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One endless Rathergate

July 29th, 2007

The rightwing blogosphere, with assistance from the usual MSM types like Howard Kurtz has spent the last week or two trying to discredit a soldier, Scott Beauchamp, who wrote a “Baghdad Diary” for The New Republic, which included various examples of casually callous behavior on the part of US soldiers (nothing on the scale of Abu Ghraib or other proven cases).

For the wingers, this is a continuous pattern. Before this, there was a flap about a report that failures by contractors were resulting in troops in the field not getting adequate food. Before that, it was the Jamil Hussein case, a months-long brawl with AP arising from a report by a stringer about attacks on mosques. Before that, it was reports from Lebanon of ambulances being hit by Israeli fire. And so on.[1] There’s too much of this to try and give comprehensive coverage, and I’m not interested in debating the details, but a search on Instapundit will usually get you started.

The Beauchamp case fits the general pattern pretty well. First, the wingers claimed that the Diary was a fabrication and that “Scott Thomas” was the creation of a writer who’d never been near Iraq. Then, when it became evident he was a real person, they rolled out the slime machine to discredit him. Then they engaged in amateur forensics to discredit particular items in his account (acres of screen space have been devoted to the question of whether the driver of a Bradley fighting vehicle can run over a dog). Then they got to the central point – true or false, material like this is bad for the cause and shouldn’t be printed.

All of this, of course, is an attempt to replicate the one undoubted triumph of the blogospheric right, Rathergate. For those who somehow missed it, Dan Rather and CBS fooled by a bogus memo purportedly from Bush’s National Guard commander, and Rather eventually lost his job as a result.

As I said, I’m not interested in, and won’t debate, the details of these stories. The main question is: How anyone could imagine that this kind of exercise can have any value?

Suppose that every one of the stories being discussed above was a deliberate fraud. It would not change the fact that the Iraq war has been a catastrophic failure, or the fact that US media coverage, far from being overly pessimistic, failed to alert the US public to these disasters as they unravelled[fn2].

At one time of course, it was claimed that the media was failing to cover the “Good News from Iraq”. In that context, the idea that the bad news was bogus at least made some sort of sense. But the last “Good News” purveyor of any consequence, Winds of Change, quietly gave up this exercise at the beginning of this year. The news is nearly all bad, and what’s not reported (since reporters can’t travel much any more) is almost certainly worse. But still WoC and others persist in picking on individual, usually trivial, stories and giving them the Rathergate treatment.

The sheer volume of bad news makes piling on particular articles look really silly. In the time that’s been devoted to the treatment of Iraqi dogs, for example, Google News reports thousands of stories in which the only good news I can see is a win for the national soccer team (followed, inevitably, by this)

The fundamental problem here is that the argument-by-talking-point mode that characterizes the entire rightwing blogosphere, and in which the left sometimes gets involved also, works fine in the context of US political debate, where perception is all that matters. If you can sell George Bush as a hero and John Kerry as a coward, then that is, for electoral purposes, what they are. But when you start making policy on this basis, dealing with realities like war (or budgets, or climate change) reality tends to bite back.

1. There’s also the endless quibbles about estimates of excess deaths (the ‘Lancet’ controversywhere the issues are a bit larger, but where the rhetorical approach and level of argument from the wingers is much the same.
2. As was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but the Israeli press did a much better job, and the failure of the invasion was quickly recognised there, with consequences for at least some of those responsible.

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  1. jstrocch
    July 29th, 2007 at 12:43 | #1

    The US military has lost the battle for hearts and minds on the warfront of Iraq. I dont see much hope for the RWDB blogosphere trying to carry on the same fight on the homefront.

    A staged withdrawal, rather than tactical retreat, is indicated.

  2. July 29th, 2007 at 13:22 | #2

    One thing that strikes me in many of these conflicts is that the US soldiers are often not that well trained. The Aussie soldiers seem, in contrast, better trained.

    Friends of mine from Iraq are scathing about the way the US soldiers treat the locals. Its only casual observation but the claim is that they seem to prejudge most Iraqis as enemy and/or inferior beings and that they are very timid and therefore gun happy. This is an unhelpful attitude.

    The Australian soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere are trained to avoid a fight and confrontation if possible. If there is the need to fight then they are well-trained to do that but I am told their initial approach is friendly and seeking to avoid conflict.

    What lies behind this is good training on how to deal with conflict and this confidence helps.

  3. July 29th, 2007 at 16:07 | #3

    hc, oz soldiers might seem better trained because they are. many of the yank units are reserves, they are catching much more metal resentment than the oz gun men, and lately are showing signs of wishing they were elsewhere. not surprising if this translates to ill-will towards the locals.

  4. July 29th, 2007 at 16:17 | #4

    Some of the US blogs from both sides seem increasingly obsessed with internecine warfare over petty issues, e.g. the Kos/O’Reilly childishness going on ATM. That sort of thing hasn’t happened much in Australia yet and I hope it never does. It’s one reason I dislike the occasional attempts to rank blogs or to rate them on some kind of left/right scale.

  5. gordon
    July 30th, 2007 at 09:57 | #5

    This post at AngryBear might shed some light on the US military’s problems. An extract: “Nearly 12 percent of Army recruits who entered basic training this year needed a special waiver for those with criminal records, a dramatic increase over last year and 2 1/2 times the percentage four years ago…”

  6. gaddeswarup
    July 31st, 2007 at 08:55 | #6

    Very interesting questions and may be this is a topic whose time has come. I noticed there are similar queries by Arnold King:
    http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/07/which_economist.html
    ( see in particular the comment by Bruce Charlton) and Mark Thoma who says in http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/07/traditional-new.html
    .“I don’t know the answer, it appears that the profit maximizing strategy, i.e. the business strategy that maximizes entertainment value, is not consistent with producing news and information that optimally serves the public interest. But I do know we are not well served by what we have.â€?

  7. Razor
    August 1st, 2007 at 16:02 | #7

    JQ – you left out the “plastic” turkey that never existed!! that is seared into my memory like John Kerry’s lies about his Christmas in Cambodia.

    The reason these issues are hounded are because they are so clearly untrue and yet they are peddled as the truth an as evidence in the Left’s anti-everything media war. And when they are shown to be fully discredited, the outlets that promulgated the lies rarely, if ever, retract them.

    The Beauchamp story is typical – the running over a dog story for instance -I have driven and commanded left hand drive armoured vehicles like the Bradley and tried to run down kangaroos and emus – an almost impossible task – running over a dog intentionally is, therefore in my experience, highy unlikely. Without proof I see it as most robably a lie. A lie used to make US Soldiers bad, therefore making them look like the bad guys in the Iraq, not the terrorists.

    And while the main-stream media is happy to run the untruthful negative stories (anybody who has a basic knowledge of what anti-armour warheads do just needed to see the picturs of the trashed Ambulance to realise that it wasn’t hit by a rocket or any other projectiles, let alone look at the rust on the damage to see it was quite old), they rarely run with a retraction or, god forbid, a story that might have a positive outlook on things they disagree. The BBC has admitted publicly to being biased.

    These exercise have value because they expose the moral bankruptcy of the Anti-everything Left.

  8. jquiggin
    August 1st, 2007 at 20:43 | #8

    This kind of trivia ought to be beneath you, Razor. Of course it would be easy to point to trivial bogus pro-war stories to match those you claim to be false (Jessica Lynch, Tillman etc). But why bother. No one who has ever had dealings with the media should be surprised by the fact that news stories are routinely erroneous. How does the silliness you cite above compared with the following
    (i) The claims about WMDs made by Bush, Howard, Blair and others, obviously false at the time, but uncritically followed by most of the media, not to mention pro-war bloggers
    (ii) The claims abouta cakewalk in Iraq, culminating in “Mission Accomplished”
    (iii) The fact that the Lebanon war was a disaster for Israel as well as for Lebanese civilians (as I mentioned, the Israelis recognised this quickly enough even if their supposed allies did not)

    Looking at the continuing failures of reasoning here, I’m no longer surprised that rightwingers were so comprehensively fooled on the big issues.

  9. Razor
    August 1st, 2007 at 22:49 | #9

    There is no excuse for any lies in relation to the Lynch or Tillman stories. The result of lies in the Tillman story are now coming home to those who made them. Compare the media focus on correcting those accounts to the lack of correction of untrue stories that support the narrative of the left – virtually nil. It all supports the Left narative.

    The claims about WMD made by the Coalition were supported by intelligence from all major intelligence Agencies including the Russians, Germans and French. The ALP and US Democrats were more than happy to rely on the intelligence when it suited them. Intelligence failures happen. The circumstances of the intelligence failures on Iraqi WMD were due to the nature of the Hussein regime – evrybody thought they still had them including the Iraqis themselves and no one wanted to tell Saddam that they didn’t.

    The Invasion of Iraq was one of the greatest military victories in history and deposing the Hussein regime was Mission Accomplished. To defeat such a large military in such a short space of time with so few casualties is unsurpassed. The failures and difficulties of the subsequent occupation are a seperate operation.

    To define the last Lebanon war as a disaster depends on your definition of disaster – casualties, failure to achieve an objective, cost etc. The media certainly showed their true colours in assisting Hezbollah’s propoganda war. My military assessment was that it was a piss poor effort and exposed a number of deficiencies in the IDF. Any worthwhile assessment of the IDF is that they are a second rate organisation with first rate equipment fighting a third rate enemy. I don’t think it was an absolute disaster – haven’t seen many missiles fired from Southern Lebanon since then. It also exposed Syria and Irans involvement in Lebanon and Hezbollah for what they are – war by proxy with Israel.

    There is no failure of reasoning on these issues. I can understand why the Left hates Bush and Howard, but none of you have ever been able to explain the position of Blair. Funnily enough Brown reiterated the UK’s commitment to Iraq this week when everybody expected him to cut and run.

  10. August 2nd, 2007 at 00:04 | #10

    Who didn’t believe there were WMD in Iraq?

    Didn’t anybody believe Andrew Wilkie?

  11. jquiggin
    August 2nd, 2007 at 06:13 | #11

    At the time of the invasion, I didn’t believe there were WMD (except maybe some leftover chemical weapons from the Iran war period). Anyone who looked carefully at the evidence reached the same conclusion. I agree that was not a large group, at least in the Coalition countries.

  12. Roger Jones
    August 2nd, 2007 at 07:53 | #12

    Moi aussie.

    I thought it was pretty clear at the time that the inspection team was pretty close to turning up nothing but a few degraded artefacts of the earlier chemical weapons stocks, when they were gazumped by the US admin hawks. The reaction of the inspection team, though fairly muted, seemed to imply they thought so too. Anyhoo, the hawkish interpretation, and accompanying assertion that the UN was totally ineffective, was popular with those who had an axe to grind aginst the UN. Any distinction between the effectiveness of the security council and its decisions, made by member countries, and the administration of the UN was overlooked. The argument descends to the type of thinking that Orwell parodied in Animal Farm. Four legs good, two legs bad. Or vice versa.

    I’m getting pretty sick of right/left distinctions and accusations based on the ideology of the accuser that flies in the face of the evidence at worst, or discounts evidence because it doesn’t fit the discussant’s ideology at best.

    As John said, anyone who looked carefully and exercised their grey matter. We live in an age where ideology trumps intellect nearly every time.

  13. August 2nd, 2007 at 13:04 | #13

    What inspection team? More like guided tourists.

    Richard Butler and Andrew Wilkie both believed Iraq to have WMD. Please, anyone who beleived at the time there was none, could you state why you think those two are dills?

  14. observa
    August 2nd, 2007 at 17:59 | #14

    You might be interested in an analysis of how the surge is going in Iraq here. Check the interview with John Burns by Hugh Hewitt
    http://prairiepundit.blogspot.com/2007/07/second-most-important-man-in-baghdad.html

    A US politician concurs here
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-07-30-ellison-iraq_N.htm

    Basically the Coalition may be learning, as well as the locals are now sick of AQ. Withdrawal is not so clear cut IMO, but what might really be needed is an eleventh hour reinforcement bid by NATO to break the back of AQ, just when they think the US is tiring of the fight. That won’t happen of course, which may be a great pity in the long run.

  15. Roger Jones
    August 2nd, 2007 at 18:44 | #15

    SATP

    Opening remarks to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD inquiry into intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction

    By Andrew Wilkie

    Canberra, 22 August 2003

    Mr Chairman, thank you for inviting me to appear before the Committee.

    You would be well aware that I resigned from the Office of National Assessments, before the Iraq war, because I assessed that invading Iraq would not be the most sensible and ethical way to resolve the Iraq issue. I chose resignation, specifically, because compromise or seeking to create change from within ONA were not realistic options.

    At the time I resigned I put on the public record three fundamental concerns. Firstly, that Iraq did not pose a serious enough security threat to justify a war. Secondly, that too many things could go wrong. And, thirdly, that war was still totally unnecessary because options short of war were yet to be exhausted.

    My first concern is especially relevant today. It was based on my assessment that Iraq’s conventional armed forces were weak, that Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction programme was disjointed and contained, and that there was no hard evidence of any active cooperation between Iraq and al Qaida.

    Richard Butler Interview with Mark Davis

    May 17, 2003

    MARK DAVIS: Well, while I have you here I’ll get you to put your Iraq hat on for a moment. Are you surprised that the Americans haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction so far?

    RICHARD BUTLER: No, I’m not, Mark. There’s no doubt that unaccounted for weapons existed when Saddam threw me and my team out in 1998 and, indeed, when Hans Blix, my successor, made his last reports. But I think what we are seeing now is the very strong possibility that towards the end, just before the war began, Iraq either began to destroy those weapons or moved them out possibly to Syria. Destroyed them in the way that it started, you’ll remember, to destroy the al-Samoud missile, in the belief that the weapons wouldn’t be of any further use to them and it would be better for their case if they could say—if no weapons were able to be discovered.

    MARK DAVIS: I mean, this is the incredible point, I suppose. We’ve just invaded a country, we’ve killed thousands of people and, despicable as Saddam Hussein may have been, he was probably telling the truth.

    RICHARD BUTLER: We need to know that, that’s what I’m saying. It could well be that at that point, immediately prior to the war when they lodged their 12,000 page document, that we may discover they were telling the truth in the sense that at that time they did destroy those extant weapons. We need to know what the facts are to know whether the weapons of mass destruction justification for the invasion was real or not. It’s very, very important. We have four people—the US has four key people in custody now—General Saddi, General Rashid, Tariq Aziz and Dr Germ, Rihab Taha. They know exactly what the facts are. We need to know what they’re saying. We need to know on what basis they’re being interrogated. We need the truth about those weapons, Iraq’s programs, did they give them to terrorists, for example, as has sometimes been claimed. We need the truth behind an invasion and occupation by the United States, and its friends, of Iraq.

    Seem like two sensible blokes trying to properly assess and manage the myriad risks the situation presented.

  16. jquiggin
    August 2nd, 2007 at 20:00 | #16

    “What inspection team? More like guided tourists.”

    Unbelievable! You were completely suckered by this line four years ago, and now you’ve managed to convince yourself you were right all along.

    Just to remind you, the inspectors were proved 100 per cent right, while Bush, Blair and the entire world supply of SATPs were proved 100 per cent wrong.

  17. August 2nd, 2007 at 20:19 | #17

    I am suckered nothing. Not being an Iraq expert, an not having powers of ESP, I am restricted to what I read & hear.

    It seems almost everybody believed Iraq had WMD. Why would a layman on the other side of the world have believed anything else?

  18. jquiggin
    August 2nd, 2007 at 20:31 | #18

    “Why would a layman on the other side of the world have believed anything else?”

    Perhaps because he actually thought about it instead of accepting the word of known liars.

    Of course, before the inspectors went in, nearly everyone thought Saddam probably had WMDs. After they’d been looking six weeks, no one sensible believed it.

  19. Razor
    August 3rd, 2007 at 11:40 | #19

    Threat is the product of intent and capability. Saddam now has no intent to produce NBC weapons. Threat eliminated. Job done.

  20. August 3rd, 2007 at 22:30 | #20

    Could those who from several thousand miles away “thought about it” & worked out from their armchair that Saddam did not have WMD, well they could make one helluva quid by “thinking about” who will will the Melbourne Cup this year.

  21. jquiggin
    August 4th, 2007 at 10:03 | #21

    Unfortunately, Steve, picking the winner of the Melbourne Cup is a lot harder than working out that Bush is a fraud, and that his evidence on almost any issue is worthless. But if you’re having trouble with the latter, I’d definitely recommend saving your money on the former.

    Razor, remind me never to hire you to do a job. Fairly clearly, costs and benefits are foreign concepts.

  22. frankis
    August 5th, 2007 at 21:54 | #22

    Liars and fools in positions of power have always had their useful idiots; you’d need to be an idiot to have believed at the time what Razor and Steve swear they and all right-thinkin’ people believed at the time. But perhaps they just weren’t clenching hard enough to turn their and their trusty leaders’ delusions into real reality. Try believing even harder next time boys.

  23. enghave
    August 6th, 2007 at 12:50 | #23

    The neoconservatives and the fiasco that is the invasion of Iraq remind me of the Cambridge Spies line about Stalin: “When comrade [Bush] has a good idea it is never allowed to become a bad idea”.

  24. Razor
    August 9th, 2007 at 13:09 | #24

    I put money on Beauchamp admitting to being a liar and fabricating his stories.

  25. August 9th, 2007 at 13:25 | #25

    My gut feeling on the matter tends toward agreeing with you Razor. Though my past gut feelings on other matters have been most unreliable.

    “Razor, remind me never to hire you to do a job. Fairly clearly, costs and benefits are foreign concepts.”

    Prof Q, you KNOW that isn’t true!

    Besides that, you compare apples to chalk. The costs & benefits of a job of work are measured differently to the costs/benefits of a military operation. (ie, in a military operation, no matter what the cost, “runner-up” status is unacceptable)

    Cost/benefit of a job of work = I make a quid or, I would rather go hungry than work that hard for a handful of rice (of whatever).
    Cost/benefit of a military operation = I come out on top or I lose my head & our dependants are enslaved/raped.

  26. jquiggin
    August 9th, 2007 at 15:49 | #26

    “Cost/benefit of a military operation = I come out on top or I lose my head & our dependants are enslaved/raped.”

    I think you emphasise my point about the lack of understanding of benefits and costs. On this analysis, military operations are entirely exempt from B/C analysis since the only option is to come out on top. Actually, this is in most cases the third-best option after

    (1) Don’t get into a situation requiring such operations in the first place; and
    (2) Settle for peace on the basis of the status quo ante at the first available opportunity

    It’s little wonder, given your (and Razor’s) lack of understanding of the basics that you both supported (and continue to support, AFAIK) the lunatic venture in Iraq.

  27. Razor
    August 9th, 2007 at 17:37 | #27

    JQ – you would have been against the Falklands War, too. Because that cost lots of lives and heaps of money. I reckon you would have been against the US invovlement in WWI and WWII, also. I think South Korea would have been buggered if you had your way, too.

  28. jquiggin
    August 9th, 2007 at 20:08 | #28

    Razor, you score 2.5/4.

    You’ve said it all about the Falklands except “and achieved nothing”. The only good thing about it was the consequences for the junta on the losing side.

    WWI was a pointless bloodbath, which bequeathed us Communism and Nazism.

    As regards Korea, it would have been a huge victory if Macarthur had followed my (2). Once his army reached Pyongyang he could have dictated very favorable terms. As it was, he pushed on the Yalu, got routed by the Chinese and it all ended up a draw after three bloody years, including Communist occupation of Seoul.

    That leaves the one great counterexample the pro-war side of the debate has been living off for 60+ years.

  29. August 9th, 2007 at 20:22 | #29

    The Falklands War DID remove the enemy occupiers. Surely achieving 100% of the goal cannot be defined as “achieving nothing”?

  30. jquiggin
    August 9th, 2007 at 20:49 | #30

    Again, we see the lack of benefit cost analysis that gave us the Iraq War which achieved 100 per cent of the goal of removing Saddam Hussein permanently from the planet (just unfortunate about the 500 000 + lost in collateral damage).

    So, if you prefer “achieved nothing for either side remotely comparable to the cost”.

  31. snuh
    August 10th, 2007 at 10:08 | #31

    And while the main-stream media is happy to run the untruthful negative stories…they rarely run with a retraction or, god forbid, a story that might have a positive outlook on things they disagree.

    what exactly is the incentive for the new republic to put in a calculated effort to make the war in iraq look bad? that’s not exactly a challenge at this point, and i can think of a few more direct ways to do it than some random soldier’s anecdotes, but anyway.

    the new republic is not an anti-war publication. robert kagan is a regular contribution, peter beinart and noted neo-con lawrence kaplan are on the editorial staff, crypto-racist marty peretz is still editor-in-chief, and spencer ackerman claims he lost his job there because of his opposition to the war. does this sound like the sort of magazine that would publish something untrue in order to make the war look bad? the accusation is, frankly, bizarre.

  32. pablo
    August 30th, 2008 at 21:05 | #32

    Didn’t the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post apologise retrospectively to their readers for their Iraq WMD coverage?

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