19 January 2005

Army LTC Talks About Biased American Media

Media's coverage has distorted world's view of Iraqi reality

By LTC Tim Ryan

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Editors' Note: LTC Tim Ryan is Commander, Task Force 2-12 Cavalry, First Cavalry Division in Iraq. He led troops into battle in Fallujah late last year and is now involved in security operations for the upcoming elections. He wrote the following during "down time" after the Fallujah operation. His views are his own.

All right, I've had enough. I am tired of reading distorted and grossly exaggerated stories from major news organizations about the "failures" in the war in Iraq. "The most trusted name in news" and a long list of others continue to misrepresent the scale of events in Iraq. Print and video journalists are covering only a fraction of the events in Iraq and, more often than not, the events they cover are only negative.

The inaccurate picture they paint has distorted the world view of the daily realities in Iraq. The result is a further erosion of international support for the United States' efforts there, and a strengthening of the insurgents' resolve and recruiting efforts while weakening our own. Through their incomplete, uninformed and unbalanced reporting, many members of the media covering the war in Iraq are aiding and abetting the enemy.

The fact is the Coalition is making steady progress in Iraq, but not without ups and downs. So why is it that no matter what events unfold, good or bad, the media highlights mostly the negative aspects of the event? The journalistic adage, "If it bleeds, it leads," still applies in Iraq, but why only when it's American blood?

As a recent example, the operation in Fallujah delivered an absolutely devastating blow to the insurgency. Though much smaller in scope, clearing Fallujah of insurgents arguably could equate to the Allies' breakout from the hedgerows in France during World War II. In both cases, our troops overcame a well-prepared and solidly entrenched enemy and began what could be the latter's last stand. In Fallujah, the enemy death toll has exceeded 1,500 and still is climbing. Put one in the win column for the good guys, right? Wrong. As soon as there was nothing negative to report about Fallujah, the media shifted its focus to other parts of the country.

More recently, a major news agency's website lead read: "Suicide Bomber Kills Six in Baghdad" and "Seven Marines Die in Iraq Clashes." True, yes. Comprehensive, no. Did the author of this article bother to mention that Coalition troops killed 50 or so terrorists while incurring those seven losses? Of course not. Nor was there any mention about the substantial progress these offensive operations continue to achieve in defeating the insurgents. Unfortunately, this sort of incomplete reporting has become the norm for the media, whose poor job of presenting a complete picture of what is going on in Iraq borders on being criminal.

Much of the problem is about perspective, putting things in scale and balance. What if domestic news outlets continually fed American readers headlines like: "Bloody Week on U.S. Highways: Some 700 Killed," or "More Than 900 Americans Die Weekly from Obesity-Related Diseases"? Both of these headlines might be true statistically, but do they really represent accurate pictures of the situations? What if you combined all of the negatives to be found in the state of Texas and used them as an indicator of the quality of life for all Texans? Imagine the headlines: "Anti-law Enforcement Elements Spread Robbery, Rape and Murder through Texas Cities." For all intents and purposes, this statement is true for any day of any year in any state. True — yes, accurate — yes, but in context with the greater good taking place — no! After a year or two of headlines like these, more than a few folks back in Texas and the rest of the U.S. probably would be ready to jump off of a building and end it all. So, imagine being an American in Iraq right now.

From where I sit in Iraq, things are not all bad right now. In fact, they are going quite well. We are not under attack by the enemy; on the contrary, we are taking the fight to him daily and have him on the ropes. In the distance, I can hear the repeated impacts of heavy artillery and five-hundred-pound bombs hitting their targets. The occasional tank main gun report and the staccato rhythm of a Marine Corps LAV or Army Bradley Fighting Vehicle's 25-millimeter cannon provide the bass line for a symphony of destruction. As elements from all four services complete the absolute annihilation of the insurgent forces remaining in Fallujah, the area around the former insurgent stronghold is more peaceful than it has been for more than a year.

The number of attacks in the greater Al Anbar Province is down by at least 70-80 percent from late October — before Operation Al Fajar began. The enemy in this area is completely defeated, but not completely gone. Final eradication of the pockets of insurgents will take some time, as it always does, but the fact remains that the central geographic stronghold of the insurgents is now under friendly control. That sounds a lot like success to me. Given all of this, why don't the papers lead with "Coalition Crushes Remaining Pockets of Insurgents" or "Enemy Forces Resort to Suicide Bombings of Civilians"? This would paint a far more accurate picture of the enemy's predicament over here. Instead, headlines focus almost exclusively on our hardships.

What about the media's portrayal of the enemy? Why do these ruthless murderers, kidnappers and thieves get a pass when it comes to their actions? What did the the media show or tell us about Margaret Hassoon, the director of C.A.R.E. in Iraq and an Iraqi citizen, who was kidnapped, brutally tortured and left disemboweled on a street in Fallujah? Did anyone in the press show these images over and over to emphasize the moral failings of the enemy as they did with the soldiers at Abu Ghuraib? Did anyone show the world how this enemy had huge stockpiles of weapons in schools and mosques, or how he used these protected places as sanctuaries for planning and fighting in Fallujah and the rest of Iraq? Are people of the world getting the complete story? The answer again is no! What the world got instead were repeated images of a battle-weary Marine who made a quick decision to use lethal force and who immediately was tried in the world press. Was this one act really illustrative of the overall action in Fallujah? No, but the Marine video clip was shown an average of four times each hour on just about every major TV news channel for a week. This is how the world views our efforts over here and stories like this without a counter continually serve as propaganda victories for the enemy. Al Jazeera isn't showing the film of the C.A.R.E. worker, but is showing the clip of the Marine. Earlier this year, the Iraqi government banned Al Jazeera from the country for its inaccurate reporting. Wonder where they get their information now? Well, if you go to the Internet, you'll find a web link from the Al Jazeera home page to CNN's home page. Very interesting.

The operation in Fallujah is only one of the recent examples of incomplete coverage of the events in Iraq. The battle in Najaf last August provides another. Television and newspapers spilled a continuous stream of images and stories about the destruction done to the sacred city, and of all the human suffering allegedly brought about by the hands of the big, bad Americans. These stories and the lack of anything to counter them gave more fuel to the fire of anti-Americanism that burns in this part of the world. Those on the outside saw the Coalition portrayed as invaders or oppressors, killing hapless Iraqis who, one was given to believe, simply were trying to defend their homes and their Muslim way of life.

Such perceptions couldn't be farther from the truth. What noticeably was missing were accounts of the atrocities committed by the Mehdi Militia — Muqtada Al Sadr's band of henchmen. While the media was busy bashing the Coalition, Muqtada's boys were kidnapping policemen, city council members and anyone else accused of supporting the Coalition or the new government, trying them in a kangaroo court based on Islamic Shari'a law, then brutally torturing and executing them for their "crimes." What the media didn't show or write about were the two hundred-plus headless bodies found in the main mosque there, or the body that was put into a bread oven and baked. Nor did they show the world the hundreds of thousands of mortar, artillery and small arms rounds found within the "sacred" walls of the mosque. Also missing from the coverage was the huge cache of weapons found in Muqtada's "political" headquarters nearby. No, none of this made it to the screen or to print. All anyone showed were the few chipped tiles on the dome of the mosque and discussion centered on how we, the Coalition, had somehow done wrong. Score another one for the enemy's propaganda machine.

Now, compare the Najaf example to the coverage and debate ad nauseam of the Abu Ghuraib Prison affair. There certainly is no justification for what a dozen or so soldiers did there, but unbalanced reporting led the world to believe that the actions of the dozen were representative of the entire military. This has had an incredibly negative effect on Middle Easterners' already sagging opinion of the U.S. and its military. Did anyone show the world images of the 200 who were beheaded and mutilated in Muqtada's Shari'a Law court, or spend the next six months talking about how horrible all of that was? No, of course not. Most people don't know that these atrocities even happened. It's little wonder that many people here want us out and would vote someone like Muqtada Al Sadr into office given the chance — they never see the whole truth. Strange, when the enemy is the instigator the media does not flash images across the screens of televisions in the Middle East as they did with Abu Ghuraib. Is it because the beheaded bodies might offend someone? If so, then why do we continue see photos of the naked human pyramid over and over?

So, why doesn't the military get more involved in showing the media the other side of the story? The answer is they do. Although some outfits are better than others, the Army and other military organizations today understand the importance of getting out the story — the whole story — and trains leaders to talk to the press. There is a saying about media and the military that goes: "The only way the media is going to tell a good story is if you give them one to tell." This doesn't always work as planned. Recently, when a Coalition spokesman tried to let TV networks in on opening moves in the Fallujah operation, they misconstrued the events for something they were not and then blamed the military for their gullibility. CNN recently aired a "special report" in which the cable network accused the military of lying to it and others about the beginning of the Fallujah operation. The incident referred to took place in October when a Marine public affairs officer called media representatives and told them that an operation was about to begin. Reporters rushed to the outskirts of Fallujah to see what they assumed was going to be the beginning of the main attack on the city. As it turned out, what they saw were tactical "feints" designed to confuse the enemy about the timing of the main attack, then planned to take place weeks later.

Once the network realized that major combat operations wouldn't start for several more weeks, CNN alleged that the Marines had used them as a tool for their deception operation. Now, they say they want answers from the military and the administration on the matter. The reality appears to be that in their zeal to scoop their competition, CNN and others took the information they were given and turned it into what they wanted it to be. Did the military lie to the media: no. It is specifically against regulations to provide misinformation to the press. However, did the military planners anticipate that reporters would take the ball and run with it, adding to the overall deception plan? Possibly. Is that unprecedented or illegal? Of course not.

CNN and others say they were duped by the military in this and other cases. Yet, they never seem to be upset by the undeniable fact that the enemy manipulates them with a cunning that is almost worthy of envy. You can bet that terrorist leader Abu Musab Al Zarqawi has his own version of a public affairs officer and it is evident that he uses him to great effect. Each time Zarqawi's group executes a terrorist act such as a beheading or a car bomb, they have a prepared statement ready to post on their website and feed to the press. Over-eager reporters take the bait, hook, line and sinker, and report it just as they got it.

Did it ever occur to the media that this type of notoriety is just what the terrorists want and need? Every headline they grab is a victory for them. Those who have read the ancient Chinese military theorist and army general Sun Tzu will recall the philosophy of "Kill one, scare ten thousand" as the basic theory behind the strategy of terrorism. Through fear, the terrorist can then manipulate the behavior of the masses. The media allows the terrorist to use relatively small but spectacular events that directly affect very few, and spread them around the world to scare millions. What about the thousands of things that go right every day and are never reported? Complete a multi-million-dollar sewer project and no one wants to cover it, but let one car bomb go off and it makes headlines. With each headline, the enemy scores another point and the good-guys lose one. This method of scoring slowly is eroding domestic and international support while fueling the enemy's cause.

I believe one of the reasons for this shallow and subjective reporting is that many reporters never actually cover the events they report on. This is a point of growing concern within the Coalition. It appears many members of the media are hesitant to venture beyond the relative safety of the so-called "International Zone" in downtown Baghdad, or similar "safe havens" in other large cities. Because terrorists and other thugs wisely target western media members and others for kidnappings or attacks, the westerners stay close to their quarters. This has the effect of holding the media captive in cities and keeps them away from the broader truth that lies outside their view. With the press thus cornered, the terrorists easily feed their unwitting captives a thin gruel of anarchy, one spoonful each day. A car bomb at the entry point to the International Zone one day, a few mortars the next, maybe a kidnapping or two thrown in. All delivered to the doorsteps of those who will gladly accept it without having to leave their hotel rooms — how convenient.

The scene is repeated all too often: an attack takes place in Baghdad and the morning sounds are punctuated by a large explosion and a rising cloud of smoke. Sirens wail in the distance and photographers dash to the scene a few miles away. Within the hour, stern-faced reporters confidently stare into the camera while standing on the balcony of their tenth-floor Baghdad hotel room, their back to the city and a distant smoke plume rising behind them. More mayhem in Gotham City they intone, and just in time for the morning news. There is a transparent reason why the majority of car bombings and other major events take place before noon Baghdad-time; any later and the event would miss the start of the morning news cycle on the U.S. east coast. These terrorists aren't stupid; they know just what to do to scare the masses and when to do it. An important key to their plan is manipulation of the news media. But, at least the reporters in Iraq are gathering information and filing their stories, regardless of whether or the stories are in perspective. Much worse are the "talking heads" who sit in studios or offices back home and pontificate about how badly things are going when they never have been to Iraq and only occasionally leave Manhattan.

Almost on a daily basis, newspapers, periodicals and airwaves give us negative views about the premises for this war and its progress. It seems that everyone from politicians to pop stars are voicing their unqualified opinions on how things are going. Recently, I saw a Rolling Stone magazine and in bold print on the cover was, "Iraq on Fire; Dispatches from the Lost War." Now, will someone please tell me who at Rolling Stone or just about any other "news" outlet is qualified to make a determination as to when all is lost and it's time to throw in the towel? In reality, such flawed reporting serves only to misshape world opinion and bolster the enemy's position. Each enemy success splashed across the front pages and TV screens of the world not only emboldens them, but increases their ability to recruit more money and followers.

So what are the credentials of these self proclaimed "experts"? The fact is that most of those on whom we rely for complete and factual accounts have little or no experience or education in counter-insurgency operations or in nation-building to support their assessments. How would they really know if things are going well or not? War is an ugly thing with many unexpected twists and turns. Who among them is qualified to say if this one is worse than any other at this point? What would they have said in early 1942 about our chances of winning World War II? Was it a lost cause too? How much have these "experts" studied warfare and counter-insurgencies in particular? Have they ever read Roger Trinquier's treatise Modern Warfare: A French View on Counter-insurgency (1956)? He is one of the few French military guys who got it right. The Algerian insurgency of the 1950s and the Iraq insurgency have many similarities. What about Napoleon's campaigns in Sardinia in 1805-07? Again, there are a lot of similarities to this campaign. Have they studied that and contrasted the strategies? Or, have they even read Mao Zedung's theories on insurgencies, or Nygen Giap's, or maybe Che' Gueverra's? Have they seen any of Sun Tzu's work lately? Who are these guys? It's time to start studying, folks. If a journalist doesn't recognize the names on this list, he or she probably isn't qualified to assess the state of this or any other campaign's progress.

Worse yet, why in the world would they seek opinion from someone who probably knows even less than they do about the state of affairs in Iraq? It sells commercials, I suppose. But, I find it amazing that some people are more apt to listen to a movie star's or rock singer's view on how we should prosecute world affairs than to someone whose profession it is to know how these things should go. I play the guitar, but Bruce Springsteen doesn't listen to me play. Why should I be subjected to his views on the validity of the war? By profession, he's a guitar player. Someone remind me what it is that makes Sean Penn an expert on anything. It seems that anyone who has a dissenting view is first to get in front of the camera. I'm all for freedom of speech, but let's talk about things we know. Otherwise, television news soon could have about as much credibility as "The Bachelor" has for showing us truly loving couples.

Also bothersome are references by "experts" on how "long" this war is taking. I've read that in the world of manufacturing, you can have only two of the following three qualities when developing a product — cheap, fast or good. You can produce something cheap and fast, but it won't be good; good and fast, but it won't be cheap; good and cheap, but it won't be fast. In this case, we want the result to be good and we want it at the lowest cost in human lives. Given this set of conditions, one can expect this war is to take a while, and rightfully so. Creating a democracy in Iraq not only will require a change in the political system, but the economic system as well. Study of examples of similar socio-economic changes that took place in countries like Chile, Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia and other countries with oppressive Socialist dictatorships shows that it took seven to ten years to move those countries to where they are now. There are many lessons to be learned from these transfomations, the most important of which is that change doesn't come easily, even without an insurgency going on. Maybe the experts should take a look at all of the work that has gone into stabilizing Bosnia-Herzegovina over the last 10 years. We are just at the 20-month mark in Iraq, a place far more oppressive than Bosnia ever was. If previous examples are any comparison, there will be no quick solutions here, but that should be no surprise to an analyst who has done his or her homework.

This war is not without its tragedies; none ever are. The key to the enemy's success is use of his limited assets to gain the greatest influence over the masses. The media serves as the glass through which a relatively small event can be magnified to international proportions, and the enemy is exploiting this with incredible ease. There is no good news to counteract the bad, so the enemy scores a victory almost every day. In its zeal to get to the hot spots and report the latest bombing, the media is missing the reality of a greater good going on in Iraq. We seldom are seen doing anything right or positive in the news. People believe what they see, and what people of the world see almost on a daily basis is negative. How could they see it any other way? These images and stories, out of scale and context to the greater good going on over here, are just the sort of thing the terrorists are looking for. This focus on the enemy's successes strengthens his resolve and aids and abets his cause. It's the American image abroad that suffers in the end.

Ironically, the press freedom that we have brought to this part of the world is providing support for the enemy we fight. I obviously think it's a disgrace when many on whom the world relies for news paint such an incomplete picture of what actually has happened. Much too much is ignored or omitted. I am confident that history will prove our cause right in this war, but by the time that happens, the world might be so steeped in the gloom of ignorance we won't recognize victory when we achieve it.

Postscript: I have had my staff aggressively pursue media coverage for all sorts of events that tell the other side of the story only to have them turned down or ignored by the press in Baghdad. Strangely, I found it much easier to lure the Arab media to a "non-lethal" event than the western outlets. Open a renovated school or a youth center and I could always count on Al-Iraqia or even Al-Jazeera to show up, but no western media ever showed up – ever. Now I did have a pretty dangerous sector, the Abu Ghuraib district that extends from western Baghdad to the outskirts of Fallujah (not including the prison), but it certainly wasn't as bad as Fallujah in November and there were reporters in there.

Copyright © 2005 East West Services, Inc.


Blogger Chinese Condoms said...

That article should be on every front page in every major world newspaper and should be top story in every major news show. That will never happen, of course, so thanks for doing something to get the article 'out there.'

The majority of media agencies, especially here in America, have long been immoral and deceiving entities. Their half-truths are more harmful than no coverage whatsoever. Their willed-gullibility is unpardonable and immoral. Their slanted coverage -- and almost always on the side of the enemy -- should be illegal. They trade on the public's naive superstition that news people are objective, which couldn't be further from the truth. The sooner we restrict the media's power, the better for America.

As for entertainers and their wise counsel, I would laugh if it weren't such a problem. The majority of these morons not only don't have any idea what's going on in Iraq, or anywhere in the world, but they're uneducated relativist morons whose stardom has gone to their heads. They genuinely believe, like most idiots, that they know what's 'really going on' while the experts do not. But I think their effects are diminishing when it comes to persuading the American people -- a wonderful result of the celebrity support for John Kerry, as Michael Moore hurt Kerry's cause instead of helped it. They're still a problem, but one that looks to be finally remedying itself. You prop up a moron as an authority figure long enough and he'll soon display his own stupidity for all Americans to see. Sean Penn and Bruce Springstein are perfect examples.

Anyway, I went on a rant there, sorry. I think we can take some solace in Bush's reelection, which tells me that the majority of Americans are not easily duped by the mainstream media, because they in the majority painted Bush in the worst light.

I have no doubt that history will show what a one-sided war this is turning out to be, that our cause is just, and that our policy was sound. What history books will say is another matter and another battle to be fought, a battle against relativism and anti-Americanism. And in that battle, there are more to conquer.

I know the power and resolve of our military, the courage of our servicemen, and the justness of this cause, and so we will be victorious because we must.

We will be successful despite the media, despite the war criminality of our enemy and immorality of Fascist Islam, despite Americans who have let themselves fall victim to relativism and the media. And when we win, we'll then be faced with apologists for the fascist islamic scum that we conquered. No matter, we'll defeat ten million Noam Chomskys if we have to.

Thanks again for posting this article.

30 January, 2005 05:31  
Blogger Sean said...

I understand that US forces have, as the author instructs, "annihilated" various terrorist forces. I understand the awesome power of 500 pound bombs, artillery, 25mm machine guns, etc. at least as best as any person who hasn't personally killed or witnessed the killing of lots of people could understand.

My problem is that what's really upseting to Americans and the American military is that these people are resisting. Indeed, that's how they got the name "terrorists." Sure they use repugnant methods, but so do we. So did the French in Algeria and Vietnam and the United States in Vietnam and Cambodia and lots of other places, and the British in India, and countless other nations who've born the white man's burden.

I fully believe that the American insurgents fighting the British were terrorists. They were resisting legitimate British rule -- the British paid for them to go there, maintained an expensive military presence that was necessary to kill all of the Indians who frequently also resisted the natural order -- the manifest destiny if you will.

I don't have a problem with imperialism or colonialism, but it used to be practiced in a more direct fashion that was easier to understand. There were always the same silly reasons given to the public and the people who had to die leaving their families $12,000 in death benefits -- freedom, democracy, the white man's burden (see Rudyard Kipling's famous poem and the panoply of 19th Century European essays on the obligation of Europeans and Americans to take over countries with dirty-faced natives and civilize them with wetnaps and Christianity).

The British were fighting Indian (the India next to Burma) terrorists and insurgents for a century to civilize that poor country of brown-faced natives with their strange poly-theistic ways.

So you can't expect geopolitical power interests to ever be the claimed interest driving a military campaign because who would fight and die for that. It has to be domestic security, a foreign "threat", or the most tenuous excuse that can work with the public -- spreading freedom and democracy like, I suppose, some kind of peanut butter.

But the interests are extreme -- I personally tried to get in on the Iraq contract money thing, but my business is way too small and I only have little tiny contacts in the system that runs country -- I don't donate enough.

But for even those with above-average contacts, there are hundreds of billions of dollars moving around -- from taxpayers to the government, to the CPA (or now to whoever the hell runs spending money there on reconstruction), and then back to the Frends of Our Government (FOG). I learned that I'm not a close friend and that made me cry.

But the point is that the amount of money moving through there, while not the cash cow that Vietnam was, is intense. And billions are misplaced without too many people getting pissed off.

And the cool thing about reconstruction is that even though it's against the Geneva Conventions, industry insiders can move target planners through the highest levels of government to totally destroy certain elements of infrastructure so that they can then get huge contracts to rebuild it. What's even cooler than that is that with a contract, you could build some small portion of what you were supposed to build and then arrange for someone to blow it up and you still get to keep your $500 million or whatever it was to build whatever. That's the kind of sweet deal that keeps American industry strong.

But seriously, I think that the media does present a slanted view of things. I personally think that it would be much better if they showed tens of thousands of dead Iraqi "terrorists" -- it might help people understand a little better what's going on here.

As for me, I think that it's quite possible that US troops are "making progress" in Iraq. But it depends on how you define progress. America certainly wouldn't like a truly democratic Iraq because if Iraq was democratic and peaceful, the first thing the people there would ask for is for us to get out -- and as we know from Mr. Rumsfeld's foolish rookie advisor's incredible slip of the tongue in 2003 -- the United States will have no fewer than five military bases in Iraq -- eventually.

And then there's that $1.5 billion US Embassy. Doesn't that seem like kind of a heavy expenditure for a diplomatic post? Doesn't it seem odd that when it is completed the LARGEST US EMBASSY IN THE WORLD will be in Iraq? Is that because of... trade? Or maybe we plan to do a lot of "diplomatic" things with Iraq? Or maybe it's because we like to have really nice facilities in "newly democratic" countries? I think it's because this occupation thing is going way worse than Rumsfeld and Rice and Cheney told Bush it would be going by now. And so they can't start building permanent bases because to do that you have to install a puppet government (I mean "elected") and tell them at gunpoint to invite you to build some military bases. And that's not been possible yet.

So, if you intend to measure progress as whether you can get these people to stop resisting, maybe a better analogy would be if the UN invaded Texas because the only other countries with even close prisoner execution rates are China and Afghanistan -- no one else is even CLOSE. So imagine that the UN invades to protect Texans and they resist... well, I mean some resist, the majority, like the majority in any place, just try to eat and protect their families and stay out of harm's way. So that small group of resisters in any place who don't understand the inevitable nature of things, they resist and they are "terrorists" and progress is putting them down -- in a grave.

So, we invaded because there were WMDs -- a really silly designation for a class of weapons that have such wholly different destructive capacities. But then it was to remove a "tyrant" -- one who used chemical weapons against his own people.

But that brings us to the Kurds. Hussein was trying to kill Kurds and keep them weak just like Turkey is because they want a "Kurdistan" that they can call home. Separatist movements tend not to do well with the government that owns the land they intend to appropriate. So the PKK in Turkey -- Kurds seeking independence -- they are terrorists. But Kurds in Iraq who were pursuing a separatist agenda not too different from the PKK, they were merely freedom-loving people who were being oppressed by a tyrant -- himself a man "associated" with terrorists. What does "associated" mean anyway in this context?

So, everyone has to have something that they do with their time -- something that they are working towards. Something that they can make "progress" with. I like to arrange a modest home library. I also like to scan and electronically store work and personal documents in an effort to go "paperless." These things make me feel like I'm making some "progress." Are these things important? Probably not. Are they as useful as I see them to be -- I really don't think so. So when I make progress on these goals, I can explain the progress that was made, but it's really kind of irrelevant in the scheme of things.

So my point to this unfortunately disorganized comment is that killing lots of insurgents, or terrorists, or freedom fighters, or whatever anyone chooses to call them -- it's like me organizing my (again, modest) library, or scanning papers, it's progress for me, but not for very many other people.

I think that the US military killing lots of people and dropping big bombs and raking apartment buildings with 25mm machine gun fire can be viewed as progress from a military and business perspective, but not in many other ways.

This violence won't bring "democracy" because that's not its intention -- at least not real democracy. It's funny because polls showed that 59% of Americans in October 2004 wanted US troops removed from Iraq in the fastest manner possible and at least a declaration with a time table of how that would be done.

Interestingly, neither of our candidates for President offered that as an option. So here in our democracy (it's really a republic if you look up the words), the clear majority of the people -- at least in October 2004 -- didn't want our troops in Iraq, but that wasn't an option that they were given in their freedom and democracy through voting thing.

So, I suppose we can imagine that the type of democracy we're hoping for in Iraq will be like that. Even if a clear majority of Iraqis would like to not have the sound of 25mm machine guns and artillery reports -- even if they want US troops out -- that won't be one of the choices that they can make with their newfound democratic powers.

Please define progress for me. Before the sanctions were begun, Iraq had the highest standard of living of any country in the Middle East. It had the most diverse and vibrant economy -- and this despite the long war with Iran. Women were free to attend college and medical school and served in senior government posts. The country had a sophisticated infrastructure and the people lived well.

So we do 12 years of sanctions that totally debilitate the country starving it of almost everything (except probably caviar and champagne through the UN oil-for-food program). So we do that for 12 years and lots of people die of preventable illnesses, there are outbreaks of cholera because the chemicals that every country uses to treat sewage and drinking water like bleach are dual-use -- and so there is bad water and a lot of illness. And after 12 years of this, we spend more than $200 billion to take on these people who've been starved of food, medicine, and for that matter materiel. And we attack them with the very best equipment we have.

As a man inside, you know that the most fun is that we all have night vision goggles and training and they don't. So as they like to say, "we own the night." So we can see them in the dark and they can't see us and so we can kill thousands with our expensive equipment.

But what is apparently sad, and no doubt frustrating for you too, is that despite this incredible suffering visited on a relatively small country, they just won't give up.

Now if you look at this incredible situation and define progress as whether US forces can kill enough people to get them to stop resisting, that's doesn't seem like a very broad analysis. It seems more like me defining progress with regard to my (again, modest) library and document scanning.

In the broader sense of how many people have died and suffered, if you think about the generations of millions in Iraq who will live much different lives now because of this terrible, terrible course of events, to look at all of this and see progress as stopping the insurgency seems narrow minded to me.

After all, Hussein killed -- what -- I think 15,000 Kurds at the highest estimate with his chemical weapons on Halabja and that other town. We've killed 300,000 by even the most conservative estimates.

So if you are going to say even with no chemical weapons, no WMDs, that this incredible destruction and death and suffering that's it's all progress merely if we are able to achieve the goal of quieting the insurgents, I'm going to have to say that I disagree.

Additionally, the poor US serviceman will have to realize that the way this global fight has been defined, that anyone who resists US power by using force, anyone, even a single person in Zimbabwe, that the war on terror isn't over. So it will never be over. We'd have to pump as much Prozac into the rest of the world as people are on here to get them to go along with that. And that means that some people on stop-loss are going to be looking at multi-decade tours. I wouldn't be surprised to find enlisted people in their 70s in Iraq on stop-loss by 2015.

13 February, 2005 01:22  
Blogger Sean said...

I almost forgot, don't you think that banning Al Jazzera from Iraq for inaccurate reporting is a bit on the undemocratic side?

How about closing Muqtada al Sadr's newspaper and shooting the Iraqis who showed up to protest the next day?

Please don't misunderstand my point, it's not that I think that the Iraqis had it great under Hussein -- he was an oppressive guy who used torture and other methods that only a few countries in the world find acceptable. But it is impossible for anyone to suggest that Iraqis are better off today than they were in 1992. There's just no comparison. It would be like Tokyo after the WWII firebombing if you walked through there and said "oh, it's much nicer now, look everybody is free and there's no one oppressing anyone -- hey! shoot him, he's protesting the closure of a "terrorst" newspaper."

My point is that it used to be viewed as "not OK" to invade someone else's country and mostly destroy it... regardless of the reason. And here, there isn't a clear reason. The reasons keep changing. It's WMD, it's to "rid the world of a tyrant," to "spread freedom and democracy" and whatever else.

But that's not a good enough reason. The Al Sabah of Kuwait is oppressive. So is the Saudi. They are brutal. How about our friends in Pakistan -- a very scary and brutal military dictatorship that openly uses torture and affords few legal rights to accused. Why don't we start with our friends when we try to spread democracy? How can anyone possibly believe that spreading democracy or removing tyrants has anything to do with this.

More specifically, it's removing tyrants who don't do what they are told to do. That's what this is about... but it's even worse than that because initially Hussein was doing everything he was told to do because we were working with him -- I'm sure you've seen the Rumsfeld handshake picture. Actually, did you know why the UN Security Council never sanctioned Iraq for the chemical weapons attacks on Halabja and when they used it against Iran in the Iran Iraq war? It's amazing! The US threatened to veto any sanctions or even a declaratory reprimand against Hussein for that. You can look this up! The US blocked efforts to censure or sanction Iraq for the use of chemical weapons in the 1980s. Then 20 years later, it's all we can think about -- and not him using them NOW! No, when they are saying "he used chemical weapons against his own people!" they are talking about in the 1980s and not since. So when was that something we used our veto power to stop him from being sanctioned for in the 1980s, but him doing this 20 years ago is a total preoccupation now and one of the many confusing justifications for invading and taking over that country?

And the idea that these islamo-facists as I keep hearing it put -- that they are so dangerous -- thugs and criminals is unbelievable. It's unbelievable because we're American folks in military uniforms armed and in Iraq in the middle of the Islamic world. It's not like your in Greenwich Village or Los Angeles, or Chicago. You are in Iraq!

It's so amazing that Americans are offended by people in foreign countries resisting US troops. My goodness, what's not to understand! Even with the best of intentions -- even US troops weren't killing and dropping bombs and shooting people, even if we just brought candybars and built schools and helped old ladies carry their groceries, it doesn't take a lot of foresight to imagine that armed forces aren't kindly received in foreign countries. Actually, it's hard for me to imagine an invasion in the past couple of hundred years that went well except maybe for Grenada -- but that certainly had a different dynamic as there were only a few hundred natives there.

Now you can say, even though there isn't even the slightest evidence for it, that we attacked Iraq really because they were going to attack the United States any day now -- a claim that would have been disbelieved even by the most common of common American minds before September 11. But even September 11 was an attack that was linked to US military presence in the Middle East

Bin Laden gave interviews and sent many warnings -- US troops out of the middle east. They were maintained there since the "liberation of Kuwait" (I use quotation marks because the country was returned to a monarch who does not allow freedom of the press and where women can be jailed for wearing shorts, so they really liberated the Al Sabah royal family from the problem of not having a country, rather than liberating the people of Kuwait in the sense of having freedom of the press, voting rights, etc.).

So we have 20,000 troops in Saudi for a long while -- more than a decade. And this Bin Laden character keeps saying he's going to cause us problems. And then there's the Cole and other attacks.

So I'm not saying that we should give in to that kind of threat, but it's helpful to frame it in real terms. These terrorist folks said "we don't like your designs on our lands. We don't like your troops in our countries. We don't like your financial and military support for oppressive dictators and monarchs like Al Faud in Saudi and Al Sabah in Kuwait. So we're going to hurt you if you don't get your troops out."

So this conflict then, it's a war over being able to be present there in the Middle East. It has always been about that.

And for at least some Americans -- maybe stupid ones, who knows -- that wouldn't be a very good reason. They'd say, "Jesus! You're cutting my VA benefits and cutting school funding and a whole lot of other stuff, but we're spending $420 billon on the military this year and that doesn't include $200 billion just on Iraq and Afganistan in two years which is always done off the budget? Well that sucks, let's get the hell out of there."

So instead our government -- probably after consulting with a PR firm and some child psychologists -- tries a different tack. They say "these people are jealous of you!" It's just like our mothers told us when we had a bad day at school! They are jealous that we as Americans are fat and sit in traffic for two hours each day to and from our work cubicles and then return home to eat really delicious frozen dinners, have a few beers, watch TV on the sofa and pop some prozac. Waddling gorged Americans carrying bagsful of groceries and consumer electronics and whatever else to our very big cars -- oh! I understand whence this jealousy eminates!

But for those Americans who took extracurricular high school geography -- "but doesn't Monaco have a $400K a year median income? And what about the pretty darn good living in Sweden, France, Germany? Why don't they attack other countries that you would think people would be jealous of?" And so they added to this jealousy-as-the-root-of-terror theory that these terrorists "hate freedom-loving people."

So now we have this two-fold root of terror: (1) jealousy of American consumer lifestyles, and (2) hatred of freedom-loving people. So that means that the average American would not have a way out other than war -- we'd have to become islamo-facists AND not be fat and eat frozen dinners in front of really big televisions -- well forget that!

But if we frame this as a war regarding US military presence in the middle east -- it doesn't tug as easily on the average guy's heartstrings.

Now is it a good idea to have a military presence in the middle east? Is it worth domestic terror attacks, huge military expenditures, maybe one million dead Arabs before this is over, and tens of thousands of dead US servicemen -- not to mention the probable hundreds of thousands of crazy veterans missing arms or legs and sitting on street corners over the coming decades?

You may be surprised to learn that my answer is yes. Yes it is worth it. But why? It's not about Islamo-facism or any other such silly thing. It's actually about American facism and what's necessary to keep America strong enough to ward off a domestic crisis and likely shift to facism here -- and because of America's vast power and nuclear weapons, that could be bad for the whole world.

The problem is that most reputable scientists believe in peak oil. Indeed there's no way not to. The question is less whether it's true as when it will become true.

There's a finite amount of oil in the world. It's not likely that we'll use it all up, but a very important thing happens when you reach the halfway point -- it starts getting gradually more expensive to extract and peak production is reached and gradually declines.

Because we're in a global economic environment where use is increasing at a fairly fast clip and is expected to do so for a long while -- mostly explosive growth in India and China, but also the shift to big cars again in America has "fueled" this ha ha.

So, at some point it will become more expensive. That may not seem like a big deal, but it will be a very big deal. It will almost certainly result in some very big conflicts that will likely become big wars.

There is no real option to oil. Dick Cheney and PNAC have published endlessly about this. When some contraction in supply comes, it's going to be noticed. It's going to drive up inflation, it's going to make everything more expensive -- a lot more expensive. It's going to cause wars because right now we have a 1% global production buffer and it's believed that even if every source was uncovered and explored the buffer wouldn't be much larger than that.

So an expansion of consumption in industrializing countries -- primarily China and India, but also others -- will cause a very special problem called a shortage.

A shortage is when there are more people who want something than there is something for all of those people. Because of the nature of oil, if and when that happens, global actors won't merely say, "OK, let's just do our best to share what there is then." NO, it doesn't work like that. There will be diplomatic intrigues, coups-d'etat, wars, all sorts of trouble on the part of nations and others trying to position themselves to get the necessary supply to avoid domestic shortages, price spikes, etc.

There are other ways out of this problem, but they would deeply hurt and offend some very powerful people and interests -- so it is sufficient to say that the only way out of this problem that is feasable is to make sure that if there is a shortage, it's everyone else's shortage. So if global production say in five years is 1% or 2% less than global demand, then it's everyone except the United States that has to deal with that because we get what we need first at prices that we're comfortable with.

This would also do us the great favor of being able to do favors for other countries -- if they don't want to be on that list of everyone bidding for a pie that is 1% or 2% short of being enough to satisfy everyone, they have to come talk with us.

Now is this going to be fun? Hell no. Is it going to be safe? Nope. Is it absolutely necessary to ensure a stable economy in the United States? Not really. But for various reasons, it's the best possible outcome for the United States. I say possible, because other good solutions are politically impossible -- for example, conservation. It's not insignificant that average mileage for all cars sold in the United States is less than it was in the 1980s. Since we use 19.7 million barrels per day -- four times as much as number two Japan -- our consumption has a greater affect on world supply than the next ten consuming nations combined.

To give you an idea of where this could go -- China is third in consumption behind Japan -- China is now the world's third largest consumer. But per capita consumption in China is 50th at 3.8 barrels a year per person compared to the US's 67 barrels per year per person. So even modest industrialization in China will cause its consumption to explode!

So if you can imagine something like an $8.50 half gallon of milk and gasoline selling at $7 a gallon -- if you can imagine this and more as a possible future within a mere 5 years, 10 years, who knows, then you can imagine the value of complete domination of the middle east. There's no other place in the world with those kind of proven reserves -- except Central Asia -- but we're there too in Afghanistan and now in very tight military relationships with Kazakstan and Turkmenistan -- oh, and Pakistan, which is the only way to get it through pipes to the sea.

So, knowing what I know, I believe that this is worth it. It will cost less to do it this way, than it will likely cost to see what happens and maybe try to move in at the same time as Russia, China -- both much closer neighbors -- or even the EU if they should start spending some of their big hoard of money on military things in the future.

This energy problem will define global power relationships and conflicts -- it will define the economic preoccupation of the world for the next fifty years -- it will not happen overnight, but it will always follow the same trajectory over time -- gradually less supply and more expensive oil.

Crude prices have risen threefold in four years. That is not insignificant. As we can tell from these incredible profits, stock buybacks and unbelievable billions just sitting on balance sheets with nowhere to go -- the bigger oil companies have certainly shared these megaprofits with the countries they drill in -- their contracts share profits, so they don't merely buy at a specific price. That means that as OPEC raises prices or shortages emerge, oil companies profit to the same degree as the fiefdoms that lease them the land.

So, although I think that this is worth it because I can imagine the national pain in America -- where more than half of the population is clinically fat -- if gas got so expensive that these vulnerable people would suffer heart attacks trying to walk to the grocery store. It would ruin our economy. It would piss off a lot of people. Those people would likely give our government the green light to use a lot of force to make the situation better -- but it would be too late because we wouldn't be fighting starved Iraqi soldiers who only have a few bullets left and had to abandon their tanks because they couldn't get parts for twelve years. Nope. In that situation, we'd be potentially fighting with China and Russia over that area -- and they both have nuclear weapons and are much closer to the theater than we are over here. And by nuclear weapons -- I'm not talking about those new little ones that GW wants to start using to quiet down difficult neighborhoods in the Middle East, I'm talking about ones on ICBMs that would be aimed at communicating directly with the American public and bypassing entirely our diplomatic machinery that customarily interprets the requests of outsiders for our public (for example, "get your troops out of Saudi Arabia, or we will attack you" becomes when translated, "we are jealous of your big screen TVs and large cars, and we hate abstract nouns like freedom!").

So, on balance, this is the best of the available choices. But that's just me talking. If you told that to the average American family making $60,000 a year with both spouses working and a big mortgage and some credit card debt and maybe one son in the reserves because he needed the money -- they might see it differently. They might not like it at all.

So maybe it's best not to mention what's going on, because it's really complicated, and to paraphrase Paul Wolfowitz's wonderful quote in Vanity Fair -- really complicated things are hard to get a lot of people to agree on. But can't someone come up with something better than "spreading freedom" and "stopping facist Islamists who hate freedom" and "ridding the world of terror"??? It's embarrassing to be just getting on the road of such an immense, and probably decades-long struggle, and be using these silly devices to persuade people.

13 February, 2005 03:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the article.

I am sick and tired of hearing all these vocal people talking about Iraq as if they've ever been there, in the military, or in any war zone for that matter. Just because you read the newspaper, watch CNN, and talk about the war over coffee with your friends, doesn't mean that you have a clue as to what you're talking about. Before you scream your opinions at the world, stop and get a real world education first. What is nice and happy on paper, isn't necessarily going to work in the real world.

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Sean, it would seem you're not a big believer in karma. I think all this verbiage of yours is to express "We're running out of oil, so it might as well be us who get to hoard it and call the shots". The problem is that if you're right, the oil is essentially gone one day and then you and others of your peers and higher will have to be reduced to the rest of us who haven't liked how you've been running our country into the ground lately. What a complete and utter lack of imagination. I'm American and since most people (here and globally) don't fight these silly wars and don't want to profit from it, we WOULD BE cooperating with dwindling resources. But that's assuming no substitutes for oil could be found. Big oil (and coal) have worked for decades to supress non hydro-related technology but it is out there, is real and is happening. The more the old regime crumbles, the more that better evolved people come to the fore with more sensible alternatives than the failed imperialism that has thus far trashed our beloved planet. I very much doubt that the Forefathers (including some of my own) died on the battlefield to create a new form of goverment to serve the commweal (as opposed to aristocracy) only so that two centuries later we would fart to death on wasted oil and a toxic environment. Instead of regretting how much money you could have made off the arson trade in Iraq, why not use your entrepreneurial energy to link up the contacts you have with FOG into a US rebuilding team. Bring manufacturing facilities to the US and staff people who can make things here. Make your profits off of what's left after paying your people a decent wage. Although please don't bomb the factory, at least during 1st shift. Workers can get a little upity about that.

Am I lacking in perspective about what's really happening in Iraq? I'll bet I am, seeing as the US is rated 29th in having a free press. But I do know my own country, I do know that many people are living outside of the Walmart/Prozac/SUV/Simpsons psychobubble. Because at the end of the day, it's not about how much you've got in the bank. It's how much you've got in your soul. Jump in, the water's fine.

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20 September, 2008 23:17  

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