Monday, May 05, 2008

Our Corporate Media Fails Us Again On Iraq

The New York Times printed another one of these “oh God Iraq is such a mess, let’s ask the ‘experts’ what we should do to fix it” forums yesterday, asking many of the same knuckleheads who have proven to be fatally and catastrophically wrong before (Frederick Kagan, Kenneth M. Pollack, Danielle Pletka and others) “to identify a significant challenge facing the American and Iraqi leadership today and to propose one specific step to help overcome that challenge” (Matthew Yglesias had some thoughts on that here via Atrios).

This is not the first time (and I’m sure it won’t be the last) that the Times has failed to seek the opinions of individuals who have consistently opposed the Iraq calamity since it began (and even before) and have instead opted for the bland banalities that passed for thorough and objective reasoning that have helped embroil us in this war without end.

Who else could they have contacted? Paul Rieckhoff for one, who would have informed the Times’ readers of the war’s toll on our troops, including casualties and treatment costs for those afflicted with physical and mental trauma (here).

Or the Times could have asked Larry Johnson, who called on former CIA director George Tenet to return his Medal of Freedom for his testimony to Congress linking Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda (here).

Or the Times could have asked Gen. Eric Shinseki who, when he said we would need an occupying force of hundreds of thousands to try and stabilize Iraq, was chastised publicly and also in private; a “senior administration official” said such a troop estimate was "bullshit from a Clintonite enamored of using the army for peacekeeping and not winning wars" (here).

Or the Times could have asked one of the following individuals for their opinion: Buddhika Jayamaha (Army Specialist), Wesley D. Smith (Sergeant), Jeremy Roebuck (Sergeant), Edward Sandmeier (Sergeant), or Jeremy A. Murphy (Staff Sergeant). These five members of our military wrote here (among other exceedingly wise observations) that “the claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework.”

(Two others, Sergeant Omar Mora and Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray, also contributed to the Times’ column written by their fellow service members, but they were both killed in action after the article was published.)

So instead, we were treated to the following, including this by Marine infantry office Nathaniel Fick and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security (this will be the first of three excerpts I’ll provide from the Times yesterday)…

To prove that the Bush administration — and the United States in general — isn’t coasting to the exit, negotiations with Iraq over our eventual withdrawal should be conditional on this integration of (the Sunni Sons of Iraq movement into the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces).
This post from the Long War Journal includes an interview with “General Hamed,” who declined to reveal any further information about himself. What he states in the interview corroborates what Fick tells us (not surprising I realize since Fick actually served there); “General Hamed” expects the Sons of Iraq to integrate with the Iraqi Army, believing that the “SOI” is a “temporary” organization.

However, I believe the following excerpt is noteworthy (and it would have helped if Fick had provided this information)…

Hamed: To be honest with you, if the Americans leave, a bloody civil war will start the next day, for one reason: the Iraqi security forces cannot stand on their own yet. That is my personal opinion, to be honest with you.

LWJ: And how long do you think it will be before the army and police can stand on their own?

Hamed: In my opinion, three years.
Well, at least General Hamed was honest enough not to say “six months.”

Also quoted in the Times forum yesterday was Anthony H. Cordesman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who tells us here…

Well-timed troop withdrawals and a reduction in war costs, along with credible Iraqi elections, would move the United States down a path that most Americans and Congress would support – one the next president would have a reason to take.
I think it’s pretty ridiculous that the Times noted the costs of the war but failed to ask Joseph Stiglitz for his thoughts here; Stiglitz, along with Linda Bilmes, has provided the most detailed estimates of the war’s costs to date (thus earning the predictable catcalls from right-wing idiots everywhere). And do you even hear a peep about “reduction in war costs” from Bushco (or Congress, even though they have tried to tie funding to withdrawal timelines and met the predictable opposition, primarily from Republicans)? Or troop withdrawals, of course?

And as far as “credible Iraqi elections” go, here’s an update.

Finally, the Times actually sought out the opinion of one L. Paul Bremer III, the former Iraq “viceroy” installed after Jay Garner departed soon after the beginning of the invasion (Fick noted that the Iraq army was “foolishly disbanded” in 2003, which was Bremer’s decision).

Bremer tells us here that…

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s successful operations against Shiite militias in southern Iraq and Baghdad have encouraged the Kurds and Sunnis to agree on the elements of laws on oil industry development and revenue sharing.
I don’t know how Bremer can call Maliki’s “operation” against al-Sadr’s followers in Basra “successful” at this point (I assume that’s who Bremer is referring to), but The Almighty Petraeus says it could take “months” here (time is apparently meaningless to that man).

And as far as “oil industry development and revenue sharing” (from here)…

…US Vice President Dick Cheney held meetings with representatives of the main Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish blocs during his visit to the country (in March). He reportedly demanded a crackdown on the Sadrists and pressed for an agreement on the terms of the oil law.

On April 16, the Maliki government and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), which controls the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, announced that a deal had been reached. Legislation based on a February 2007 draft, already approved by Maliki’s cabinet, will reportedly be presented to parliament soon. The KRG will have the right to enter into contracts with foreign firms for oil and gas projects within its territory—a key Kurdish demand.

A central feature of the 2007 draft was that it legitimised “production sharing agreements” (PSAs)—a one-sided form of contract that allows companies developing oil fields to use initial revenues to recoup all their costs and gives them a proportion of subsequent profits. The KRG has signed as many as 20 PSAs for oil and gas operations in northern Iraq.

The quid pro quo from the Kurdish elite is to shelve their ambitions to incorporate the city of Kirkuk and its surrounding oil fields into their autonomous territory. A UN mission is currently preparing a report on whether it is feasible to hold a referendum in Kirkuk on joining the KRG. The UN team is expected to recommend that four largely Kurdish areas be included in the autonomous Kurdish region, but not Kirkuk.
So Bremer may actually be right about some type of oil law agreement, though that will only serve the interests of well-moneyed players in the KRG as well as Sunnis of influence (to say nothing of the Maliki government) as well as Cheney himself and his energy “buds” in this country, of course. And how any of this is bound to translate into a better quality of life in Iraq (assuming that’s even a consideration with this bunch, and why would it be?), to say nothing of relief to the U.S. taxpayer, is anybody’s guess.

So there you have it, the Times’ “assessment” of where we are in Iraq at this moment (with only a passing mention of that country’s refugee crisis spilling over the region).

This from the Project for Excellence in Journalism tells us that the level of Iraq war coverage among all media outlets plunged to its lowest level since the beginning of the war in February, and has only improved slightly since then.

Based on this account from the Times, I would say that the quality of the coverage, as well as the volume, has experienced a similar decline, which is not only an injustice to what passes for informed dialogue in this country, but our service people first and foremost.

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