The Latest Naysaying from the New York Times
Today's front page New York Times article, entitled Military Analysis: A Goal Is Met. What's Next? is an excellent example of aggressive naysaying and frazzled handwringing. "Victory in Fallujah? Meaningless!" the Times seems to proclaim, as it proceeds to offer example upon example why the coalition's brilliant attack will make little long-term difference. The twists and turns in this bit of reporting are amusing to observe. "American military commanders say the weeklong assault that has wrested most of Falluja from insurgent control has achieved nearly all their objectives well ahead of schedule and with fewer pitfalls than anticipated. "But where do the United States and the government of the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, go from here? "In the coming weeks, the two allies must still combat a resilient and dangerous insurgency operating in most of Iraq, accelerate a huge economic reconstruction effort and lay the groundwork for elections to be held in January." Is this news? Can this truly pass for the summary of the Times' analysis? Everything in the final paragraph was true before the attack -- and no one thought it would not be true afterward. More: "But enormous obstacles remain to meeting these military, economic and political targets. "The Falluja operation will be a military success, but whether it's the key to political success will remain to be seen," said Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who visited Iraq on Friday and Saturday, in a telephone interview. "The insurgents are working hard to derail this, and commanders are expecting widespread violence leading up to the elections in January." Does the Senator think that the initiative truly lies with the insurgents, when their primary base of operations is now crawling with US Marines and Soldiers? Does he think that American commanders will sit by idly while insurgents attempt their derailment of the election? "Military commanders point to several accomplishments in Falluja . . . "But American and Iraqi officials still face daunting tasks in the aftermath of retaking the city." Has any US official, military or otherwise, stated that the war is won? Again, the "daunting tasks" that remain have been on everyone's radar screen for some time. "American commanders say they expected that the fight for Falluja, coinciding with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, would set off a surge in violence across the country. But the scope and size of the attacks in Mosul last Thursday stunned American officers who were scrambling Sunday to regain the initiative." "Our experience is that, after battles in which they lose many fighters, the insurgents require some days to gather, treat their wounded and try to figure out what to do next," Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, charged with controlling northern Iraq, said Sunday in an e-mail message. "Our job is to work to not let them rest and to not allow them time to reset." Where in this quote does Brig Gen Ham show that he is "stunned" and "scrambling to regain the initiative?" Does it not appear more likely that the violence in other parts of the country was expected to take place somewhere, and that its extent has been less than expected? "In Baghdad, where attacks were increasing even before the Falluja offensive, Army soldiers said insurgents in at least one part of the capital had shifted their tactics this week, massing in limited numbers in their attacks on Americans, instead of shooting from the shadows and rooftops, or carrying out ambushes with roadside bombs." Certainly, this blogger is not the only one who thinks this to be great news. The insurgent tactic shift described is easier to defeat than a roadside bomb or sniping. Though the Times chooses to characterize this shift as grave, could it not signal desperation on the part of the insurgents -- "Come on brothers! Those bombs and sniping aren't working!" "Overall, yes, the anti-Iraqi forces have been more aggressive or stupid, depending on one's perspective," Sgt. Rowe Stayton, an infantry fire-team leader in northern Baghdad, said Sunday in an e-mail message. He said his troops killed 15 insurgents and wounded 6 others, without suffering a single casualty." Again, great news. See above. How did this quote make it into the article? Times, your editors are slipping! "But commanders say they are baffled over how to combat an effective intimidation campaign that insurgents are waging against Iraqis, from political leaders and police chiefs to the women who do the laundry for troops at American bases." "People are affected every day by criminality," said Senator Reed, a former 82nd Airborne Division officer. "The situation has not - is not - turning around." Which commanders are baffled? Senator Reed is not a commander. He has only been there for two days (see above). Perhaps it is Senator Reed who is baffled. "The good news is that significant numbers of Iraqi security forces are standing their ground and fighting all over north-central Iraq," Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the First Infantry Division based in Tikrit, said Saturday in an e-mail message. "Our hard work is paying off." "But not everywhere. Last week, scores of police officers in Mosul fled their stations under attacks, allowing militants to loot half a dozen stations and steal police vehicles, uniforms and hundreds of weapons." Does Gen Batiste have responsibility for Mosul? If not, then what is the assessment of the general who does? So the insurgents hit Mosul. Are we to believe that our generals expected no attacks, anywhere, as a result of the Fallujah operation? How will the New York Times downplay the successful prosecution of the next battle in the counterinsurgency campaign? How will the New York Times downplay successful elections in January? The clock is ticking for the insurgency. Every day that passes is one step closer to elections. Every military operation that displays the brilliant planning and execution of that in Fallujah (and there will be more to come) depletes the oxygen on which the insurgents thrive. Reading the contortions in this story, meant to make panic out of bad news, bad news out of neutral news, and neutral news out of good news, are like watching a man reach around his a** to scratch himself. UPDATE: 11/16/04: An Alert Reader has mentioned that I should be careful about criticizing Senator Reed because he is a West Point grad and a former officer in the 82nd Airborne. My criticism of this article which references Senator Reed is not a criticism of his service or his experience; quite the contrary: if Senator Reed has some expertise as a former Army Captain in the late 1970s that he can bring to this discussion, then surely the Major General Division Commanders on the ground in Iraq have an equal or larger amount of insight to provide. Yet only one was quoted for the article and his assessment was neutral to positive. See the above post again -- the story references the thoughts of commanders, then quotes Senator Reed, who was not there long enough to get over his jet lag. If Senator Reed's opinions are offered as expertise, I ask the New York Times to instead interview and fully quote the opinions of the Division or Regimental commanders who have been there for months.