September 21, 2005
Reflections on the Flash Presentation on The Anbar Campaign
Bill Roggio, Marvin Hutchens, and Steve Schippert from The Word Unheard (who is revealing his name for the first time) have created a Flash presentation of recent operations in Iraq, specifically in the West, along the Syrian border. I know they've been working on it for a while and the product is outstanding. It covers the period Aug 27-Sep 17th. Please go check it out immediately.
UPDATE: The thing that makes this presentation so powerful is its complete independence from the normally practiced way of reporting the war. Most war reports make sweeping generalizations from a few small bits of first-hand observation, for better or worse. They rarely tie military actions together in an operational whole (note: Wretchard has just pointed this out as well at The Belmont Club).
To give a concrete example of what I mean, I'd like to do a comparison of three texts. First, Chasing the Ghosts an article in the September 18th edition of Time magazine, and secondly, an interview with DoD News: Press Briefing on Overview of Operation Restoring Rights in Tall Afar, Iraq, and finally, DoD News: Special Defense Department Operational Update Briefing on Operations in Northwest Iraq [h-t to Belmont Club over the past week or so for all three sources].
We can start with the titles of the articles themselves. "Chasing the Ghosts" of course implies trying to catch something that is forever out of one's grasp. It of course reeks of drama, but not of a good kind, but of a tragic sort of failure. The other DOD headlines relfect the mundane manner in which the DOD assigns and tracks its news. These two documents should be pushed out to every media outlet possible, not just released on the Pentagon website. The headlines reflect that mentality.
First, let's examine the overall tone of both sets of documents just through some of the descriptive phrases in each. In the TIME article, here are representative words, reflecting, and shaping, the overall tenor of the piece:
"elusive and inexhaustible enemy"
"success" is "elusive"
"inexhaustible enemy emboldened by the US presence"
"gradual . . . erosion" in public support
"millions of Iraqis will vote on a constitution that threatens to further split the country"
"beleaguered US mission in Iraq"
"unwinnable military fight"
"series of failures"
"hardened local fighters"
"politically compromised outcome"
"dangers, dilemmas, and frustrations that still haunt the US in Iraq"
"temporary tactical gains"
"doubts about whether anything resembling victory can still be achieved"
"powerless to do anything" about atrocities
"intelligence suggests insurgents are displaying their mettle"
"This enemy is not a rabble."
"shaken US officer"
"troops . . . embittered"
"insurgents proving so resiliant"
Do you really even have to read the article to know what it says? When I was a child, my father told me that Life magazine was for people who don't like to read, and TIME for people who don't like to think. Seems an accurate characterization. Let's contrast those above phrases with the ones used by Col H.R. McMaster, Commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, the subject of the first DOD link, who led the attack on Tall Afar, and those of Col Robert Brown, Commander of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry, who is the subject of the second interview, conducted as his unit is about to leave Iraq after a full year there.
Col McMaster's interview:
"The enemy . . . is the worst of the worst in terms of people in the world."
"no better enemy for our soldiers and Iraqi army soldiers to pursue and defeat"
"our troopers were very aggressive"
"we pursued them very effectively"
"gain access here by a very good relationship with the people"
"they can't hide in plain sight anymore"
"there's a permanent security presence here"
"the enemy is denied that area"
"very capable Iraqi security forces"
"tremendous amount of capability"
"we conducted very effective combat operations against the enemy"
"we relentlessly pursued the enemy"
"these Iraqi soldiers are brave"
"more effective every day"
"there is no really greater pleasure for us than to kill or capture these particular individuals"
"discipline of our soldiers . . . ability to overwhelm the enemy in every tactical engagement"
"apply firepower with discipline and discrimination has saved civilians' lives"
"desperate situation for al Qaeda and the insurgents in Mosul"
"sources we have inside the al Qaeda network . . . have . . . informed us of that"
"population clearly understands they want freedom . . . they are sick and tired of the terrorists"
"the government has really improved their legitimacy"
"the Iraqi forces are getting better"
"the situation improving on a daily basis in Mosul"
"normalcy has come back to the city"
"They're absolutely fantastic"
"huge improvement just over the last three months"
"we have a number of sources that provide information"
"foreign fighter that we're seeing now -- very poorly trained"
"80 percent say they're going to come and vote"
"they want the people in fear"
"many of these former regime elements are coming forward"
"mistake to align themselves with al Qaeda"
"the level of proficiency is down in the foreign fighter"
"the level of complexity of attacks is way down"
"the leadership is severely disrupted"
Now one might be tempted to think that Col McMaster and Col Brown are just shills for the administration. But interestingly enough, Col McMaster is the author of a bestselling book on Vietnam, Dereliction of Duty : Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. Why would he write such a scathing text, then go on to repeat those same errors? I'm willing to bet he's calling it like he sees it. Here's an excerpt from his book:
Johnson's preoccupation with his domestic legislative program led him to obscure from the public and the Congress the extent of the difficulties in Vietnam. Despite his efforts to suppress the stories, however, newspapers had carried front-page articles on the US ambassador's row with the South Vietnamese generals and on the military defeats suffered by the South Vietnamese Army at the hands of the Viet Cong. On January 21 Johnson arranged a meeting with key Democratic and Republilcan members of the House and Senate. The meeting convened as General Khanh was charging the administration with grossly understating the degree of Communist infiltration from North Vietnam. Coincidentally, the purpose of the meeting with the legislators was to propagate the administration's spuriously optimistic assessment. [emphasis added]It doesn't jive that the same man who wrote that in 1997 would now willingly abandon such convictions to spuriously provide overly optimistic assessments of our current conflict. I think we can cut that criticism off at the pass.
Now let's compare some specific statements from TIME magazine vs. Col McMaster. They provide quite a contrast. The overall effect is that of Chicken Little sharing a podium with Clint Eastwood, who carefully and clearly dismantles the bird's every cluck. Pity these two weren't in the same room.
Waiting for the Americans were hundreds of hardened local fighters, small bands of foreign zealots and in the notorious Sarai quarter of the city, a labyrinth of medieval alleyways laced with booby traps and roadside bombs.Col McMaster:
These were very complex defenses in neighborhoods outside of the Sarai neighborhood, which was the center of the enemy's safe haven here. They had their command and control in a safe house in the center that was very heavily defended. Outside of that, they had defensive positions with RPG and machine gun positions. Surrounding those positions, they had homes that were rigged to be demolished by munitions as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers entered them, and then, outside of those, they had Improvised Explosive Devices, roadside bombs, implanted, buried into the roads.2. TIME:
But our forces aggressively pursued the enemy in these areas. They were able to defeat these IEDs based on the human intelligence we developed. We exploded many of them with attack helicopter fire or detonated them with our engineers. We penetrated that defense. Our tanks led with our Iraqi infantry in support. We absorbed any energy from their rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, continued the assault into these safe havens and destroyed their leadership throughout the city. The word then went out that -- to the enemy that put other elements on notice: look, we're being slaughtered here; we need to avoid these very effective combined forces of Iraqi and U.S. forces. But we continued to relentlessly pursue them as we moved to isolate the Sarai district. In Sarai, the most dense urban terrain you can imagine, there was a very complex defense prepared there, with, again, these roadside bombs, buildings rigged for demolition, machine gun positions, sniper positions, and mortars integrated into this. But with our intelligence, our precision fires capability, we were able to severely disrupt that defense and really collapse it all around the enemy.
But field commanders and top intelligence officers acknowledge that the U.S. is no closer to subduing the insurgents and the threat that they pose to Iraq's stability.Col McMaster (who is of course a 'field commander'):
Nothing's rosy in Iraq, okay? So I don't want to give you an unrealistic perspective here. What I tried to describe with you was a continuous interaction with the enemy that we've had since our arrival, but an interaction that has been in our favor. We've maintained the initiative over this enemy . . .3. TIME:
The standard for success for us here is to ensure that the enemy can no longer wage an effective campaign of intimidation over the population of Tall Afar. And to get to your question, in terms of can we permanently secure it, the answer is, yes, and we're taking all measures to do that. In fact, it's the most complicated part of the mission, is how we provide permanent security. We're introducing Iraqi security forces into the center of the city. Iraqi army will have access to the population. They'll be in patrol bases in the interior of the city . . .
So building the capability of the security forces, introducing them into the city, controlling the return of civilians, developing sources within the communities to make sure that we have early warning of these terrorists if they come back -- these are all things that are very much on all of our leaders' minds as we continue to set conditions for permanent security for the people of Tall Afar.
So is it done, yet? No. Will it happen? Yes. It's going to happen. And this operation is setting the conditions for establishing that kind of security, so these people -- these good people in Tall Afar no longer have to suffer. I mean, there are the most beautiful children I've ever seen in my life in this city. I mean, there's Turkmen kids in these multicolored dresses. They've suffered for way too long, and all of us, the Iraqi soldiers, the Iraqi police, our forces are committed to make sure they don't have to suffer anymore. And these terrorists will not come back. They won't come back to Tall Afar.
Across Iraq, the prize for the U.S. remains a clear-cut outcome, some indication that the U.S. is doing anything more than playing whack-a-mole with the insurgents.Col McMaster:
. . . what gives us the ability to sort of clear-and-hold as a counterinsurgency strategy is the capability of Iraqi security forces. And I think we have to remember, you know, that the enemy attacked the Iraqi security forces in a very focused manner over the last couple years. Why was that? Because that's their greatest danger to them. So I think we tend to give the enemy, you know, too much credit, not ourselves credit sometimes. You know, we've got the right strategy here, which is to build Iraqi security forces, which can secure the population from these terrorists and these murderers. And the key thing is for us to be able to reconstitute in this area, and that's what we're really doing, is rebuilding, reconstituting police forces, which suffered from a focused attack by the enemy last fall, so that the police can be the primary level of security. And now what has fundamentally changed from operations conducted previously is that we have a capable Iraqi army formation to provide them with backup.The TIME article has some truly bizarre statements in it:
Unlike the Fallujah battle, Tall Afar raged mostly unseen, with accounts of the fighting limited largely to the reports of U.S. and Iraqi officials in Baghdad, who declared that the onslaught had succeeded in driving out the bands of rebels . . . from their safe haven.Now wait just a moment. Why might this operation have been less covered than Fallujah? Couldn't it have something to do with not enough reporters who give a damn?
The TIME article is also interesting because of its structure, which basically shifts between A) ground-level combat and B) large-scale strategic prognostications and generalizations. In fact, breaking the paragraphs down with these values yields this organization:
The ability for one individual to impute the overall course of things and at the same time cover a given tactical action in detail flies in the face of my experience there. I had little knowledge of ground-level combat, but a quite well-developed view of the entire operational picture. My friends in the infantry were no doubt in the opposite position. The only way to develop a detailed view of both is through the expenditure of a significant amount of time -- Michael Yon might be a good example of this, but even he shies away from pronouncements on the course of the overall conflict, instead sticking to descriptions of the trials and successes of one battalion. One other way is to be that rarest of individual on the battlefield: the operational-level commander, of a battalion or a regiment, someone like Col McMaster, or Col Brown, who serves as the critical link between the strategic overview and yet can move freely among his men on the ground, going where he can best observe their progress.* TIME magazine is kind enough to tell us that
After a month in the Al Qaeda-dominated Syrian border region, TIME spent 10 days on the front lines of the war, having lived with U.S. and Iraqi troops as they prepared for the battle of Tall Afar . . .There is a view in contemporary America that authentic experience trumps analytical rigor: I was there, you weren't, I know what I'm talking about, you don't. It is reminiscent of the conversation between Spock and Dr. McCoy in Star Trek III, when Spock tells McCoy that in order to have a conversation about Spock's recent death and resurrection, McCoy must first die and then be resurrected himself.
That seems like a silly way to win an argument, but playing by those rules, isn't it logical that if time in theater is the arbiter of tactical and strategic insight, then Col Brown's year-long tour and Col McMaster's 5 months thus far trump TIME magazine's 40 days? And that is completely setting aside their professional expertise.
In the end, is there an absolute correct answer as to the course of the war in Iraq, or are we doomed to forever repeat the questions of one of Robert Littell's spies, who perpetually asks, "Whose truth, which truth?"
I am admittedly biased, but it all seems like a no-brainer to me.
*This is likely to change over time as forces are more and more decentralized and given a common operational picture from which to operate. But that's how it is now.
Posted by Chester at September 21, 2005 9:12 PM
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» Understanding Iraq from Caerdroia
While Time Magazine asks if we've already lost in Iraq, Bill Roggio shows the intricate series of attacks we are mounting on the enemy in his centers of strength. Note where we are fighting now: not in the South-central part of Iraq, but deep in the te... [Read More]
Tracked on September 22, 2005 8:59 AM
» Chester has done a masterful job.... from Media Lies
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Tracked on September 22, 2005 3:41 PM
» "Recent Iraq Operations - A Flash Presentation" from protein wisdom
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Tracked on September 22, 2005 5:18 PM
» Information War Counterbatteries from Chapomatic
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Tracked on September 23, 2005 3:14 AM
Thank you for this report. As a former commander of an armor brigade in Desert Storm, I appreciate this refreshing more accurate reporting from Iraq.
Posted by: Anthony A. Moreno at September 22, 2005 7:55 AM
Excellent report. You've reinforced my utter refusal to read either TIME or Newsweek.
Posted by: Helen at September 22, 2005 8:13 AM
UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!
(See, sweetheart, staying up til 3 does pay off.)
Col (?) Moreno, Thanks, sir.
Posted by: Chester at September 22, 2005 8:13 AM
Very well done. Thanks for taking the time to help us understand how the media is distorting what's happening in Iraq.
Posted by: Marlin at September 22, 2005 8:21 AM
Time's agenda is to make the war look futile, the Army's is to make it look winnable. It comes down to who you are prepared to believe.
Posted by: Banjo at September 22, 2005 8:36 AM
Chester, outstanding fisking of the pretentious nonesense in Time.
Banjo - it comes down to who's account squares with the facts. And the Army's agenda is to win the war, not to "make it look winnable".
Posted by: Kenneth at September 22, 2005 9:01 AM
Isolating the phrases is a legitimate textual analysis technique to out this sort of agitprop. Well done. Journalism really is fighting the last war - not the military - and they are going to come out of this with little or no credibility thanks to efforts like yours which is among the best I've seen. The outing of Pallywood by Richard Landes reported earlier this week seems more than coincidental. I think people are finally getting so sick of being subjected to this barrage of propaganda that they are starting to count the negative words and check the footage for dropped corpses scrambling back onto their biers.
Posted by: lgude at September 22, 2005 9:09 AM
Thanks for the invaluable FLASH animation and accompanying commentary. I work at an office where we get US News & World Report, Newsweek, and Time. I routinely throw Time and Newsweek right in the garbage. If it weren't for the editors of US News I bet it would worsen dramatically.
Posted by: QuickRob at September 22, 2005 9:54 AM
(Tried to trackback, unsuccessfully.) I think this goes beyond biased reporting (although that's a part). I see a similar phenomenon at work with some of my Intelligence Analysts.
I am beginning to think the kind of work reporters do (intelligence or media) inevitably leads them to paint the picture with the negative data points, since that's what they see most, and most urgently.
More at my post Patterns of Analysis.
Posted by: Dadmanly at September 22, 2005 10:24 AM
Are you referring here to the article related to the Cover of Time with the caption, 'Is the Iraq war winnable?' It had for me the predictable, for Time, feel of a child on a campout saying, 'My stomach hurts.' So no harm done really to the operation described. Embedded though were some interesting challenges to the overall operation. Why was the field grade officer in charge of intelligence and his unit transfered back from Iraq to Florida? Would it have been better to accept on offer accepting suzerainty from a group of Sunni tribes partially in exchange for financial assistance? Of course, the 'answer' depends first of all on the truth of the statement in the question, i.e. did these things really occur?
Posted by: Michael Brophy at September 22, 2005 1:18 PM
Chester, this alone --
"When I was a child, my father told me that Life magazine was for people who don't like to read, and TIME for people who don't like to think. Seems an accurate characterization."
makes this a fantastic post. I'm adding that quotation to my personal list. Well done!
Posted by: RattlerGator at September 22, 2005 2:31 PM
McMaster saved most of his criticism for the JCS who he essentially accused of cowardice for not standing up to LBJ and telling him what really needed to be done. So I agree with Chester, it is hard to believe that the Col would fall into the same trap he so eloquently exposed in his book.
Posted by: peterargus at September 22, 2005 2:44 PM
Thanks for all the comments.
Dadmanly, your post on analysis is intriguing. Good thoughts there are worthy of some further discussion.
Posted by: Chester at September 22, 2005 3:44 PM
I pointed Belmont Club to an interview with Michael Ware from January 2004. The guy is consistently on the side of the Jihadists, knows that they depend om media coverage, and goes on giving it to them.
If you have the stomach for Michael Mooreish treason, read the interview here:
Posted by: pat at September 23, 2005 3:36 PM
Thanks Pat, I caught that on BClub. I've googled all his past work and am checking it out. I appreciate the heads up.
Posted by: Chester at September 23, 2005 6:23 PM
Just found your page, not sure if Ihave it correctly. I want more. I have a grandson and a nephew in western Iraq, not sure where they're located but I think 3rd marine battalion or 3 marine division. They were at Haditha, then I lost track in late september. Lcpl E. Doray & pfc J. Doray, names. Lets hear more from you guys!
Posted by: bob hemmerle at November 5, 2005 2:22 PM