. Partly this is because I don’t spend time in insurgent circles. How could I? The Iraqis I’ve met don’t represent the full spectrum. Middle Easterners are also famous for their politeness and, unlike some people from other parts of the world, they will not get in your face if they don’t like where you come from. (Al Qaeda members are an obvious and extreme exception, but they’re hated everywhere in Iraq and are violently atypical.)

Burns is right, though, that there’s more to it than that, and there’s also more to it than he let on. Why would Iraqis say to me, an embedded American reporter, that they want Americans to get out of their country while well-armed Marines are standing nearby? Marines won’t punish Iraqi civilians for saying so, but I doubt very seriously that everyone in Iraq understands that.

I often suspect Iraqis tell me what they think I want to hear. What they’re really doing, more than anything else, is telling me what they want me to hear. The difference is subtle, but crucial.

The evidence that this is happening can be found in the public opinion polls, and in the obvious fact that not every Iraqi wants American troops in their country. If everyone were really supportive, as it appears to me when I’m there, the insurgency would not exist. The amount of pro-American opinion – or at least neutral and passive opinion – that I’ve been exposed to in Iraq is artificially inflated.

None of this, though, means the polls are accurate. If 42 percent of Iraqis believe attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable, why has almost the entire country turned against the insurgents?

Here is where I think Burns’ keen observation explains the discrepancy between my experience as a reporter, the public opinion polls, and the reality of a radically diminished insurgency.

A single individual may tell me that he supports the American military presence, and the very same day tell a pollster that he opposes the American military presence. That’s the safest thing to say in each instance. The pollster will be given a safe anti-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from insurgents, while I’ll be given a safe pro-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from the Marines who are standing right next to me. It’s impossible to know what this hypothetical person really believes without additional data.

John Burns provides additional data. Let me quote him again. After a five-year assignment in Iraq, he writes “My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.” Some of these Iraqis may have been merely polite when they said so, but I think it’s safe to say none feared retaliation from an unembedded and unarmed reporter from Scotland who spoke to them off the record.

Iraqi public opinion is more hostile than I can see and hear for myself as an embedded reporter. But it’s less hostile than what you see in the polls, and it always has been.

Two days ago ABC News released a new poll of Iraqi public opinion, and John Burns at the New York Times made a very perceptive observation that should be taken into account when looking it over.

Opinion polls, including those commissioned by the American command, have long suggested that a majority of Iraqis would like American troops withdrawn, but another lesson to be drawn from Saddam Hussein’s years is that any attempt to measure opinion in Iraq is fatally skewed by intimidation. More often than not, people tell pollsters and reporters what they think is safe, not necessarily what they believe. My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.

This feels right to me, not only thanks to my experience in Iraq, but also in places like totalitarian Libya where no one dared criticize the regime in public, and where everyone I spoke to did so in private where they were safe. Saddam Hussein commanded a murder and intimidation regime in Iraq, and today’s insurgents wage a murder and intimidation campaign in the streets. In Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraqi civilians were murdered just for waving hello to Americans, and for accepting bags of rice as charity. Fear should not be ignored when gauging Iraqi public opinion, and that includes fear of American guns as well as fear of insurgents.

I’ve been to Iraq five times, and never once have I heard an Iraqi say anything hostile about Americans. Partly this is because I don’t spend time in insurgent circles. How could I? The Iraqis I’ve met don’t represent the full spectrum. Middle Easterners are also famous for their politeness and, unlike some people from other parts of the world, they will not get in your face if they don’t like where you come from. (Al Qaeda members are an obvious and extreme exception, but they’re hated everywhere in Iraq and are violently atypical.)

Burns is right, though, that there’s more to it than that, and there’s also more to it than he let on. Why would Iraqis say to me, an embedded American reporter, that they want Americans to get out of their country while well-armed Marines are standing nearby? Marines won’t punish Iraqi civilians for saying so, but I doubt very seriously that everyone in Iraq understands that.

I often suspect Iraqis tell me what they think I want to hear. What they’re really doing, more than anything else, is telling me what they want me to hear. The difference is subtle, but crucial.

The evidence that this is happening can be found in the public opinion polls, and in the obvious fact that not every Iraqi wants American troops in their country. If everyone were really supportive, as it appears to me when I’m there, the insurgency would not exist. The amount of pro-American opinion – or at least neutral and passive opinion – that I’ve been exposed to in Iraq is artificially inflated.

None of this, though, means the polls are accurate. If 42 percent of Iraqis believe attacks on U.S. forces are acceptable, why has almost the entire country turned against the insurgents?

Here is where I think Burns’ keen observation explains the discrepancy between my experience as a reporter, the public opinion polls, and the reality of a radically diminished insurgency.

A single individual may tell me that he supports the American military presence, and the very same day tell a pollster that he opposes the American military presence. That’s the safest thing to say in each instance. The pollster will be given a safe anti-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from insurgents, while I’ll be given a safe pro-American opinion as a hedge against retaliation from the Marines who are standing right next to me. It’s impossible to know what this hypothetical person really believes without additional data.

John Burns provides additional data. Let me quote him again. After a five-year assignment in Iraq, he writes “My own experience, invariably, was that Iraqis I met who felt secure enough to speak with candor had an overwhelming desire to see American troops remain long enough to restore stability.” Some of these Iraqis may have been merely polite when they said so, but I think it’s safe to say none feared retaliation from an unembedded and unarmed reporter from Scotland who spoke to them off the record.

Iraqi public opinion is more hostile than I can see and hear for myself as an embedded reporter. But it’s less hostile than what you see in the polls, and it always has been.

Read Less

Iraqi Hope And Democratic Deafness

Iraq data continues to stack up against the Democrats’ mission to draw down troops and leave. A recent Pew poll showed that 53 percent of Americans believe we will win in Iraq. But more compelling still is this new ABC poll which demonstrates the changing attitudes of Iraqis themselves.

The proportion of Iraqis who say the U.S. invasion was right is at an all-time high of 49 percent—up twelve points since August. Unlike other shifting metrics, such as the dropping casualty rate, this number can’t be used to mount a “so, we’re just back at the disastrous levels of two years ago” argument. A new high isn’t a step backwards to anything, and this one finds almost half of Iraq praising U.S. policy. Also, keep in mind what John Burns pointed out in his New York Times piece this Sunday: Iraqis probably under-report when it comes to pro-U.S. opinions.

But how do they feel about their own country? Fifty-five percent of Iraqis now say their own lives are going well. This is a sixteen point gain since August. Sixty-two percent say local security is good—a 19-point jump, and 46 percent say they expect Iraq to be better in a year; that’s a gain of twenty-three points. The big story is that negativity is drying up. The poll report notes that, “the 35-point drop in views that security is worsening is the single largest change in this poll.”

Of course there are ongoing challenges, which speak to the need for America’s commitment. If everything was rosy, we could indeed leave. So: while we’re winning their hearts and changing their minds, what kind of policy would call for abandoning an Iraq on the verge revolutionary improvement?

Why, the Democratic one. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech in which she said, “I have concrete detailed plans to end this war, and I have not wavered in my commitment to follow through on them.” One of the main Democratic criticisms of George Bush is that he’s unable to change or reverse policy better to suit a situation in flux. Has Hillary decided to imitate his much-derided “intransigence”?

Iraq data continues to stack up against the Democrats’ mission to draw down troops and leave. A recent Pew poll showed that 53 percent of Americans believe we will win in Iraq. But more compelling still is this new ABC poll which demonstrates the changing attitudes of Iraqis themselves.

The proportion of Iraqis who say the U.S. invasion was right is at an all-time high of 49 percent—up twelve points since August. Unlike other shifting metrics, such as the dropping casualty rate, this number can’t be used to mount a “so, we’re just back at the disastrous levels of two years ago” argument. A new high isn’t a step backwards to anything, and this one finds almost half of Iraq praising U.S. policy. Also, keep in mind what John Burns pointed out in his New York Times piece this Sunday: Iraqis probably under-report when it comes to pro-U.S. opinions.

But how do they feel about their own country? Fifty-five percent of Iraqis now say their own lives are going well. This is a sixteen point gain since August. Sixty-two percent say local security is good—a 19-point jump, and 46 percent say they expect Iraq to be better in a year; that’s a gain of twenty-three points. The big story is that negativity is drying up. The poll report notes that, “the 35-point drop in views that security is worsening is the single largest change in this poll.”

Of course there are ongoing challenges, which speak to the need for America’s commitment. If everything was rosy, we could indeed leave. So: while we’re winning their hearts and changing their minds, what kind of policy would call for abandoning an Iraq on the verge revolutionary improvement?

Why, the Democratic one. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton delivered a speech in which she said, “I have concrete detailed plans to end this war, and I have not wavered in my commitment to follow through on them.” One of the main Democratic criticisms of George Bush is that he’s unable to change or reverse policy better to suit a situation in flux. Has Hillary decided to imitate his much-derided “intransigence”?

Read Less

John Burns’s America

John Burns, the distinguished New York Times foreign correspondent who just recently left his posting in Baghdad (where he had been stationed since before the Iraq war), granted an interview with the British Independent last week. Burns is an honest reporter who never lets ideology get in the way of his work, and his Iraq coverage is widely admired by both those who oppose and support the war.

A man perhaps more well-traveled than anyone, a member of “a new tribe that lives on 747’s,” Burns, who is British, offers his views of the United States:

He is a “tremendous admirer” of the U.S. and thinks anti-Americanism is fool-headed. “People need to make a clear distinction in their mind between a war at present that they judge ill and a country that is a very great nation of which we are all—not just we Brits but all of us everywhere—beneficiaries. What kind of world would this be without America, its power, its culture, its generosity, its enterprise, its invention, and what it has taught us all about liberty? I’m sorry if that sounds jingoistic—I believe it.”

Perhaps Naomi Klein’s husband, Canadian television host Avi Lewis, will invite Burns onto his talk show. As Lewis did with previous guest Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he can inform Burns that his “faith in American democracy is just delightful,” and ask the distinguished Englishman, “Is there a school where they teach you these American clichés?” No doubt Burns’s credibility would underscore the foolishness of Lewis’s ruminations.

John Burns, the distinguished New York Times foreign correspondent who just recently left his posting in Baghdad (where he had been stationed since before the Iraq war), granted an interview with the British Independent last week. Burns is an honest reporter who never lets ideology get in the way of his work, and his Iraq coverage is widely admired by both those who oppose and support the war.

A man perhaps more well-traveled than anyone, a member of “a new tribe that lives on 747’s,” Burns, who is British, offers his views of the United States:

He is a “tremendous admirer” of the U.S. and thinks anti-Americanism is fool-headed. “People need to make a clear distinction in their mind between a war at present that they judge ill and a country that is a very great nation of which we are all—not just we Brits but all of us everywhere—beneficiaries. What kind of world would this be without America, its power, its culture, its generosity, its enterprise, its invention, and what it has taught us all about liberty? I’m sorry if that sounds jingoistic—I believe it.”

Perhaps Naomi Klein’s husband, Canadian television host Avi Lewis, will invite Burns onto his talk show. As Lewis did with previous guest Ayaan Hirsi Ali, he can inform Burns that his “faith in American democracy is just delightful,” and ask the distinguished Englishman, “Is there a school where they teach you these American clichés?” No doubt Burns’s credibility would underscore the foolishness of Lewis’s ruminations.

Read Less

Al Qaeda in . . . Mesopotamia?

In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

Read More

In today’s New York Times we read this:

The recent drop in violence against noncombatants in Iraq occurred during a time when al Qaeda in Mesopotamia had promised to inflict more. Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.

This is of course good news. And yet this paragraph highlights, as if we needed more evidence, the political bias of the editors of the Times (it is important to note that some of their reporters, like John Burns and Michael Gordon, are first-rate). Instead of referring to al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as, say, al Qaeda-Iraq—which is how our commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, describes it—the Times refers to the organization as al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. And this phrase is always followed up with this formulation: “Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a homegrown Sunni Arab extremist group that American intelligence has concluded is led by foreigners.”

The indispensable James Taranto, who writes the daily online column “Best of the Web,” has made merciless fun of the Times for doing this (playing off the Times, he refers to AQI as “al Qaeda Which Has Nothing to Do With Iraq in Iraq Which Has Nothing to Do With al Qaeda”). At the risk of taking the editors of the Times too seriously, it’s worth considering what the Times is trying to achieve.

In a single sentence, the Times does three things. First, it refers to Iraq as Mesopotamia, thereby using a more obscure term in an effort to disconnect al Qaeda from Iraq. Second, it goes out of its way to say that “homegrown Sunni Arab extremists” constitute the group, thereby emphasizing the indigenous rather than foreign element of al Qaeda in Iraq. And third, it attempts to put a question mark around the foreign involvement of AQI by saying that “American intelligence” has concluded it’s being run by foreigners.

The problem is that while the Times wants to separate the Iraq war from al Qaeda, al Qaeda itself does not. Osama bin Laden has declared:

The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers. The world’s millstone and pillar is in Baghdad, the capital of the caliphate.

As for the homegrown aspect of AQI: it’s true (as you would expect) that many members of AQI are Iraq Sunnis—and it’s also true that our military estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by foreign-born al Qaeda terrorists brought into Iraq for a single purpose: to blow themselves up in the cause of killing innocent Iraqis, which in turn will push Iraq closer to civil war.

As for the foreign composition of AQI: it’s not incidental. Al Qaeda in Iraq was in fact (not alleged to have been) founded by foreign terrorists linked to senior al Qaeda leadership. The Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded AQI—and his successor (Zarqawi was killed in June 2006) is Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who is Egyptian. Zarqawi, who ran a terrorist camp in Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks, had long-standing relations with senior al Qaeda leaders and had met with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the ideological leader of al Qaeda. In 2004, Zarqawi and his jihadist organization formally joined al Qaeda and pledged allegiance to bin Laden, promising to “follow his orders in jihad.” And bin Laden publicly declared Zarqawi the “prince of al Qaeda in Iraq” and instructed terrorists in Iraq to “listen to him and obey him.”

Clearly the Times wants to disconnect the Iraq war from al Qaeda and the wider war against Islamic jihadists. The more they can pry the two apart, the more unpopular the Iraq war will be. And the Times, if it wants anything at all, wants America’s involvement in Iraq to end, regardless of the cost, including genocide, a victory and safe haven for jihadists, a victory for Iran, and a wider regional war. And as we have seen, they will go to ridiculous ends to play their part.

Read Less

Time and Our Side

contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

Read More

contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.

This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)

Ignatieff also explains his support for the war on fairly narrow grounds: his (admirable) emotional attachment to Iraqi exiles who believed the war was the only chance that members of their generation would have to live in freedom in their own country. The humanitarian case against Saddam was overwhelming, but it was not anything like the sole reason to go to war. The United States believed, with the rest of the world, that Saddam had WMD stockpiles. (We know now that he wanted to end sanctions while preserving his capability to reconstitute his WMD program when the sanctions regime ended.) Hussein was also the most destabilizing figure in the Middle East, having invaded two countries and committed genocide in his own. He was responsible for the death of more than a million people. Recklessness and hyper-aggression were in his DNA.

A third point: Ignatieff seems to be arguing for an American withdrawal, though he doesn’t say it outright. This would consign Iraqis to cruelty and slaughter on a scale that is almost beyond our capacity to absorb. In the words of the New York Times reporter John Burns, “cataclysmic violence” would follow in the wake of an early American withdrawal. Ignatieff, who supported the war for humanitarian reasons, is already being cited by those who want to accelerate an American withdrawal, despite the ethnic cleansing and genocide that would follow. This would be a difficult thing for a man like Ignatieff, of impressive moral concerns and commitments, to defend.

We may now be at a hinge moment in Iraq, when—after years of costly mistakes and misjudgments—we are on the right path. General David Petraeus says he needs one thing more than any other: time. Anyone who purports to care about the future of Iraq, and of the Iraqis, owes him at least that much.

Read Less

Casualty Counts

Critics of the troop surge have been arguing that it isn’t making any difference on the ground—the only thing it’s doing, they claim, is driving up American casualties. The facts are starting to contradict their claims.

I’ve recently posted a couple of items noting that reliable on-the-ground observers—namely Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution and John Burns of the New York Times—have found that violence against Iraqis is falling. Now comes news that the number of American casualties is also declining, at least temporarily.

There were spikes in the number of Americans killed in action in April (104), May (126), and June (101)—up from 83 in January, 81 in February, and 81 in March. The increases were to be expected because this was the period when more American troops were arriving in Iraq, and were starting to go on the offensive against Shiite and Sunni insurgents. All along, the theory behind the surge was that while there might be a short-term spike in casualties, eventually, as the troops started to get the situation under better control, our losses would decline.

Read More

Critics of the troop surge have been arguing that it isn’t making any difference on the ground—the only thing it’s doing, they claim, is driving up American casualties. The facts are starting to contradict their claims.

I’ve recently posted a couple of items noting that reliable on-the-ground observers—namely Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution and John Burns of the New York Times—have found that violence against Iraqis is falling. Now comes news that the number of American casualties is also declining, at least temporarily.

There were spikes in the number of Americans killed in action in April (104), May (126), and June (101)—up from 83 in January, 81 in February, and 81 in March. The increases were to be expected because this was the period when more American troops were arriving in Iraq, and were starting to go on the offensive against Shiite and Sunni insurgents. All along, the theory behind the surge was that while there might be a short-term spike in casualties, eventually, as the troops started to get the situation under better control, our losses would decline.

As this Associated Press story notes, that seems to be what’s happening: they report the death tolls for July as 73, while the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count reports it as 74. Whether 73 or 74, that’s the lowest figure in eight months—since November 2006, when 70 Americans were killed.

We should not, of course, read too much into these statistics. There have been declines in past summers as well, while in previous falls, the numbers of casualties have again increased. (Perhaps insurgents don’t enjoy fighting in 120 degree heat.) It doesn’t take many atrocities to cause a spike in the body count. And even though, now, the number is lower than it has been in the past eight months, 73 dead Americans is still 73 too many. Nevertheless, as the public and its elected representatives try to draw conclusions about whether the U.S. strategy is working, they should take the current decline in casualties as a modest indicator of progress.

But, of course, mere facts won’t change the minds of committed antiwar advocates. Check out this CNN interview with Congressman Jack Murtha. He was asked for his thoughts on yesterday’s O’Hanlon-Pollack article in the New York Times. Here is Murtha’s reply: “I don’t know where they were staying. I don’t know what they saw. But I know this, that it’s not getting better. It’s rhetorical is what is getting better.”

Read Less

John Burns

Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.
Read More

Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.

You can read a transcript of his fascinating interview with Hugh Hewitt here. Some highlights: asked if the surge is working, Burns replies

I think there’s no doubt that those extra 30,000 American troops are making a difference. They’re definitely making a difference in Baghdad. Some of the crucial indicators of the war, metrics as the American command calls them, have moved in a positive direction from the American, and dare I say the Iraqi point of view, fewer car bombs, fewer bombs in general, lower levels of civilian casualties, quite remarkably lower levels of civilian casualties. And add in what they call the Baghdad belts, that’s to say the approaches to Baghdad, particularly in Diyala Province to the northeast, to the area south of Baghdad in Babil Province, and to the west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, there’s no doubt that al Qaeda has taken something of a beating.

He goes on to warn that this has not so far led to political reconciliation:

I think it’s probably fair to say that the Iraqi political leaders, Sunni, Shiia, Kurd in the main, are somewhat further apart now than they were six months ago. In other words, the Bush administration’s hope that the military surge would be accompanied by what they called a political surge, a movement towards some sort of national reconciliation, uniting around a kind of national compact, that has simply not occurred. Indeed, the gulf between the Shiite and Sunni leaders in the government is probably wider than it has ever been.

While this might be music to antiwar ears, Burns deflates one of the chief arguments made by Democrats who contend that their demands to pull U.S. troops out are putting pressure on the Iraqi politicians to compromise. Au contraire, Burns points out:

[T]he more that the Democrats in the Congress lead the push for an early withdrawal, the more Iraqi political leaders, particularly the Shiite political leaders, but the Sunnis as well, and the Kurds, are inclined to think that this is going to be settled, eventually, in an outright civil war, in consequence of which they are very, very unlikely or reluctant, at present, to make major concessions. They’re much more inclined to kind of hunker down. So in effect, the threats from Washington about a withdrawal, which we might have hoped would have brought about greater political cooperation in face of the threat that would ensue from that to the entire political establishment here, has had, as best we can gauge it, much more the opposite effect. It has had an effect of persuading people well, if the Americans are going, there’s absolutely no…and we’re going to have to settle this by a civil war, why should we make concessions on that matter right now?

He then goes on to warn about the consequences of an American drawdown:

[A]n accelerated early withdrawal, something which reduced American troops—even if they were placed in large bases out in the desert—to, say, something like 60-80,000 over a period of six to nine months, and in effect, leaving the fighting in the cities and the approaches to the cities to the Iraqis, I think the result of that would, in effect, be a rapid, a rapid progress towards an all-out civil war. And the people who are urging that kind of a drawdown, I think, have to take that into account.

There is much more of interest in the interview; you should read the whole thing. And while you’re at it, take a look at this Washington Post story. The lead sums it up nicely: “House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Monday that a strongly positive report on progress on Iraq by Army Gen. David Petraeus likely would split Democrats in the House and impede his party’s efforts to press for a timetable to end the war.”

Given the positive assessments coming from such dispassionate analysts as John Burns and the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, the chances of just such a positive report from Petraeus seem to be growing—and hence leftist activists’ hopes of abandoning Iraq seem to be fading. At least for the time being.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.