Commentary Magazine


Topic: Michael Gordon

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.

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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.

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News from Sadr City

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

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Bring the Boys Home

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

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Edwards’s Obstinacy

It is truly astonishing how little adjustment leading Democrats have made in their rhetoric or policy prescriptions in light of the changing circumstances in Iraq. In this interview with the New York Times’s ace military correspondent, Michael Gordon, John Edwards pledges to remove virtually all U.S. troops, including trainers, from Iraq within ten months of assuming the presidency—exactly the kind of step that could undo all the progress that has been made in 2007.

Of course it’s unlikely that Edwards will ever occupy the White House. But he is one of the top three Democratic presidential candidates, so what he says is worth considering. And what he is saying is essentially what Democrats have been saying for the last couple of years. To wit: “I have never believed that there was a military solution in Iraq, don’t believe it today. I think the issue is how do you maximize the chances of achieving a political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia because I think that political reconciliation is the foundation for any long-term stability in Iraq.” (For more of Edwards’s pensées, see here.)

This is exactly the argument Democrats were making against the surge. Now the surge is succeeding, but they haven’t yet figured out a new argument, so they keep replaying the same old DVD.

By the way, if you want further evidence of how the surge is working, check out the latest casualty figures, which show that 23 American soldiers died in December, the second-smallest figure on record since the invasion began. (The runner-up was the month of February 2004 when 20 died.) Of course that news may be a little hard to find since it’s buried in news articles like this one, headlined “2007 Deadliest Year for U.S. Troops in Iraq.” The headline is accurate but misleading, since casualties have been falling precipitously over the past six months—ever since the surge started to take effect.

Why does it seem like not only some politicians but also some journalists are in a time-warp where signs of progress simply don’t register?

It is truly astonishing how little adjustment leading Democrats have made in their rhetoric or policy prescriptions in light of the changing circumstances in Iraq. In this interview with the New York Times’s ace military correspondent, Michael Gordon, John Edwards pledges to remove virtually all U.S. troops, including trainers, from Iraq within ten months of assuming the presidency—exactly the kind of step that could undo all the progress that has been made in 2007.

Of course it’s unlikely that Edwards will ever occupy the White House. But he is one of the top three Democratic presidential candidates, so what he says is worth considering. And what he is saying is essentially what Democrats have been saying for the last couple of years. To wit: “I have never believed that there was a military solution in Iraq, don’t believe it today. I think the issue is how do you maximize the chances of achieving a political reconciliation between Sunni and Shia because I think that political reconciliation is the foundation for any long-term stability in Iraq.” (For more of Edwards’s pensées, see here.)

This is exactly the argument Democrats were making against the surge. Now the surge is succeeding, but they haven’t yet figured out a new argument, so they keep replaying the same old DVD.

By the way, if you want further evidence of how the surge is working, check out the latest casualty figures, which show that 23 American soldiers died in December, the second-smallest figure on record since the invasion began. (The runner-up was the month of February 2004 when 20 died.) Of course that news may be a little hard to find since it’s buried in news articles like this one, headlined “2007 Deadliest Year for U.S. Troops in Iraq.” The headline is accurate but misleading, since casualties have been falling precipitously over the past six months—ever since the surge started to take effect.

Why does it seem like not only some politicians but also some journalists are in a time-warp where signs of progress simply don’t register?

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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.

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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.

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Shifting Democrats

Today’s Politico has a front page story, “Democrats Retreat on War End.” In the article we read this:

In a strategic shift designed to win over Republican critics of the Iraq war, congressional Democrats are backing off demands for a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops and instead are seeking a new bipartisan deal to end the military campaign. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are calculating that it is futile to continue their months-long campaign to force an immediate end to the war, particularly after Republicans and a few Democrats returned from the summer recess intent on opposing legislation mandating a strict timetable for pulling out U.S. troops.

And this:

Said another [Democratic Hill] aide involved in the process: “Despite the months of debate, and all the votes, and all the ads and everything, we have not been able to break the Republicans. They are still with Bush, and that’s the reality here.”

This article is more evidence that the political ground has shifted significantly, and maybe even massively, on Iraq. Democrats are now seeking a deal based on a position of weakness rather than strength. They made several runs at the President months ago, when he was in his most precarious position politically on Iraq, hoping they could break his will and then undo his strategy. But President Bush, in what may go down as one of his most impressive achievements, held firm—and so did most Republicans. And now their political courage may well bear political fruit.

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Today’s Politico has a front page story, “Democrats Retreat on War End.” In the article we read this:

In a strategic shift designed to win over Republican critics of the Iraq war, congressional Democrats are backing off demands for a firm withdrawal date for U.S. troops and instead are seeking a new bipartisan deal to end the military campaign. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are calculating that it is futile to continue their months-long campaign to force an immediate end to the war, particularly after Republicans and a few Democrats returned from the summer recess intent on opposing legislation mandating a strict timetable for pulling out U.S. troops.

And this:

Said another [Democratic Hill] aide involved in the process: “Despite the months of debate, and all the votes, and all the ads and everything, we have not been able to break the Republicans. They are still with Bush, and that’s the reality here.”

This article is more evidence that the political ground has shifted significantly, and maybe even massively, on Iraq. Democrats are now seeking a deal based on a position of weakness rather than strength. They made several runs at the President months ago, when he was in his most precarious position politically on Iraq, hoping they could break his will and then undo his strategy. But President Bush, in what may go down as one of his most impressive achievements, held firm—and so did most Republicans. And now their political courage may well bear political fruit.

Iraq still remains an enormous challenge, and nothing is assured. Yet there’s no longer any doubt that the surge is working militarily; even critics of the war—the honest ones, at least—concede that fact. But to frame the Iraq debate as bifurcated—progress on the security side but failure on the political side—is also wrong. In fact, as Michael Gordon, the chief Pentagon correspondent of the New York Times, said to Charlie Rose earlier this week, the bottom-up reconciliation we’re seeing is the single most important thing happening in Iraq right now. We’re seeing both military progress and political progress—just not in the way many anticipated.

Leading Democrats and antiwar critics made a huge political wager: the Iraq war was an irredeemable failure, and they would force an American withdrawal, thereby expediting an American defeat. But it turns out that failure was not fated and, in fact, a decent outcome in Iraq is now possible and perhaps even within reach. It is now beginning to dawn on Democrats what they have done in their rush to undercut the surge; they are also starting to recognize the good that has followed in the wake of the surge.

It was only eight months ago that the President’s new strategy was unveiled. But when it comes to Iraq, January was a world away. The specter of McGovernism once again stalks the political landscape.

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Ignorance, Not Bliss

During the cold war, the American public often recoiled from the possibility that the Soviet Union might be behind some outrage too horrific to ignore. A lot of people understandably didn’t want to know if the KGB was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the attempted assassination of the Pope. (Note to conspiracy-mongers: I am not saying that the Soviet secret service was responsible for either dastardly deed, but there was certainly a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing that way, at least in the latter case.) After all, if the Soviets were to blame, what were we prepared to do about it? If the answer was nothing, perhaps ignorance was a rational choice.

That seems to be the dominant American attitude these days toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ever since 1979, the radical mullahs who control Tehran have been waging covert war on the United States and our allies, and we have scarcely responded. Especially now, when we are mired deep in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans and especially most of our politicians would seemingly prefer not to focus on actions that might embroil us with war on another front.

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During the cold war, the American public often recoiled from the possibility that the Soviet Union might be behind some outrage too horrific to ignore. A lot of people understandably didn’t want to know if the KGB was responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the attempted assassination of the Pope. (Note to conspiracy-mongers: I am not saying that the Soviet secret service was responsible for either dastardly deed, but there was certainly a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing that way, at least in the latter case.) After all, if the Soviets were to blame, what were we prepared to do about it? If the answer was nothing, perhaps ignorance was a rational choice.

That seems to be the dominant American attitude these days toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ever since 1979, the radical mullahs who control Tehran have been waging covert war on the United States and our allies, and we have scarcely responded. Especially now, when we are mired deep in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans and especially most of our politicians would seemingly prefer not to focus on actions that might embroil us with war on another front.

Yet that kind of ignorance becomes harder to preserve in light of fresh evidence of Iranian aggression. Just today, Brigadier General Kevin J. Bergner, the chief spokesman for U.S. military forces in Iraq, revealed new links between the Iranian government and the attack on an Iraqi government compound in the city of Karbala on January 20, an attack that resulted in the deaths of five American soldiers. As reported by Michael Gordon of the New York Times:

[Bergner] said that interrogations of Qais Khazali, a Shiite militant who oversaw Iranian-supported cells in Iraq and who was captured several months ago along with another militant, Laith Khazali, his brother, showed that Iran’s Quds force helped plan the operation.

Similar information was obtained following the capture of a senior Hezbollah operative, Ali Musa Daqduq, General Bergner said. The capture of Mr. Daqduq had remained secret until today.

Both Ali Musa Daqduq and Qais Khazali state that senior leadership within the Quds force knew of and supported planning for the eventual Karbala attack that killed five coalition soldiers, General Bergner said.

Documents seized from Qais Khazali, General Bergner said, showed that Iran’s Quds Force provided detailed information on the activities of American soldiers in Karbala, including shift changes and the defenses at the site.

More generally, General Bergner added, Iran’s Quds Force has been using Lebanese Hezbollah as a “proxy” or “surrogate” in training and equipping Shiite militants in Iraq.

When presented in the past with evidence of Iranian involvement in the Karbala raid—or in the far more frequent and deadly use of explosively-formed penetrators against American armored vehicles—apologists for the Iranian regime have questioned whether the mullahs were aware of what their own security forces were up to. This is a bit reminiscent of what Nazi apologists used to say—that surely Adolf Hitler could not have known what the SS and Gestapo were up to. That pretense becomes harder and harder to sustain in the case of Iran. The Times account concludes:

Our intelligence reveals that the senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity, [Bergner] said. When he was asked if Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could be unaware of the activity, General Bergner said that would be hard to imagine.

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