May 16, 2008

The Real Iraq

by Michael J. Totten

Moment of Truth in Iraq, by Michael Yon (Richard Vigilante Books, 227 pp., $29.95)

Iraq is where ideologies go to die. Arab nationalism, Baathism, anti-Americanism, al-Qaidism, Donald Rumsfeldism, and Moqtada al-Sadrism have either died there or are dying. Conventional liberal opinion, more or less correct about the foundering American war effort from 2004 to 2006, has been severely bloodied—along with Iraq’s worst insurgent groups and militias—by General David Petraeus’s leadership of the American troop surge. Even post-9/11 fear of Islam has proven unsustainable for those who regularly interact with ordinary Iraqis. Independent journalist Michael Yon, who has spent more time embedded with combat soldiers in Iraq than any other reporter, is a refreshingly unideological analyst of the war. His self-published dispatches have earned him a loyal following around the world, and he has set out to reach even more people with the publication of a terrific new book, Moment of Truth in Iraq.

Yon begins his story in medias res. “We are in trouble, but we have a great general,” he writes on the eve of Arrowhead Ripper, the major battle last summer against al-Qaida’s terrorist army in Baqubah, just north of Baghdad. Iraq was all but lost before the battle, when American forces under Petraeus surged into the capital and beyond. Yon then takes us back in time and to the northern city of Mosul, where Petraeus first proved that he knew how to counter an insurgency by working with the local population and protecting it from killers. Yon spent many months in Mosul embedded with the 1-24th Infantry Regiment, or “Deuce Four,” and his first-person narrative of firefights in the city’s streets and alleys is relentless and gripping.

Read the rest in City Journal.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 16, 2008 6:07 AM

Good review MJT.

I hope that Mr. Yon gets a Pulitzer. When I first starting reading M. Yon's articles a few years ago, the similarities between he and Ernie Pyle were striking. Still think so.

Very pleasant to see how well his latest book is selling.

Posted by: rsnyder Author Profile Page at May 16, 2008 6:40 AM

“Happy news for the Right was that there was no insurgency, then no civil war; we always had enough troops, and we were winning hands-down, except for the left-wing lunatics who were trying to unravel it all."

I am looking forward to reading Mr.Yon's book, but I feel I must quibble with this part of the binary preamble that you have quoted in your review. In fact the ONLY part that I am in agreement with is the 'left-wing lunatics who were trying to unravel it all'.

Had there been a remotely FAIR media presentation of the events on the ground in Iraq, there would have been no 'objective' need nor indeed 'room' for either Mr. Yon or indeed yourself to have ever been in Iraq in the first place. Had the media and its 'audience'(see above mentioned 'left-wing lunatics') not been seen as engaging in more agit-prop than information distribution, who would ever have heard of Michael Yon ? Who would have had reason to ?

He and you filled a deliberately created void. It is hardly correct to say that those who read and support these efforts just wanted to hear 'nice' things and receive 'happy' tidings. With all due respect all they really wanted was a BALANCED narrative preferably from the perspective of someone who could naturally and instinctively differentiate between Al-Queda-type monsters, and those who were opposing them. Who would have thought that such a reasonable request would have been in the least 'controversial'.

Deliberate Bad Faith created the environment in which observers such as Mr. Yon now swim. Right-wing wish-fulfillment had very little to do with it.

Posted by: dougf Author Profile Page at May 16, 2008 11:14 AM

I profoundly disagree with the assessment of Yon's writing in this review, starting with the subhead: "Michael Yon sees the country, and the war, without ideological blinders."

Oh come on.

It may be true that Yon doesn't buy into the whole list of ideologies named there: "Arab nationalism, Baathism, anti-Americanism, al-Qaidism, Donald Rumsfeldism, and Moqtada al-Sadrism."

But from what I've read (of his blog, not the book), it's pretty clear that Yon does have an ideology. In a nutshell: he believes that war is glorious and justified and that American soldiers are the heroes.

For that reason I'm not planning on reading more. But maybe someone who has read more might have a different impression. I'll just put the question out there: can anyone point to some articles by Yon in which American soldiers aren't the heroes of a glorious war, that acknowledges that there's any truth in another point of view, or that being so closely identified and embedded with the troops might limit his perspective on what's really going on?

Posted by: Brian Author Profile Page at May 18, 2008 10:30 AM

Brian: he believes that war is glorious

You, sir, don't know what the hell you are talking about.

I asked Michael a few weeks ago why he never wrote his book about the battle of Mosul. He said because it is too disturbing and that writing the book would force him to think about it more than he wants to. He said he couldn't even look at the photo on his book cover for six months and had to have someone assist him with selling it.

So why don't you sod off to one of your left-wing lunatic blogs where you and everyone else thinks the rest of us love war. I know it makes you all feel righteous and vastly superior. You guys should start your own church.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 19, 2008 3:05 AM

the "sod" is using the word "war" in the way it is thought of by the progressive-left: as an ultimate cuss-word, the epitome of what is never justifiable. They cannot accept any scenario in which it must be resorted to.

They won't confront the following:

What if they (e.g., Islamofascism) start a war on us and we don't come?

Then follow: loss, surrender, submission, suffering, extermination.

It's all too primitive and blunt; the "real world" of rational beings can't POSSIBLY operate in that way! (This despite 70,000 years of exactly such precedents.)

So when you see/hear a leftist/sod use the word, "war", know that you have reached the Core Illusion: that refusal to fight means the end of violence and conflict.

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at May 19, 2008 6:41 PM

Michael Yawn? Exactly. He claims to not buy into ideologies, but he seems to have forgotten his own!

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at May 21, 2008 8:57 AM

I'm surprised to hear that about Mr. Yon. I had no idea; nothing I've read suggested that side of things. My apologies, and I withdraw my comment.

Posted by: Brian Author Profile Page at May 25, 2008 11:35 AM

I think there is something very odd about that photo that Michael Yon put on the front of his book. The soldier is carrying a child who is severely injured, and on the way to getting medical care for the child, stops to kiss and cuddle the child.

Would you do that? would you stop and cuddle someone's severely injured child or would you be moving as fast as you can to get medical care for the child?

I emailed Michael Yon and asked him about that, and he told me that I don't understand war and I had to be there. I found him rather insulting.

Here is a piece that Yon wrote, under the title "Jungle Law". I could not access the original piece (not sure why not) but I found it reposted somewhere else:

"The Deuce Four soldiers left quickly with the “casualties,” “abandoning” the burning truck in the traffic circle. The enemy took the bait. Terrorists came out and started with the AK-rifle-monkey-pump, shooting into the truck, their own video crews capturing the moment of glory. That’s when the American snipers opened fire and killed everybody with a weapon. Until now, only insiders knew about the AK-monkey-pumpers smack-down."

I think "monkey-pumpers" comment shows his racism. On top of that - what would Americans be doing if there were foreign troops on our soil? And would those folks be "terrorists" or "freedom fighters"?

Here's where I found the link:

Posted by: Susan - NC Author Profile Page at May 26, 2008 10:38 PM


I keep checking this thread because I found the book rewarding, but more pressing issues (Lebanon) are dominating the comments now.

Susan – regarding the image on the book's cover, the soldier had scooped the girl up after an indiscriminant enemy blast, but she was already dead. The soldier was cradling her close to his face, crying.

I found the book to be void of racism.

Posted by: scottmoshen Author Profile Page at May 27, 2008 12:18 PM
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