Irony has no place here

[From Richard Cohen of the *Washington Post*](

The swipe at Petraeus was contained in a full-page ad the antiwar group placed in the New York Times last week. It charged that Petraeus was “cooking the books” about conditions in Iraq and cited statements of his that have turned out to be either (1) not true, (2) no longer true, (3) possibly not true or (4) like everything else in Iraq, impossible to tell. **Whatever the case, using “betray” — a word associated with treason — recalls the ugly McCarthy era, when for too many Republicans dissent corresponded with disloyalty.**

Unlike, say, 2001-present when for [too]( [many]( [Republicans]( [dissent]( [corresponded]( [with]( [disloyalty](

Bush’ Insanity Defense: Will it Work?

Are we headed for a shooting war with Iran? These rumors have popped up over and over again (in fact, every time an aircraft carrier moves into the Arabian Gulf) but this speech from Bush at the American Legion’s 89th annual national convention last week caught my eye.

It’s worth quoting some sections in depth first, with my emphasis added:

The other strain of radicalism in the Middle East is Shia extremism, supported and embodied by the regime that sits in Tehran. Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.

Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.

Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people. Members of the Qods Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are supplying extremist groups with funding and weapons, including sophisticated IEDs. And with the assistance of Hezbollah, they’ve provided training for these violent forces inside of Iraq. Recently, coalition forces seized 240-millimeter rockets that had been manufactured in Iran this year and that had been provided to Iraqi extremist groups by Iranian agents. The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased in the last few months — despite pledges by Iran to help stabilize the security situation in Iraq.

Some say Iran’s leaders are not aware of what members of their own regime are doing. Others say Iran’s leaders are actively seeking to provoke the West. Either way, they cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces and the murder of innocent Iraqis. The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.

This speech is worrying on many levels. For one, it’s eerily reminiscent of the early speeches given by Bush before the Iraq war in which he warned of an imminent threat from Iraq that must be confronted because of Saddam Hussein’s support for al Qaeda and the threat of WMD.

Admittedly, there does seem to be more evidence of Iranian malfeasance than there was of Iraq’s. I helped report a story in 2004 for TIME Magazine laying out Iranian involvement in Iraq, Iran has openly boasted of its nuclear program and its aid to Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad is no secret. But is another war in the Middle East the answer?

An attack on Iran before the end of Bush’s term in office would likely not involve ground troop — mainly because they’re just not available. The troops next door have their hands full there and you can’t just roll them across the border on a dime. So if it’s going to happen, it will be a blitz of cruise missiles and bombing runs from aircraft in the region. Indeed, the Times of London reported Sunday that the Pentagon has prepared a 1,200 target, “three-day blitz” designed not only to take out nuclear installations but “the entire Iranian military,” said Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center.

This would be disastrous. The shockwaves from such an attack would be wide-ranging and unpredictable, but some things can be estimated.

From a military standpoint, it might wreck devastation on Iran and its military, but Iran’s strength doesn’t lie in a conventional military response or deterrence but from an unconventional response. Furious Shi’ites, goosed by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps provocateurs in Iran would immediately place the 130,000 to 160,000 American troops in jeopardy from massive IED attacks and suicide bombings. Entire forward operating bases could be overrun. The surge would immediately become a defensive operation protecting troops rather than an offensive one providing security for Iraqis. The civil war there between Sunni and Shi’ites, and Shi’ites and Shi’ites, would likely escalate. And that’s just in Iraq.

The American 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain, which has an oppressed but sympathetic-to-Iran Shi’ite majority population that can make life difficult for the U.S. Navy. And in the Gulf, Iran has tested new torpedos and is perfecting techniques for swarming suicide speedboats that conceivably could take down a few naval vessels. (Remember the U.S.S Cole?)

In Saudi Arabia, Iran has another potential asset. The richest oil fields are underneath a Shi’ite population, which is also oppressed by the Saudi government and Wahabi clerical establishment. A few sabotage attacks to the oil production infrastructure there and say hello to skyrocketing oil prices on top of general market panic from a regional war in the Middle East.

Farther from home, Iran has already shown it can attack targets across the Atlantic Ocean, with its 1994 attack against the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. And don’t forget about Lebanese Hezbollah, which has also shown it can stage impressive rocket attacks against Israel. Any such attack on Israel would provoke a response from the Jewish state, which might bring Syria — an Iranian ally — into the conflict. Just today as I wrote this column, Israel jets violated Syrian air space as a show of strength.

Then there’s the possibility of attacks in the United States itself. There are reportedly Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guard cells operating there that could stage suicide attacks.

In short, attacking Iran in such a way would be madness.

And that’s exactly what the Bush administration could be banking on. We already know the White House has taken its obsession with secrecy and expanding presidential power to Nixonian levels. What if it’s also taking a book from Nixon’s foreign policy manual and applying the “Madman Theory”?

“I want the North Vietnamese to believe,” Nixon told H.R. Haldeman, “that I’ve reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry, and he has his hand on the nuclear button, and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

Nixon was so crazy that at one point he put the whole U.S. military on global war readiness and flew nuclear-armed bombers near the Soviet Union’s borders for three days to freak them out — right at the time that war tensions were simmering between Beijing and Moscow. It was a dangerous, crazy gamble, and perhaps Bush is doing the same with Iran. After all, Henry Kissenger is an advisor to Bush, too.

Bush’s plan could be an attempt to get the Iranians to back off in Iraq, of course, but it could also be an attempt to scare Russia and China into backing strong sanctions against Iraq on the Security Council. No one wants to see a regional war in the Middle East involving a wounded, enraged superpower.

If this is the plan, it’s as dangerous as Nixon’s October 1969 gambit was. In the end, the Soviet Union didn’t take the bait and pressure North Vietnam to sue for peace. Will a similar plan work on the mullahs of Tehran? Can we trust the Bush administration to pull off such a subtle combination of bluster and diplomacy?

I don’t. Bush is playing poker and bluffing. But the Iranians are playing chess, and they invented the game.

*This post [originally appeared on](*

Bremer Doesn’t Give Up

Bremer_gesture.jpgL. Paul Bremer just doesn’t know when to quit. He writes an op-ed defending the decision — now no longer [“his” decision]( — to disband the Iraqi Army in 2003. There’s nothing new in this op-ed to contend with more recent reporting — such as that from Charles Ferguson’s documentary “[No End in Sight](” — that the Iraqi Army did not “dissolve” as Bremer maintains, but was waiting for a signal. Bremer’s order sent a signal all right — you’re not wanted. Full disclosure: I am in Ferguson’s movie talking about the Iraqi Army waiting for the CPA to call it back.
What is new is a timeline of the decision to disband the army that does seem to show that higher-ups such as Donald Rumsfeld and the President were aware of the order and at least tacitly approved of it. That doesn’t make it the right decision, however. Bremer still says it was the right thing to do, and ends his op-ed with this howler:

Despite all the difficulties encountered, Iraq’s new professional soldiers are the country’s most effective and trusted security force. By contrast, the Baathist-era police force, which we did recall to duty, has proven unreliable and is mistrusted by the very Iraqi people it is supposed to protect.

Is he kidding? First of all the new police force has been reconstituted about three times now, and it’s not distrusted because it’s a Ba’athist-dominated force but because Shi’ite death squads and militias now run it. [New reports just out today]( show the Army to be relatively ineffective. It may very well be the “most effective and trusted security force,” but that’s not really saying much is it?

“Mission Accomplished” at Nahr el-Bared?

NAHR EL-BARED, Lebanon — Wassim al-Hagehussein was worried. The Lebanese soldier was twitchy, suspicious as he stalked through the dark and powerless grocery store where Wassim worked. It was a day after Prime Minister Fuad Siniora had declared an end to the war over the Palestinian camp Nahr el-Bared, during which fanatical jihadists had fought off an Army onslaught for 106 days. And now, today, the fighting had started up again and the grocery store was in the crossfire. A company of soldiers was pinned down by an unknown number of Fatah al-Islam fugitive fighters.

“Are there any Palestinians in here?” the soldier asked the owner, Rabieh al-Masri, who was a boss and a friend to Wassim. The soldiers had just arrested another Palestinian in front of the store and taken him in for questioning.

Al-Masri deliberately didn’t look at Wassim. “No,” he said. “There are no Palestinians here.”

He was lying. Wassim was a Palestinian from Nahr el-Bared.

Continue reading ““Mission Accomplished” at Nahr el-Bared?”

I am not a blogger

Recently, my old boss, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, penned a response to Michael Skube, who said that by and large, bloggers rely on published reporting from established media outlets and don’t provide a great deal of original reporting on their own. Opinion and argument is the currency of the of blogosphere, not reporting — a statement that seems rather self-evident if you spend any time on the Internet.

But that’s not good enough for Jay. He had to go and find examples of bloggers doing journalism to show that there is so reporting on the Net. In the process of finding 14 examples — including me, which I’ll deal with in a moment — Jay attempted to put to rest Skube’s claim. Instead, he proved it.

Some of the bloggers mentioned in Jay’s piece, especially the ones doing “real” reporting, are already reporters in “real life.” Josh Marshall was a Washington journalist before he started Talking Points Memo. Michael Yon was a published author before he started his blog and today he’s supported by a combination of reader donations and freelancing to places like The Weekly Standard and Fox News. (They’re reprinting his dispatches, but presumably he’s getting some cash for this.)

Others are no doubt providing a public service and even doing some journalism. Good for them. When I started Back-to-Iraq, almost five years ago, I was hopeful that my brand of online journalism, supported by the public, would take off. That’s not been the case. Why? Because doing journalism is expensive.

Josh has investors. Michael freelances and embeds himself where his costs are mainly paid for by the U.S. government. (Food, transportation around Iraq, connection costs, etc.) And as for me, I stopped getting donations long ago — I got kind of bored by the hustle required — and I support myself by freelancing. And that brings me to my point. Jay’s list of 14 sites proves Skube’s central idea: there are very, very few blogs out there doing what might be called original reporting. A friend of mine called it the Yertle-the-Turle Syndrome: “bloviator on top of bloviator on top of bloviator on top of one lowly reporter, buried at the bottom of the pile, gathering the facts of the matter,” he said.

As for me, I am not a “blogger.” I am a journalist who chose to blog to make a career move. I am still a journalist, proudly embedded in the so-called mainstream media, which generates about 99.9999% of the original reporting today. When I was first getting ready to go to Iraq in early 2003, many reporters called me and asked me why I was doing it, why blog? “I blog,” I said, “for the same reason I don’t use a manual typewriter instead of a laptop. It’s the best tool for the job.” I still believe that in my case.

The articles that Jay linked that I wrote were all done when I was in Iraq for TIME Magazine. I’m not sure why he didn’t link to my reporting from April 2003 during the invasion, when it really was just for the blog, but there you go. I’ve been a journalist since 1990, when I started at the Arkansas Democrat in Little Rock. I have a degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and I’ve worked for The Associated Press, the New York Daily News and freelanced for more newspapers and magazines than I care to remember. (They include New York magazine, TIME, Boston Globe, Newark Star-Ledger, Die Zeit, Washington TImes, San Francisco Chronicle, Singapore Strait-Times and others.) I’m working on pitches for Esquire and others right now. Almost every day I’m engaged in shoe-leather reporting here in Lebanon and the wider Middle East and I try keep my opinions presented on this blog backed up by my own reporting. (It’s not a perfect system; sometimes I rant.)

Blogging can be really great. It’s empowering for the individual, you can do some risky stuff (you need to watch your facts, ethics, etc.) and it allows you to get your stuff out there when you can’t get the stuff in a magazine. The culture has moved in such a way that including blog clips is perfectly respectable to include now for a writing assignment. But equating the average blog with journalism done by seasoned pros at the The New York Times or the Washington Post is wrong. It cheapens what costs money and time to produce and it reduces the value of the “product.” It helps turn news into a commodity that makes journalism worse because newspapers can’t figure out how to make money off it. And if they can’t do that, they’ll close down or scale back coverage — to the detriment of all. Tragedy of the commons and all.

So, blog away, but please leave me out of the lists showing bloggers doing journalism. A blog is just a medium after all. Is everyone on TV a news anchor just because they share a studio? Of course not. So at the risk of sounding elitist, just because I have a blog doesn’t mean I’m in your club — or you in mine.