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Monday, 6 March 2006

A couple of Iraq points from Sunday's press.

(1) A reader:

"Dear Derb---In case you didn't see it, on Meet The Press this morning, Tim Russert displayed on-screen WFB's article 'It Didn't Work' and asked Peter Pace how he could remain so optimistic about Iraq when 'even WFB' had expressed such pessimism about developments in Iraq. Pace suggested that WFB should visit Iraq and 'walk the streets' to get a sense of the prevailing optimism on the Iraqi street.'

[Derb] I didn't see MtP yesterday, and thanks for the notice. However, the latest information I recall is that Westerners are not actually permitted to "walk the streets" of Baghdad, because any Westerner who does so is highly likely to be kidnapped. Has this situation changed? If it has not changed, then isn't Peter Pace blowing smoke here?

2) Ralph Peters in America's Newspaper of Record Sunday: "But there's no way we can let irresponsible journalists off the hook - or their parent organizations. Many journalists are, indeed, brave and conscientious; yet some in Baghdad -- working for 'prestigious' publications -- aren't out on the city streets the way they pretend to be.

"They're safe in their enclaves, protected by hired guns, complaining that it's too dangerous out on the streets. They're only in Baghdad for the byline, and they might as well let their Iraqi employees phone it in to the States. Whenever you see a column filed from Baghdad by a semi-celeb journalist with a 'contribution' by a local Iraqi, it means this: The Iraqi went out and got the story, while the journalist stayed in his or her room."

[Derb] Now, I yield to nobody in my suspicion of MSM journalists. I actually wrote a column once with the title "Journalists Are Scum." And, yes, I know all the journalist in-jokes about "covering the war from Mahogany Ridge" and so on. (Mahogany Ridge being the bar of the nearest comfortable hotel.)

Is it really the case, though, that MSM journalists representing major news outfits in Baghdad are declining opportunities to go out and see things for themselves, preferring to send Iraqi colleagues out to get their stories, then "pretending" that they themselves were "out on the city streets"? I wouldn't altogether rule it out, but I'd feel happier if Peters would supply some names of such journalists and their "prestigious" affiliations.

And what is going on with this sentence: "They're safe in their enclaves, protected by hired guns, complaining that it's too dangerous out on the streets"? Is it, or is it not, dangerous for Western journalists freely to wander the streets of Baghdad? Do the occupation authorities permit them to? Aren't those "enclaves" in fact protected by the US armed forces, and isn't it a bit of a cheek for Peters to refer to our armed forces as "hired guns"? Peters himself was "out in the streets" in a Humvee with a detail of GIs. Isn't that also kind of "protected"?

Can we please hear the name of a journalist from a major news organization who was offered the same Humvee ride Peters got, but who declined because it was too dangerous?

Riding the train home from today's NR editorial meeting, I occupied myself reading the March/April Foreign Affairs. The lead-off piece is by Stephen Biddle, titled "Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon."

The thrust of the piece is that crucial US strategic decisions about Iraq are being made on a false premise: that Iraq 2006 is Vietnam 1970.

R.M. Nixon 1969: "As South Vietnamese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater."

G.W. Bush 2004: "As the Iraqi security forces stand up, coalition forces can stand down."

etc. etc. Biddle tries to show that all the underlying dynamics are different, mainly because Vietnam was a "people's war" driven by ideology (mainly nationalism), whereas Iraq is a communal civil war, of which he says:

"These conflicts do not revolve around ideas, because no pool of uncommitted citizens is waiting to be swayed by ideology. (Albanian Kosovars, Bosnian Muslims, and Rwandan Tutsis knew whose side they were on.) The fight is about group survival..."

Biddle is not altogether downbeat, and thinks the situation might yet be saved, if the admin. re-orients its strategy, using its military and economic muscle to nudge the various groups towards necessary compromise, like a man standing on a seesaw (this is my image, not Biddle's), constantly shifting his weight from one side to the other to keep the thing level.

"Since no side today can be confident that it would come out on top in a [civil] war, the prospect of losing should be a powerful motivation to compromise."

The whole piece is of course premised on the meta-strategic notion, which Biddle places as a moral obligation on the US, that we ought to attempt **something** in Iraq, rather than just leave the place to disintegrate. I don't myself share that premise; but if you do, I think Biddle makes a good case for a change of direction.

The chief obstacle to any such thing as Biddle suggests actually being attempted is, that US policymakers, and GWB especially, have breathed deep of the opium-smoke of multiculturalism, and so believe that the bitter group antagonisms that Biddle identifies as the real causes of Iraqi unrest can be smoothed away with some sweet talk and a couple of PowerPoint presentations.

The multi-culti cult has not finished its work yet. It will wreak much more damage in the world, and to America's interests, before it expires at last.

In which context, an interesting--I think, telling--factoid from Biddle's piece:

"The U.S. military does not keep data on the ethnic makeup of the Iraqi forces, [so] the number of Sunnis in these organizations is unknown and the effectiveness of mixed units cannot be established conclusively."
Posted on 03/06/2006 11:34 AM by John Derbyshire
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