February 26, 2008

Guns in the Desert

ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ – The Humvee slammed to a halt on the desert road between Fallujah and the town of Al Farris. I peered around the driver's head from the back seat and tried to figure out what was happening.

“Why are we stopping?” I said.

“IED,” Sergeant Guerrero said.

I swallowed and took the lens cap off my camera.

“Where?” I said.

All five Humvees in our convoy had stopped and pulled to the side of the road. None had been hit.

“We think there's one buried off the road around here.”

Two soldiers, including Sergeant Guerrero, stepped out of the vehicle. “Can I get out, too?” I said. I had no idea how long we would stop or if they would even let me out of the truck.

“Sure,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “You can get out.”

All IEDs are dangerous no matter how much body armor you're wearing if you're standing anywhere nearby when they explode. Some create small explosions that are merely intended to harass convoys. Others are formidable anti-tank mines. A smaller number create explosions as big as air strikes and will absolutely destroy you if you're not inside a heavily armored vehicle. The term IED, short for improvised explosive device, is used to describe just about any explosive that isn't discharged from a weapon.

Below is a video of a gigantic IED explosion that looks as big as a monstrous daisy cutter bomb. Imagine standing anywhere near that when it went off.

I slowly pushed open the vault-thick up-armored door and stepped out into the desolate countryside of Al Anbar. An Iraqi Police truck was parked in the desert a few hundred feet to our right. I hoped there wasn't an IED trigger man lurking somewhere who was waiting for all of us to expose ourselves.

An Iraqi Police officer joined us and led us to a group of his colleagues standing around with shovels in their hands.

Leading to Cache Site Iraq.jpg

“It's actually a weapons cache,” he said. “Not an IED. It's out here somewhere.”

Most of the American troops in the Fallujah area are Marines, but these were regular Army soldiers and Military Police officers recruited from the Texas National Guard. They and the Iraqi Police officers have forged a straightforward agreement with the civilians in the area: we'll protect you from insurgents if you'll identify them and lead us to their IEDs and weapons caches. Someone from the nearby village of Al Bahuri had just called in a tip to the Iraqis. Their job was to find the cache and destroy it in a controlled detonation. No one had a metal detector, though, and they weren't sure where, exactly, the cache was buried.

“The Blackhawk guys ought to come out here,” Sergeant Guerrero said.

IP Digging Cache Iraq.jpg

We joined the Iraqis with their shovels. Several shallow holes had been dug into the ground. They were looking for the cache, but didn't know where it was. The caller who phoned in the tip told the Iraqis he saw insurgents burying a gigantic crate the size of a shipping container, but he could only narrow down the location within 100 meters. The same source had earlier reported a cache of rockets. The Iraqi Police found those rockets, so they figured the source was reliable.

I looked for freshly dug dirt. If this cache were really the size of a shipping container, there should be a large area where the ground was disturbed.

Our Iraqi interpreter Karim found a small section of soft dirt, retrieved a shovel from an Iraqi Police officer, and started digging.

I kept scouting the ground. I wasn't a part of the Army unit, obviously. I'm a journalist. But I felt useless just standing around while Karim worked the shovel. I might as well help out a little and occupy myself in some way. And besides, it was cold outside. I needed to walk around to stay warm. Iraq's climate is a ferocious blast furnace during the summer, but winter is hardly warmer than it is in my native Pacific Northwest.

Cache Hunt Desert Iraq Wide Shot.jpg

There was a small amount of trash laying around. I looked carefully for piles of cigarette butts and spit-out sunflower seeds which might suggest insurgents had been there.

“The insurgents are very good at hiding caches,” Sergeant Phillips said.

“What do you suppose is in this cache?” I said.

“It's hard to say exactly,” he said. “Probably AK-47s and RPGs. Maybe some artillery shells.”

I walked over to Sergeant Guerrero.

“Are you going to ask the locals what they know?” I said.

“Nah,” he said. “That's their deal. The Iraqi Police have their sources. We're their liaisons, their trainers. We're not in charge anymore. We're just here to help them become police officers instead of paramilitaries.”

Sgt Guerrero Iraq.jpg
Sergeant Guerrero

I kept hearing this sort of thing, and it always slightly surprised me. It may seem like Americans are in charge in Iraq, but that is really only true to an extent.

“We make sure they follow the rule of law,” Sergeant Guerrero continued, “that they don't abuse prisoners. We're trying to get them self-sustaining so we can pull out and go someplace where there's some actual fighting.”

“At this point,” Sergeant Phillips said, “we're just waiting for the Iraqi Police to work their magic."

Weapons caches are usually found on land somebody owns. It wasn't clear whether anyone owned the land we were standing on, but if so they didn't seem to mind Americans and Iraqis digging holes all over the place. No one from the village next door came out to talk to anyone. No one even came out to watch. I found that curious, and it made me slightly uneasy. Often it means the locals know an explosion or ambush is imminent.

“Hey,” Sergeant Phillips said. “They brought in a front-loader.”

An Iraqi Police officer drove up in a bulldozer. Now we might be in business. I really hoped they would find something. There is so little “action” in and around Fallujah these days that this, I realized, might be as interesting as it gets anymore.

Bulldozer Cache Hunt Iraq.jpg

The Iraqi Police officer chewed up the desert with his machine. He seemed to enjoy it in the way a twelve-year old American boy (or even me for that matter) would enjoy playing around with what is essentially a gigantic power tool.

At one point we all thought he hit pay dirt when the blade struck something solid. Everyone tensed in anticipation. But it was just rocks.

Sergeant Phillips and I wandered off and found a huge patch of soft dirt that looked and felt like sand on a beach. The ground everywhere else was gritty and hard-packed.

“Hey,” he said. “Look at this.”

He found a wire sticking out of the ground and very carefully pulled on it. I stepped back, not really far enough to protect myself if something exploded, but out of sheer instinct. Nearly half of Anbar Province was wired to blow at one point.

The wire came up out of the sand in his hand. Nothing exploded.

Wire Cache Hunt Iraq.jpg

I dug with my boot.

“It's really soft sand all the way down,” I said. “And this soft area is bigger than a shipping container.”

“Hey!” Sergeant Phillips said to Sergeant Guerrero, who was watching the bulldozer with his hands on his hips. “Come take a look at this.”

Sergeant Guerrero walked over. Karim, our interpreter, followed with his shovel.

“It looks like someone trucked in all this sand,” Sergeant Phillips said. “Nothing else around here looks anything like this.”

“Yeah,” Sergeant Guerrero said.

It did look promising.

Karim jabbed his shovel into the ground next to the wire that Sergeant Phillips had just pulled up. I kept poking around with my boot.

“That's the most work I've seen Karim do,” Sergeant Guerrero said. Karim laughed at the good-natured ribbing at his expense. “Somebody get a video camera.”

“I have my still camera,” I said. “I'm making him famous right now.”

Digging Desert Iraq.jpg

Karim dug furiously and wiped sweat from his forehead. He reached up and detached the Velcro strap on his body armor as if he were about to take his vest off.

“No, Karim,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “Keep it on.”

I sympathized with both Karim and the Sergeant. Rural Anbar Province is not very dangerous these days, but it's still Iraq. And we were poking around where insurgents had buried guns in the desert. They could be watching us through the scope of a sniper rifle or with a manual detonation trigger in hand. No one could know that the phoned-in tip to the police wasn't a set up. Why were no Iraqi civilians watching or talking to us? A cluster of houses stood only 200 meters away. Body armor is uncomfortable, but I wasn't about to take mine off.

Sergeant Guerrero summoned the Iraqi Police and told them what we had found. Karim translated.

“There was a wire here somewhere,” he said. “Where did it go? Karim, did you bury it with that shovel?”

No one could find the wire. Karim had indeed buried it with the shovel. The sergeant wasn't mad, though. It was not a big deal.

The bulldozer driver came over and moved tons of the soft sand into a gigantic pile.

Sgt Phillips Iraq.jpg
Sergeant Phillips

“I feel like Geraldo Rivera,” Sergeant Phillips said. “We're gonna open it up! We're gonna open it up! Doh! There's nothing in there!”

“None of the people who live here and coming out of their houses,” I said to Sergeant Guerrero. “What's up with that?”

“No,” he said. “They won't.”

“In Fallujah they do,” I said. “They always do.”

“Here the men are out working,” he said. “The women are home alone by themselves, and there's no way they're coming out here to hang out with us.”

I relaxed a bit then.

“Please find something,” Sergeant Phillips said.

I looked at my watch. We had been out there two hours. The wind was getting colder, and this didn't look promising.

“Alright,” Sergeant Guerrero said. “I'm done with this shit.”

*

Later we found something on the edge of the city of Karmah.

Two Marines Field Outside Karmah.jpg

I walked with a Marine unit under the command of Lieutenant Schroeder through farmland between Fallujah and Baghdad, just barely beyond the city limits. A small river flows through there, and insurgents were known to sometimes camp in the shore reeds and launch attacks inside the city from there.

Palm Trees Outside Karmah.jpg

The gentle winter sun warmed my face, and there was no wind. Iraq could not have felt more peaceful and tranquil. It seemed somehow wrong that the Marines carried rifles and that we wore body armor and helmets in this idyllic landscape. Arabic music could faintly be heard from one of the houses at the edge of the town. A black cow mooed at us. I felt like an intruder as Iraqis and farm animals watched us spread out and move through the fields.

Cow and Children Outside Karmah.jpg

Boy Field Karmah.jpg

The ground was strewn with large clods of hard dirt. White residue from an organic fertilizer looked a little like salt. A soft breeze shook the tall reeds. Otherwise, I heard only my own footsteps in the grass. I felt perfectly at ease, but it sounded like the dreadful quiet in a suspenseful war movie just before a platoon gets ambushed with machine gun fire and hand grenades.

Tall Reeds Outside Karmah.jpg

Reeds Outside Karmah.jpg

Boat Outside Karmah.jpg

Lieutenant Schroeder and his Marines peered into the reeds for signs of insurgents while an Iraqi man in the next field over waved his arms over his head and beckoned us to come talk to him.

“Let's go see what he wants,” said the Lieutenant. So we did.

Three Iraqis Outside Karmah.jpg

“I found an IED,” the man said. His two sons stood quietly next to him. “It is over there behind a mosque.”

We stood in farmland, but were just a few meters beyond the city limits of Karmah.

“If you go looking for it,” he said, “you won't find it. But I know where it is.”

Lance Corporal Waddle made a radio call to Outpost Delta. “It's most likely an MRE bomb,” he said. MRE bombs are made of C-4 explosives packed in MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) packages that look like discarded trash on the side of the road.

Marines Consulting Outside Karmah.jpg

He read the man's name off the ID card into the radio and asked Delta to check it against the list of wanted insurgents. The Marines would not let the man lead us anywhere without vetting him first.

The man's name cleared and he led us into the city.

“I need you to stay back,” Corporal Waddle said to me,” in case we run into resistance.”

Some Marine units are more protective of me than others. Lieutenant Schroeder's was particularly so. I was frequently instructed to stay back and, when in town, to only walk within a few inches of a wall.

Lieutenant Schroeder Karmah.jpg
Lieutenant Schroeder

The lieutenant sent a squad ahead to set up an overwatch on a roof in case we were being led into an ambush. Karmah was only very recently pacified. The war lasted longer there than it did in Fallujah, and every Marine I spoke to said it was a far more dangerous place.

We entered the town and walked past ugly repair shops on the way to the small mosque where the IED was supposed to be.

Rundown Shops Karmah.jpg

“There's a pretty nice restaurant right over here,” Lieutenant Schroeder said. “Take a look.”

Restaurant Karmah.jpg

I popped my head in and snapped a quick picture.

“Hello, hello,” the restaurant manager said. “Welcome.”

“Shukran,” I said. Thank you.

I would have loved to stay and eat something other than the same old Marine food, but there was a job to be done.

We cut into the trash yard behind the mosque so no one would see us coming. Rusted cars were piled up against the wall behind the mosque and repair shops. This, supposedly, is where the Iraqi man found the IED, but it seemed an unlikely place for it. Most IEDs are mortar rounds, artillery shells, or anti-tank mines deployed alongside or underneath roads.

Junkyard Karmah.jpg

“Don't get any closer,” Corporal Waddle said. “We need to stay out of the blast radius in case it blows.”

One Marine, whose name I didn't catch, accompanied the Iraqi man to the location of the explosive. “It's an 82mm mortar round,” he said when he returned. “It's not an IED. Most likely a round that didn't go off when it was fired.”

Every time I thought something vaguely exciting might happen, it didn't happen. There is no war in Western Iraq any more. This is a mop-up.

Lieutenant Schroeder called the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team from Camp Fallujah. Their job is the destruction of weapons caches, IEDs, and other hazardous explosives with controlled detonations. They arrived an hour or so later as a local man led his goats through the junkyard to feed on the garbage.

Goats Junkyard Karmah.jpg

The EOD team leader looked at the explosive round through his telescopic rifle scope.

“Are you going to blow it here or move it first?” I said.

“Depends on if they've got something hooked up to it,” he said. “Sometimes they'll call these things in and it's a trap.”

Lieutenant Schroeder's Marines kept a close eye on the man who led us here, just in case.

A Marine from the EOD team parked a truck mounted with an ECM device (an electronic countermeasure) in the yard. When turned on, the device jams cell phone signals which are often used by insurgents to manually trigger roadside bombs and other explosives. Then the team sent in a robot that set down a C-4 bomb of its own next to the unexploded ordnance.

“We need to clear everyone out of here,” said the EOD team leader. Lieutenant Schroeder told his men to fan out away from the blast radius as Iraqi Police officers stopped traffic on the street and evacuated civilians to a safe location a few blocks away.

“How close can we be to the explosion?” I asked Corporal Waddle.

Corporal Waddle Karmah.jpg
Lance Corporal Waddle

“The potential casualty radius is 100 meters,” he said. “So we need to move out 300 meters or take cover.”

“How about we take cover instead of move out?” I said. I was aching for excitement, even of the controlled variety.

So he and I took cover behind a three-foot high berm. I can't be certain, but I think we were inside the kill zone. I carefully peeked over the lip. They weren't quite ready to blow it up yet, but I sat back down in the dirt.

“Do not stand up until after it blows,” Corporal Waddle said, although he didn't have to.

We stayed on the ground and waited. The EOD team leader announced a one-minute countdown on the radio. I waited in anticipation. At 30 seconds to detonation, I hoped one of those gigantic camel spiders (also known as wind scorpions) didn't decide this was the perfect time to...

BOOM!

The explosion came earlier than expected, and if you can imagine a person jumping into the air and hitting the ground at the same time, that was me. Recall the loudest clap of thunder you have ever heard in your life, then multiply the volume by four. I felt the shock wave ripple through my whole body. It damn near knocked the molars out of my mouth.

I peered up over the berm. Smoke from the explosion quickly dissipated. I fumbled for my camera and only managed to take a late picture.

Smoke from Controlled Det Karmah.jpg

Corporal Waddle and I rejoined the rest of his Marine unit.

“Too bad you weren't in the parking lot with your camera,” one of the Marines said to me. “It was pretty funny. The Iraqis completely freaked out and hit the deck.”

The explosion startled me, too. The last explosion I heard was a car bomb in Baghdad from two miles away. I wondered if the Marines would have laughed if they were looking at me instead of the Iraqis.

“You told them there would be an explosion, right?” I said. “They must be used to hearing explosions here anyway.”

“Yeah, the Iraqi Police told 'em. But two of 'em pissed themselves right there in the lot.”

Rubble Back to Base Karmah.jpg

We walked past a field of rubble on our way back to the station.

“Three months ago, this wouldn't have happened,” Corporal Waddle said. “The locals didn't start trusting us until now.”

Shortly after we returned, I heard one Marine tell another that their company found ten separate caches of weapons and explosives in the last six hours alone.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 26, 2008 2:23 AM
Comments

I really hoped they would find something. There is so little “action” in and around Fallujah these days that this, I realized, might be as interesting as it gets anymore.

I find that to be a good thing. No news is good news as the old adage goes. Thanks for the story!

Posted by: LT Nixon Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 3:35 AM

Let me extend a "Happy World Trade Center I" to all those terrorists that might be checking out Michael's excellent blog. It was on this day Feg 26 that 6 people died and 1000+ were injured. President Clinton took terrorism so seriously that he never once went to the site of the bombing. He also sent out the FBI to investigate. That showed you guys how serious he was. ahhh, the nineties. Nothing like sticking your head in the sand.

Don't worry Jihadis... America is about to revert to the Clinton & Carter Foreign policy. The Obama is coming...

Michael, great post. The Marines are taking a more supportive roll. You wouldn't know it if you relied on the MSM...

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 8:14 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/26/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 8:23 AM

I know you noted in previous articles that the Marine contingent in Fallujah only numbered 250. This may not be accurate. My son is in 3/5 India and he said there is a whole batallion there. Things are going well but there has been no pull back yet.

Posted by: dzookie Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 8:27 AM

dzookie- I thought 250 men made up a battlion and 1000 made up regiment. just asking.

Michael Did you go back to that restaurant and eat? It looked like a new clean place??

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 8:50 AM

You wrote that the 82mm mortar was reported by a local Iraqi. Did he get paid for reporting it? I only ask because on a prior deployment we paid people a small sum of cash for reporting IEDs. The unintended consequence was that we were often "tipped off" to harmless debris and residue. Just curious if the Marines are having a similar problem.

Posted by: Saint in Exile Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 9:22 AM

It doesn't sound like there's any middle ground in Iraq between completely unexciting and terrifying. I guess a soldier's (and a war reporter's) job is hours of boredom punctuated with seconds of sheer terror.

I was frequently instructed to stay back and, when in town, to only walk within a few inches of a wall.

Why is being within a few inches of a wall safer?

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 9:37 AM

Why is being within a few inches of a wall safer?

I'd guess because walls provide cover.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 9:48 AM

dzookie: I know you noted in previous articles that the Marine contingent in Fallujah only numbere 250.</>

I was referring to the number who actually live and work in the city, and not counting the Camp Fallujah and Camp Baharia bases which are several miles outside the city.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 9:48 AM

Pete,

Bush didnt do too much about the terrorist threat for the first months he was in power. He didnt take it seriously until 9/11 either. This is hardly a Democratic issue, both parties go in for some blame over the issue.

I guess we could sit here and blame Bush Sr. for not doing Iraq "right" in the first place. We could blame the Republicans for using the US intelligence agencies to help build the groups that later became AQ in the desire to drive the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.

Republicans helped build jihadist groups in Afghanistan looking to one up the Russians, Israelis helped support Hamas in the early years as a counter weight to the secular PLO.

Unintended consequences suck.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 10:04 AM

Michael,

I think your support guys forgot to turn off those message windows they were using to help debug your site.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 10:44 AM

"Why is being within a few inches of a wall safer?"

That way you only have to look one way. Of cause somebody have to cover your side from another side of the street as well. Being alone and walking close to the wall is still safer than being exposed in the middle of the street. It is much harder to shoot at you or even see you from the roof on your side when you are close to the wall. Also picking side, which provided shade (exposing shadow from the roof and behind corners) is even better.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 10:54 AM

"Why is being within a few inches of a wall safer?"

I guess maybe I'm the one misunderstanding the statement, but I was under the impression they were saying to not go too near to walls (bullets skip off of and "ride" walls, RPG's slam into them kicking out heavy debris, etc.)
I'm sure the venerable MJT will eliminate the confusion shortly...

Posted by: Joe Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 10:57 AM

maryatexitzero,

Proximity to walls is a function of geometry. The closer you are to a wall, the larger the angle you are covered. Adjacent to a wall, you have 180 degrees of coverage, away from a wall, you reduce the angle that is covered and increase the angle that is exposed.

This holds true for both IED blasts and sniper attacks.

Now the Marines and Soldiers might well be walking away from the wall, but their training allows a much higher combat awareness than Michael natively possesses.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:06 AM

Great post Michael - but what does it have to do with the Canadian healthcare system?

Posted by: markytom Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:26 AM

I'm getting that window message pop on me as well. Minor annoyance.

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:26 AM

Marc- Spoken like a true apologist for the Clinton & Carter foreign policy.

You are right though Bush 41 made a mistake in not finishing off Saddam in the first Gulf War. He got crappy advise from that idiot Colin Powell. The stupid thing was that Bush 43 put him into his cabinet. I would also say that Reagan pulling out the Marines from Lebanon was a monumental mistake that is still being felt by the Lebanese.
I'm not going to be apologetic about the US helping the Afghans defeat the Soviets. It was the Cold War. In your line of thinking it would've been wrong for Roosevelt to help the Soviets in defeating the Nazis, because of the Cold War that followed. Wrong... I sure as hell won't fault the Reagan Administration for giving Saddam information and technical assistance in battling the Iranians. The Ayatollah's Islamic revolution needed to be put in check.
I can say that Carter's inaction in dealing with the hostage situation has led to greatest threat to the 21st century; Islamic terrorism. Osama came up with the conclusion that the US was a paper tiger, because of Clinton's retreat from Somalia. And because of Clinton's misguided cops & robbers mentality thru the 90's in dealing with Islamic terrorism led to 9/11. For God sake Secretary Albright State Dept ordered the USS Cole to refuel in Yemen. Something that we didn't do before. The State Department wanted to show the Yemenis we were their friends. They also went to the extent of having the machine guns protecting the Cole unloaded; just to prove our good intentions. Nice thinking... It's the same stupid naive thinking that's in the Obama's camp.

Bush had 8 months. Which in reality was probably more like 6, because of Gore contesting the election. And don't forget the childish pranks Clinton Adm employees did; including taking all the W's off the computer key boards didn't help. Bush had 8 months. Clinton had 8 years and did nothing. Now with Americans seemingly approving of the Obama; we're headed down that same stupid path.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:34 AM

Pete, what does this have to do with Michael's post?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:40 AM

Pete,

I think it is rather clear that the Reagan choice to pull out of Lebanon after large amounts of American troops were killed effects more than Lebanese. Many, in my honest opinion correctly, say Reagan's withdrawl under fire from Lebanon set the stage for the attacks of 9/11. The idea being if you inflict enough casualties on Americans they will cut and run.

You follow the typical far right conservative line that you can never be held responsible for the snowballing affects of your actions. Some of these things could have been clearly seen BEFORE they happened, it was just felt that the CURRENT threat was worse than the FUTURE threat, which wasnt always the case.

As to supporting Saddam Hussein against the Iranians, I think we were certainly wrong when Saddam started using chemical weapons. The first time he gassed Iranians, or gassed women and children in Kurdistan should have been the end of our support for him. Our hurangs against WMD fall on deaf ears when we had NO issue with him gassing women and children in Northern Iraq when he was our ally.

Carter's actions in dealing with the hostage situation really was a small thing when compared to Reagan's cut and run from Lebanon. It is one thing when dealing with hostage takers of civilians, another thing when you make it clear to American enemies that America's government lacks the will to fight. Bin Laden didnt look to Tehran when he planned 9/11, he looked to Reagan's cut and run tactics in Lebanon.

You can bang on all you want about Carter and Clinton, but Reagan allowed hundreds of American soldiers to be slaughtered in Lebanon and did nothing other than put his tail between his legs and run.

241 Americans died that day. The biggest toll for Marines since Iwo Jima and the biggest one day loss for the US military since the Tet Offensive. What did Reagan do to show the world that US forces will not be forced out of a country? He left.

When bin Laden planned 9/11 that was EXACTLY his thinking. If Reagan cut and ran after 241 Americans were killed, certainly Americans would cut and run if thousands were killed.

He was wrong, but there is little doubt that Reagan's example of cutting and running is what set up 9/11 in these people's minds.

It is amazing how some want to go back to the Reagen years. If we followed his example we'd have been run out of Iraq several years ago.

It is clear that Republicans, nor their heros, have the ability to lecture others on cutting and running. The biggest cut and run shame was Reagan's during a Republican administration.

One of the earliest precursors of the 9/11 attacks came from this decision.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 12:31 PM

Marc- Did you fall from an alternate universe??
I'm not going to defend Reagan's decision it was wrong.
But you are wrong about Osama. He's stated that it was Clinton's withdrawal from Somalia was the reason he thought the US was a paper tiger. Nice try bud. Read this from John Millers interview with Osama:

Describe the situation when your men took down the American forces in Somalia.

After our victory in Afghanistan and the defeat of the oppressors who had killed millions of Muslims, the legend about the invincibility of the superpowers vanished. Our boys no longer viewed America as a superpower. So, when they left Afghanistan, they went to Somalia and prepared themselves carefully for a long war. They had thought that the Americans were like the Russians, so they trained and prepared. They were stunned when they discovered how low was the morale of the American soldier. America had entered with 30,000 soldiers in addition to thousands of soldiers from different countries in the world. ... As I said, our boys were shocked by the low morale of the American soldier and they realized that the American soldier was just a paper tiger. He was unable to endure the strikes that were dealt to his army, so he fled, and America had to stop all its bragging and all that noise it was making in the press after the Gulf War in which it destroyed the infrastructure and the milk and dairy industry that was vital for the infants and the children and the civilians and blew up dams which were necessary for the crops people grew to feed their families. Proud of this destruction, America assumed the titles of world leader and master of the new world order. After a few blows, it forgot all about those titles and rushed out of Somalia in shame and disgrace, dragging the bodies of its soldiers. America stopped calling itself world leader and master of the new world order, and its politicians realized that those titles were too big for them and that they were unworthy of them. I was in Sudan when this happened. I was very happy to learn of that great defeat that America suffered, so was every Muslim. ...

Nice try, Marc... you can't fool me. You can sure fool yourself, though.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 12:48 PM

Proximity to walls is a function of geometry. The closer you are to a wall, the larger the angle you are covered. Adjacent to a wall, you have 180 degrees of coverage, away from a wall, you reduce the angle that is covered and increase the angle that is exposed.

Then it is an important safety tip. Thanks!

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 1:08 PM

I'm getting that window message pop on me as well. Minor annoyance.

This should be fixed. Is anyone still experiencing this problem?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 1:16 PM

Oh, and Patrick (above) correctly explained the purpose of staying near walls.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 1:20 PM

Saint in Exile: You wrote that the 82mm mortar was reported by a local Iraqi. Did he get paid for reporting it?

I don't think so.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 1:21 PM

PeteDawg: Michael Did you go back to that restaurant and eat?

I didn't, but the Marines eat there sometimes when they have time. The owner is cool, and the food is supposedly good.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 1:24 PM

Michael- From the picture it looks fairly nice. It certainly looks cleaner than some of dives in Chinatown, San Francisco.

Posted by: PeteDawg Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 3:03 PM

Many, in my honest opinion correctly, say Reagan's withdrawl under fire from Lebanon set the stage for the attacks of 9/11. The idea being if you inflict enough casualties on Americans they will cut and run.
-Marc

Kind of.

The "Americans can be driven off" concept started in Viet Nam, with Nixon. Carter showed that we could be intimidated after the Embassy in Tehran was taken. Reagan* demonstrated that it wasn't a fluke when he pulled the Marines out of Beirut. And Clinton showed that the cost of American displeasure was just air raids, as demonstrated in the Balkans, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

W. Bush is trying to overcome a quarter-century of conditioning the rest of the planet to see America as a paper tiger, and a large number of people still see Bush as the fluke, instead of the new norm. I suspect it will take another war before certain governments will decide antagonizing the US is more trouble than it's worth.

*In Reagan's defense, he wanted to retaliate by hitting the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek (housing Iranian Revolutionary Guard at the time), but Caspar Weinberger convinced him to withdraw the Marines instead.

-----

This should be fixed. Is anyone still experiencing this problem?
-MJT

I'm not, looks like it's fixed.

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 4:06 PM

rosignol:

I believe I read that that Saddam was surprised by Bush's invasion. He was expecting more air raids and was planning to hunker down again.

Posted by: Tom in Texas Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 7:12 PM

"....I felt the shock wave ripple through my whole body. It damn near knocked the molars out of my mouth....."

which is one reason, besides the shrapnel, that suicide bombings are so dangerous, especially inside enclosed spaces like buses and cafes. Blast damage to lungs can be fatal all by itself.

As for Clinton and Bush:

Clinton made a puny response RIGHT AFTER a massive bombing in the middle of a major world city's financial sector. The largest bombing on US soil, from outside the US, up to that time I believe.

At the time Bush took office, Al Queda wasn't front and center in the news, there had not been an event like that since. so you can't call Bush down for not making terrorism his main project right after taking office. Right after 9-11 he went down there, he made speeches, he started war plans.

Posted by: Yehudit Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 7:57 PM

Yehudit,

As a Navy guy, I'm less happy about Clinton's response to the attack on the USS Cole. Call me silly, but I think of Navy ships as US territory just because my life depended on that legal belief for a span of years. The attack occurred because the Clinton White House ignored threats to the Navy, and to downplay that responsibility they refused to respond with force. Regardless of whether Osama thought that the US was weak because we left Somalia, there is no reasonable doubt that after October 12th, 2000 the US looked weak.

When I hear Osama proclaiming his willingness to engage in dialog when provoked, I just see an endless series of USS Cole attacks and my brother and sister sailors dying in the service of inoffensive diplomacy. There is nothing in the Constitution that says our diplomacy cannot offend the stupid, flawed, and evil. Sacrificing the lives of our troops to serve a policy of meekness and complicity strikes me as the basest folly imaginable.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 10:53 PM

I believe I read that that Saddam was surprised by Bush's invasion. He was expecting more air raids and was planning to hunker down again.

Yup.

I recall a report back in 2004 or so that said something to the effect of 'Saddam thought Bush was bluffing because the invasion force was so small'.

Oops.

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:04 PM

"In Reagan's defense, he wanted to retaliate by hitting the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek (housing Iranian Revolutionary Guard at the time), but Caspar Weinberger convinced him to withdraw the Marines instead."

Not at all surprised that it was Weinberger who was responsible for this mistake. This is the same mentality that kept us from finishing off Saddam in '91 as we should have.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:28 PM

That IED explosion on YouTube insert was sure terrifying. Does anyone know what happened to the convoy that was driving past it? It must have been obliterated.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at February 26, 2008 11:40 PM

MarkC,

Things are tougher than they look. You are used to seeing generations of Hollywood movies, and that doesn't prepare you very well for the effectiveness of images of explosions. Relatively few people are able to accurately assess damage from the force of explosions seen. It takes a lot of experience that isn't readily available.

Far too often in WWII our admirals would call off naval artillery preparations because "nothing could possibly survive that barrage". Iwo Jima was one of the worst blunders of that sort but that kind of assumptions of damage on the basis of obvious explosion got a lot of our troops killed at the hands of Japanese troops who couldn't possibly survive.

Keep in mind that a lot of soldiers walk away from near misses, even when their rigs have to be towed home. Keep in mind also that the giant explosion you see there wasn't free and wasn't the insurgent's first choice. Setting that up took a lot of resources and a lot of local cooperation. If the bad guys could have done the job with a grenade, mortar, or some other quick cheap shot, they would be happy. Because the light stuff isn't doing the job of providing content for lazy editors, they have to produce these monsters. Think of these kinds of giant bombs as dinosaurs, big, stupid, and doomed to extinction when conditions change.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 12:04 AM

Patrick,

From what I saw in Bosnia sometimes there seems to be little rhyme or reason as to why someone 10 feet from a bomb will survive and someone 100 feet gets their head taken off.

For me this is what makes bombs and other explosive devices so dangerous, and honestly, so damn scary! I am an engineer by trade and my instincts are to quantify things and find patterns, but this is often impossible with these events. It seems to me just random luck. How can someone sitting in a vehicle that gets blown to pieces survive and someone 200 feet from another one get torn up?

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 6:16 AM

MarcC,

Regarding the video - amazingly, everybody in the convoy survived with no serious wounds. I recall when that video came out and saw the text of the email that it was attached to - it was late 2007. The video was from a US surveillance camera (rather than a jihadist propaganda video). If I recall correctly, the gunner of one of the vehicles got some shrapnel in his left arm and that was it.

Not to detract from the danger of the blast, but the moondust makes the explosions look more dramatic. Imagine dumping baby powder on the floor and then slapping the pile as hard as you can with an open hand. That is what explosions do to the moondust in Iraq.

Posted by: Saint in Exile Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 7:21 AM

MJT, you were wearing body armor, correct? What kind? Was it your own that you had to shell out $600+ for, or did the Army supply it to you?

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 10:02 AM

Michael, any thoughts upcoming about the Turkey/Kurdistan issue?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 10:54 AM

Solomon2,

I am required to wear body armor while embedded with U.S. troops, but I would wear it even if I were not.

I bought my own. The military doesn't provide it for civilians. They won't even let me get on a plane to Iraq without it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 11:35 AM

Marc,

The development of the modern grenade is pretty well documented if not particularly well read. One important aspect of early grenades is that even though they had a killing range of about 25 yards or less, the fuse mechanism was usually pretty solid and often killed people (including the fellow who threw the bomb in the first place) at up to 100 yards. Artillery shells and aerial bombs often have pieces that will fly far beyond their designated ranges. Even though they are only covering a small fraction of the lethal sphere, nobody wants to hear pieces go whizzing by with that awful fatal buzz.

Additionally, solid objects near the blast often get picked up and thrown far beyond the range of the initial blast.

Blast effects are a study in chaos. They certainly produce fear, which is why the bad guys use them. The best thing you can do if you have to be in the area is get your hands on the best body armor, and then kick the crap out of the bad guys so they can't set bombs any more.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 11:46 AM

Blast effects are a study in chaos. They certainly produce fear, which is why the bad guys use them.

To nitpick a little, I think the good guys utilize explosives as well on occasion.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 12:11 PM

DPU: I think the good guys utilize explosives as well on occasion.

Care to offer any proof of that ridiculous assertion?

Facts? Figures? Maybe a powerpoint presentation with endnotes?

Didn't think so.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 12:22 PM

Facts? Figures? Maybe a powerpoint presentation with endnotes?

Working on it as we speak.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 12:23 PM

I honestly cannot tell if Edgar's last comment was made with tounge-in-cheek or not.

BTW, I'd also like to get MJT's reaction to the Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan (provided, of course, that Michael has the time).

Posted by: Dave Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 12:44 PM

DPU,

To nitpick a little, I think the good guys utilize explosives as well on occasion.

How about those blast clearance zones AQI sets up before they detonate an IED? How about the communication up and down the chain of command the AQI before they lob random mortar fire into the Green Zone? How about the retarded women they drug and use as homicide bombers?

This is the kind of moral equivalence that makes people not take you seriously. I have good friends who work EOD in Iraq, and there is a hell of a lot of difference between professionals using explosives to minimize dangers and eliminate carefully evaluated targets and the drug addled loons who thrive on terrifying innocents.

It seems like you just don't realize what you are saying is insulting.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 1:31 PM

I'm all for good guys utilizing explosives if they blow the hell out of terrorists. Go good guys.

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 1:41 PM

This is the kind of moral equivalence that makes people not take you seriously.

What moral equivalence? You mean that the good guys don't ever use explosives?

I stand corrected. I really need to stop reading so much, I am being seriously mislead.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 1:49 PM

I'm all for good guys utilizing explosives if they blow the hell out of terrorists. Go good guys.

Lee, you are exhibiting signs of moral equivalence, and are insulting Patrick.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 1:52 PM

DPU,

There are differences between the use of explosives by people whose actions are bound by the Geneva Conventions and those who seek to destroy the civilization that brought those rules of war about. Your comments strongly implied that use of explosives made everybody a barbarian. To score points you implied that controlled demolition, precision munitions, homicide bombers, and multi-ton IEDs were all the same thing.

Now you're trying to weasel out of that mistake on technical details.

As somebody who once signed up to use nuclear weapons, I find it pretty insulting to be called the same as a terrorist. I've spent a lot of nights trusted with the keys to some very destructive devices because people trusted me. I'm not sure you can understand that trust, because you show grave incomprehension in your comments.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 2:01 PM

Your comments strongly implied that use of explosives made everybody a barbarian.

Oh, I see. You're angry not because of what I said, but because of what you thought in your head I said.

Ah.

Well, there's a lot of that from you recently, Patrick. I've been straining my ESP powers to try and send out additional information when I post here, but it doesn't seem to be getting through to you. I shall redouble my efforts to influence your thought processes.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 2:05 PM

DPU,

Lee, you are exhibiting signs of moral equivalence, and are insulting Patrick.

No, he's not. He's supporting the people who keep him free.

Keep it up, I'm sure that somebody will come in to support your part in this.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 2:06 PM

No, he's not. He's supporting the people who keep him free.

He's saying that the good guys use explosives, which is exactly what I said that sent you into a righteous tizzy, and he also said he's okay with that.

What am I missing here? Oh. Patrick's internal dialog filling in my hidden implications.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 2:10 PM

DPU, you're ok with the "good guys" using explosives, right?

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 3:12 PM

Hockey refs can get punched by mistake, but here goes:

DPU is saying that bombs create chaos and cause fear for the explod-ee, regardless of the explod-er.

Patrick reacted by asking 'how dare you compare the disciplined use of weaponry by coalition troops to the random bloodshed embraced by insurgent human filth.'

Damn. I agree with them both.

Posted by: Slightly Right Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 3:38 PM

Slightly Right,

I worked over a year with a guy who was taking a break from EOD employment some years ago. He told me a lot about the discipline and professionalism of the EOD community. They all have to pass a psychiatric evaluation. When they get divorced, they get automatically downgraded from EOD work because they are going through a process that affects their sanity. After the divorce, they get to pass another evaluation to be proved sane again. I trust my life to these military professionals.

Now here is the point where DPU gets it completely wrong. Michael has spent about two months embedded with the US military in Iraq. The only time he's seen them make big booms was this post where he described the controlled demolition of a munition irresponsibly left by the insurgents where kids could get at it. One group was acting with restraint and professionalism and one was acting with murderous irresponsibility.

It bothers me that DPU implied that our cleanups are as much of a problem as their mess making. The people who were scared by the mortar bomb demolition were momentarily traumatized; if one of their kids had been detonated the trauma would have been permanent. The situation in this post disproves DPU's contention.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 4:27 PM

DPU, you're ok with the “good guys” using explosives, right?

Absolutely, and I'd be surprised if weapons designers didn't take the blast chaos factor into mind.

Don't mind Patrick. He has a lot to say, and takes anything that I say as a chance to let some of it out. He's kind of a the scud missile of commenters, lots of noise and smoke, wildly off-target, and explodes with a big bang.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 4:28 PM

It bothers me that DPU implied that our cleanups are as much of a problem as their mess making.

Where did I imply that, Patrick?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 4:29 PM

I don't mind DPU reading, though it would please me greatly if he stopped typing.

Posted by: rsnyder Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 5:32 PM

Patrick Lasswell: As somebody who once signed up to use nuclear weapons, I find it pretty insulting to be called the same as a terrorist.

As a matter of interest, what did the recruiting officer say when you told him you were signing up "to use nuclear weapons"?

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 5:34 PM

I think the good guys utilize explosives as well on occasion.
-DPU

Care to offer any proof of that ridiculous assertion?
-someone

Um, geez... I have much better things to do with my time than defend DPU, but I'd rather discuss the canadian health care system than have a perfectly good comment thread degenerate into an argument about this. Seriously.

As some people have realized, US forces in Iraq use lots of explosives. Pretty much every airstrike uses some (y'know, the stuff in the bombs), and more generally, EOD personnel use C4 (an explosive) to set off the explosive boobytraps set up by insurgents. A big part of the war right now is basically our explosive experts vs. their explosive experts. So both sides use explosives, which is the (extremely banal) nit DPU thought needed to be picked.

There are, of course, dramatic differences in how each side uses explosives... but DPU seems to be unaware of them, and I think that calling attention to it now would detract from a more important point.

The important thing about the comment is that DPU referred to the coalition forces in Iraq as the good guys, with no snark, sarcasm, irony, or qualification. This is a breakthough, folks, and we should be praising DPU for making so much progress today, not jumping down DPU's throat for being, well, DPU.

So. Did anyone else notice how the Iraqi in the picture with the bulldozer was keeping his finger off the trigger? I know our guys doing the training over there are sometimes frustrated by the 'if allah wills' attitude towards firearm safety over there, but I see progress.

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 6:33 PM

There are, of course, dramatic differences in how each side uses explosives… but DPU seems to be unaware of them...

Well, at the risk of picking more nits, what is that based on? My original nitpick was that not just the bad guys utilize the fear factor in explosive weapons, and to some extent exploit either the fear of them, or utilize the results of a blast in combat.

I said nothing about the US using terror weapons, nor did I say that their use of them was unethical, evil, or even mildly bad. I'm not even sure where this imagined implication has come from, as regular and/or long-time reader of this blog know that I've repeatedly said that I think the US military the best-trained on the planet, and one of the most humane in history.

That, of course, will not stop the fevered ranting that I apparently do in some people's minds. I wish that instead they would read what's on the goddamned web page and stop projecting this ridiculous crap. It's infantile.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 7:06 PM

As a matter of interest, what did the recruiting officer say when you told him you were signing up “to use nuclear weapons”?

Edgar, you slay me.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 7:10 PM

Well, at the risk of picking more nits, what is that based on?

Please evaluate the following, let me know where you're having trouble.

Statement:

Party A uses equipment Y.

Party B uses equipment Y.

With no additional information, why would anyone think what Party A does with equipment Y is significantly different from what Party B does with equipment Y? If the difference is significant, why is it not mentioned?

A lot of what sets people off about your comments is not what you say, it's what you don't say.

My original nitpick was that not just the bad guys utilize the fear factor in explosive weapons, and to some extent exploit either the fear of them, or utilize the results of a blast in combat.

The fear factor in IEDs does not come from the blast effect- if one goes off near you and you're still alive, chances are you'll still be alive a week from now. The fear comes from never knowing if you're on top of one. If insurgents are trying to follow up on IED blasts to take tactical advantage of the disorientation caused by the blast, it is not being widely reported.

US forces use explosives to disable IEDs. The target of the blast effect is an inanimate device incapable of feeling fear.

That is a hugely significant difference in how each party uses explosives. It deserves to be mentioned.

You are picking a nit that only exists in your mind.

Posted by: rosignol Author Profile Page at February 27, 2008 11:26 PM

rosignol: A lot of what sets people off about your comments is not what you say, it's what you don't say.

And the pot calls the kettle black...

rosignol, you don't say a lot of things that piss me off, too.

How about, from now on, you think about what you're not going to say before you don't say it?

It's getting on my nerves.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 5:06 AM

Guys, thanks for giving me a coupla belly laughs this morning. The Edgar DPU Laswell standup act should go on the road.

To respond to a question, I don't think I have ever caught Edgar with his tongue outside his cheek.

Carry on...

Posted by: Yehudit Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 6:52 AM

Yehudit: I don't think I have ever caught Edgar with his tongue outside his cheek.

You don't say...

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 7:15 AM

Patrick,

I was more than a bit upset when it was initially claimed that AQI had used two women with Downs Syndrome to carry out the attack. However, I heard the other day that a US military person said that this turned out not to be the case. Turns out whereas they had ties to a local mental health facility they were not retarded, nor did they have Downs Symdrome, rather they had been treated for depression.

Of course the fact that AQI in Iraq is using people so vulnerable is still sick.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080221/wl_nm/iraq_bombers_dc_1

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 7:51 AM

With no additional information, why would anyone think what Party A does with equipment Y is significantly different from what Party B does with equipment Y? If the difference is significant, why is it not mentioned?

So, I'm beginning to think that I should have a lawyer look over my postings first. Go through it carefully and anticipate every single thing that someone else might find a significant omission of opinion, and mention it. Just in case people with florid imaginations jump to a foregone conclusion because I say nothing about it.

The postings will be hellishly long, but I'm considering it. Because you're simply that important to me, and I'm that kind of a guy.

A lot of what sets people off about your comments is not what you say, it's what you don't say.

I would say something about this, but apparently not saying anything provides more content. Besides, Edgar is an impossible act to follow.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 9:34 AM

DPU: I'm beginning to think that I should have a lawyer look over my postings first.

Why not a judge? He can decide whether you're exhibiting "moral equivalence" in each post. When he rules in your favor, the decision will become precedent for future cases.

As for the crime of omission you so often commit, maybe you can atone by doing a bit of research. Collect all the posts you've made over the years that have drawn extreme reactions and analyze each one in a separate study. Then conduct a meta-analysis on the data to determine overall trends of omission.

You might find, for example, that:

- In the majority of cases, you've left out trivial information that would take away from your arguments, making it harder for other commenters to refute them

- On many occasions, you simply neglected to agree with other commenters

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 10:00 AM

Patrick Lasswell: I've spent a lot of nights trusted with the keys to some very destructive devices because people trusted me. I'm not sure you can understand that trust

Well, one thing is for sure: I don't trust the U.S. Navy anymore.

At least not if it's common practice for them to accommodate a sailor's nighttime urge to deploy nuclear weapons by handing him the keys to a Polaris missile.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 10:26 AM

Michael,

Really good writing, even-handed and detailed.

Have you read Nir Rosen's Rolling Stone piece, "The Myth of the Surge"? The profiles of Osama, the Awakening leader, and Capt. Arkan, from the Iraqi National Police, are quite good. But I think it's a flawed article. Why? The frame used is too inflammatory and the commentary is too intrusive and at times borders on slander. In the third sentence of the opening paragraph, he writes:

This is what "victory" looks like in an up-scale neighborhood of Iraq: Lakes of mud and sewage fill the streets.

I wonder how his editors allowed him to use sneer quotes so early into the article. Why tip your hand so soon?

Elsewhere, he steps back from watching a few Iraqis being arrested and says:

Raids by U.S. forces have become part of a daily routine in Iraq, a systematic form of violence imposed on an entire nation. A foreign military occupation is, by its very nature, a terrifying and brutal thing, and even the most innocuous American patrols inevitably involve terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians.

Has that been your experience reporting from Iraq? Would you say that as you accompanied American soldiers that they were "terrorizing innocent Iraqi civilians"? It might be Nir is correct on this. I'd like to hear your opinion.

My own review of Nir's article is here:

Nir Rosen's "Fistful of Dollars."

There are two sections to the review: the first a close reading of the opening paragraph (with humor) and the second part a sober assessment.

*

Posted by: Jeffrey Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 10:27 AM

Jeffrey: Would you say that as
you accompanied American soldiers that they were "terrorizing innocent
Iraqi civilians"?

No.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 10:46 AM

Michael,

Okay, thanks for answering. Here's another question. You have to work with editors all the time, right? I argue in my review that his article would have been much more persuasive if his editors had asked him to add more balance and reduce the pontificating, letting the readers themselves decide what to conclude. From reading the Iraqi bloggers, I know that, while Baghdad is still a dangerous place to be, Dora is just one neighborhood among many others, where Iraqis go shopping every day and one doesn't feel as if one is walking through Nir's "post-apocolyptic" moral/physical landscape.

So how do you think his editors handled him? Did they do a good job? A good job for his kind of reporting? I understand that a slice of the audience at the Rolling Stone is already predisposed to the chaos/surge-is-failure angle. I imagine for them, then, Nir's third sentence with its sneer-quoted "victory" is very persuasive. It confirms the views they already have. But, I guess, I expect more from journalists. What do you think?

*

Posted by: Jeffrey Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 11:27 AM

Jeffrey: So how do you think his editors handled him? Did they do a good job?

No.

A good job for his kind of reporting?

Nope.

I expect more from journalists.

Why? This is typical.

What do you think?

Some editors I've worked with force me be to balanced. They tend to be editors who don't share my views. Editors who do share my views don't push me as hard to be balanced. This is probably universal.

If I were Rosen's editor, his piece might have been good. It certainly would have been better than it is.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 5:43 PM

Michael,

Some editors I've worked with force me be to balanced. They tend to be editors who don't share my views. Editors who do share my views don't push me as hard to be balanced. This is probably universal.

Thanks. That helps me understand what's going on, especially your observation that when the editor and the writer share the same views there tends to be less revision for balance. I'm a teacher and have never worked with editors, so I wasn't really sure how much control editors have in these matters.

If I were Rosen's editor, his piece might have been good. It certainly would have been better than it is.

I imagine, then, that you agree with me that while there is some honest reporting -- when Rosen is simply reporting his conversations, for example -- the commentary is far too intrusive. And yes, as someone who appreciates your writing, I have no doubt that you could have helped Nir improve his article. We non-journalists could have learned a lot to listen to you two discuss what should or should not be changed in the revisions.

Michael, I hope you're not saying that Nir's piece is typical for journalism. That would be hard for me to accept. It can't be that bad, can it? Right now I'm reading Yaroslav Trofimov's "Faith at War." Trofimov was a Wall Street Journal reporter throughout the Middle East, and he's a pretty reliable writer, judging by the articles of his that I've read and this book. I hope that he's more representative than Nir Rosen. About Iraq, I have read some fine books by journalists: Anthony Shadid's "Night Draws Near," Steven Vincent's "In the Red Zone," David Zucchino's "Thunder Run," John Lee Anderson's "The Fall of Baghdad," and Evan Wright's "Generation Kill." Each one of those books is honest, truthful, and serious in their own peculiar way. Nir Rosen's "In the Belly of the Green Bird," on the other hand, is marred by the same problems that make "The Myth of the Surge" hard to read.

Posted by: Jeffrey Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 8:44 PM

Jeffrey,

Jon Lee Anderson is very good. He and I don't share the same opinions about Iraq, but he is an excellent reporter who doesn't let his opinions get in the way of his work, even though he clearly states his opinions. I learned a lot about how to do it myself from reading "The Fall of Baghdad." Nir Rosen could learn a lot from him.

William Langewiesche's Iraq reports for the Atlantic were even better. I don't agree with him about Iraq, but his work there and everywhere else is absolutely extraordinary. I recommend everything he has ever written, especially this and this.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 9:13 PM

Michael,

I'm in agreement about both Anderson and Langeweische. Langeweiche's first book, "Cutting for Sign," was uneven, but, like you, I learned a lot about detailed reporting in "American Ground." I haven't read "Sahara Unveiled," but look forward to doing so.

It seems that journalists have two choices today. First, they can be completely up-front about their personal background and views that that they bring to their reporting and writing. Jeff Jarvis argues for this approach: transparency. While here Jarvis is talking about political reporting, one could extend its range to more areas of journalism, I imagine:

I don’t buy for a second that journalists don’t have opinions. They’re human. To say that they are above opinions is just another means for journalists to separate themselves from the public they serve, to act as if they are different, above us. But journalists couldn’t do their jobs if they didn’t have opinions, if they didn’t have a reason to do this story over that, if they didn’t have a goal. Yet this is the fiction some journalists tell when they try to prove they are opinionless by not voting. As far as I’m concerned, that’s only evidence that they are trying to delude themselves or us.

While researching my first blog entry on Nir Rosen ("The Education of Nir Rosen"), I discovered a lot that is never mentioned in his writing. What I learned helped a lot to interpret his writing, but one really has to dig to find it. Jarvis's transparency would have really helped in that case.

The second approach is to be silent about one's background and and try to be as fair and balanced as possible -- and we have to trust that the journalist will not let his or her personal opinions bleed into the reporting. I think this is the old way, but I could be wrong.

Of course, there may be other approaches, but these are the two that seem obvious right now as I sit here and type.

*

Posted by: Jeffrey Author Profile Page at February 28, 2008 9:46 PM

I think Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair (?) features anti war articles every once in every other month or so.

The newest issue of the Rolling Stones feature articles that describes the surge as a failure, how rockers are "rallying" for Obama, and a derisive piece about war mongering "Mccainstein" The headline (or is it byline) on the Mccain article reads something like "Mccain lusts for war, so why does wing nuts hate him?"

I was rather relieved that the Iraqi blogging community promptly responded to the Rosen article, which is more of an leftist opinion column IMO. How many Americans (who supposedly detest the corporate media complex) will learn about Iraq through FOX news or reading the Rolling Stones, rather than a fresh, on site persepctive provided by independent jouranlism such as this blog?

Posted by: lee Author Profile Page at February 29, 2008 1:03 AM

Michael,

Iraq Pundit compares Nir Rosen's article with one by Capt. Pete Hegseth, adding testimony from one of his own cousins who is still living in Dora:

A Tale of Two Doras.

I thought you might like to read it, given our discussion last night.

*

Posted by: Jeffrey Author Profile Page at February 29, 2008 11:26 AM

Michael,

Do you know anything about this? -

http://www.aswataliraq.info/look/english/article.tpl?IdLanguage=1&IdPublication=4&NrArticle=71159&NrIssue=2&NrSection=1

Posted by: amagi Author Profile Page at February 29, 2008 12:53 PM

amagi,

I don't know much about it, but it doesn't surprise me. Of course Al Qaeda would try to infiltrate the council. They aren't going to accept defeat easily.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at February 29, 2008 1:35 PM

MJT -- I think you may find this column in the Columbia Journalism Review interesting. It's by a reporter embedded with Stryker Unit -- the writing isn't up to your par, but the perspective seems similar.

http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/the_rejected.php?page=all

Shalom.

Posted by: AZZenny Author Profile Page at March 3, 2008 2:30 PM
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