Friday, July 27, 2007
As a First Sergeant, I know that the kinds of behavior confessed by PVT Beauchamp in his “diaries” for TNR, and described as routine for others in his unit, if true, would represent gross dereliction of duty on the part of his NCOs. Such behavior and practices would certainly reflect very poorly on Beauchamp’s Sergeants, first and foremost, his First Sergeant, known as “Top.”
Retired SFC McElroy blogs at http://sfcmac.wordpress.com/. Outraged at what she rightly perceived as Beauchamp’s slander against his fellow soldiers, SFC McElroy took the time to email PVT Beauchamp’s First Sergeant in
SFC McElroy received the following in reply from Top:
I’m not in the habit of answering these email’s. It would be far too many. I appreciate all the support from home and I can assure you that not a single word of this was true. We’ve been fighting this fight for quite some time. Numerous soldiers within my unit have served on several deployments and this is my third year as a First Sergeant in this unit. My soldiers conduct is consistently honorable. This soldier has other underlining issues which I’m sure will come out in the course of the investigation. No one at any of the post we live at or frequent, remotely fit the descriptions of any of the persons depicted in this young man’s fairy tale. I can’t and won’t divulge any information regarding this soldier, but I do sincerely appreciate all the support from the people back home. Again, this young man has a vivid imagination and I promise you that this by no means reflects the truth of what is happening here. I’m currently serving with the best
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that no First Sergeant is going to admit that his unit is chock full of the kind of caricatures a fabulist like Beauchamp portrays, even if it was. Even if the 1SG shirked his responsibilities, avoided all accountability, there’s one thing that would be true no matter what. No soldier can tolerate their unit, mission or character to be tarnished with the kind of slanders reflected in TNR.
Someone covering up abuses or bad behavior would make all manner of excuses. They might point fingers, blame others, rally supporters, and gather up of lots of irrelevant evidence to “disprove.” Being dishonest and dishonorable, the last thing they would think of is to praise and honor their unit and fellow soldiers. Note the email above, and how much Beauchamp’s 1SG says about the soldiers in his unit, and how little he actually says about Beauchamp or his stories. He suggests Beauchamp has “underlying issues” and a “vivid imagination.”
I think I can guess what sort of “underlying issues” Beauchamp has likely exhibited under 1SG Hatley’s command.
We had a soldier with a drinking problem, for example, who got nailed multiple times for drunken and disorderly behavior –at the Mobilization site, at an MOS-producing school he was booted out of, and several times in
Unfortunately, the powers that be felt that he was trying to get himself out of deployment (via earlier discipline incidents), and that he needed to stay with us as we deployed. Worse, he was assigned to the only section of ours that underwent combat missions in actual combat conditions. They tried to work with him, grow him, train him, change him. In the end, all they could do was baby-sit him to keep him from hurting himself or others, or jeopardize their missions.
Ultimately, he was on-hand during an IED/ambush. Though not targeted nor injured, nor likely in close nor first hand proximity to those who were, he retold his version of events with wild and extreme disparity from accounts of other participants. He had “seen the carnage,” he had been “under fire,” he was “warped and twisted.” (This explained why he smuggled alcohol into theater, got drunk, and pissed all over his fellow soldiers gear. Not the first time he did that sort of thing, he had some kind of fascination with pissing on things not his own.)
He sought treatment for PTSD post deployment. What he needs treatment for is alcoholism, and likely other mental health disorders, all of which he had before he deployed. But his story is illustrative of a small but significant number of soldiers who went into combat with discipline, mental health, and behavioral problems, and these conditions were aggravated or resurfaced during and post deployment. No small wonder the Army sometimes wants to claim soldiers deployed with “pre-existing conditions,” though I think the wiser course is for the Army to “grandfather” coverage for these kinds of issues.
It’s easy to see how anti-war groups and others with agendas however want to “score twice” on these individuals: war crippled these soldiers, and now the Army wants to abandon them.
Beauchamp admits in his writings that he joined the Army despite an anti-war disposition so that he would earn “credibility” for later criticism of Government defense policies (and presumably, the war). He admits to wanting to turn himself into an accomplished writer. He clearly practiced fictional accounts of combat, based on his training, before he was deployed. Objectively, it’s clear that the kind of “war is hell,” apocalypse now kind of Iraqi war stories are infinitely more salable than less violent, more honorable narratives. Match prior intent, with motive, opportunity, and willing accomplices, why is it so difficult for media types to entertain skepticism in the face of this kind of war reporting? They exhibit tremendously greater skepticism about Multinational Force press releases.
It’s too bad that media types with partisan agendas let their own prejudices blind them to the possibilities (and probabilities) of falsehood and manufactured “truth.” (Isn’t it almost unbelievable, the extent to which Leftists, progressives, anti-war types are guilty of precisely those faults and failing they accuse Conservatives, pro-victory, military supporters? I mean, in supreme degree?)
Critics who insanely view themselves as “moderate” and “independent” – these same view Hillary Clinton as near traitorous, Joe Lieberman as the epitome of evil, and mainstream media as leaning right rather than left – tsk tsk at those of us who criticize the “pro-war” and “moderate” TNR. We eat our own, by their discernment
Peter Beinert was ostensibly pro-Iraq war, but anyone privy to the change in editorial direction Franklin Foer endeavored to accomplish, knows TNR is far from “pro-war” now, and surely not as reflected in the “war has turned us into Storm Troopers” fantasies concocted by Beauchamp and others of his ilk.)
Anti-war screed-makers on the Left decry Michael Goldfarb, Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive, Ace at Ace of Spades, virtually anyone on the pro-victory right as the ultimate in hypocrites for challenging the identity of TNR’s “Scott Thomas,” but more importantly, the accuracy of his “first person” accounts (in any of his three pieces for TNR). We support the troops, but only when they agree with us about the war.
No, we just don’t tolerate people who fabricate stories, misrepresent their “combat” experience, malign and slander their fellow soldiers with partisan intent, or otherwise attempt to portray US military (as a class of persons) as cruel, evil, deranged, stupid, homicidal, etc. Don’t try to do to any of us today what you so successfully did to veterans of
Those who support Beauchamp do so for convenience, for today; I am sure if he proves too controversial a figure (read, a discredited fabulist with significant personal and behavioral problems), they’ll excise him from the anti-war, darlings of the Left inner circle. But that won’t stop these same critics from ignoring the likely phoniness of this private’s “war stories,” and enshrining what should be a discredited “Larger Truthiness” that this war in
Already, they claim that Beauchamp’s accusers – who focused extensively on the falsehood of Beauchamp’s “combat diary” accounts and less on his possible imposter status – are shifting attack from his status to him personally.
“He’s genuine! They said he was a phony! See, they’re wrong! The wingnuts have to destroy him now!”
And yet, all this was ever about, all it will ever be about with anti-war, anti-military agitators, is setting the record straight. Get real veterans, honest men and women of integrity. Ask them. Check out some agenda-free reporting, from independents and real embeds. Discount those oppositional voices with stark partisan objectives, or who have deeply invested their reputations on “
By mutual consent, acknowledge that there are always bad or dishonest or criminally violent among our soldiers, as there are among the rest of society. But see that they are recognizable by the fact that they are rare exceptions, not the norm.
If we ever reach a day when there cease to exist active partisans out to discredit our military and its efforts, to find evil and misdeed where there is none, then military, veterans, families and friends will not need to step forward publicly and call BS on those peddling slander.
Other coverage on TNR and Beauchamp:
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Winners and Losers
Ralph Peters says what most in Washington and the media least want to hear, that we’re Winning in Iraq.
He cites several underreported developments, excerpted here:
- Al Qaeda lost the support of
- Our troops captured the senior Iraqi in the organization and killed the three al Turki brothers, major-league pinch-hitters al Qaeda sent into
- The Iraqi "head" of the terrorists was just a front, designed to give an impression that al Qaeda has Iraqis in its senior ranks.
- Al Qaeda has been pushed right across Anbar, from the once Wild West to the province's eastern fringes.
- Muqtada al-Sadr fled back to
- The Iraqi Police Tactical Support Unit in Nasiriyah came under attack by Mahdi Army elements, fought them off, then counter-attacked. The Mahdi Army force begged for negotiations.
Peters is clearly frustrated with the lack of support in
Even the Democrats yearning to become president admit, when pressed, that al Qaeda's a threat to
But let's be fair: Congressional Republicans, terrified of losing their power and glory and precious perks, haven't rushed to applaud our progress, either. They'll give up
Peters also comments on The New Republic and the Scott Thomas (Beauchamp) affair:
What were you, the American people, told about all this? Well, The New Republic published a pack of out-of-the-ballpark lies concocted by a scammer claiming to be a grunt in
And I thought the MILBLOGGERS were fired up over Beauchamp’s near certain fabrications.
MORE TNR/BEAUCHAMP STORY UPDATES:
Via Memeorandum, news of TNR’s statement from revealed author Scott Thomas Beauchamp, with special kudos to JD Johannes for getting his unit right down to company level. I don’t think it warrants any “apology” on my part, yes, this jerk is a soldier, but as stated previously, soldier or no, the stories he has told the TNR and their readers include a huge amount of apparent fabrication or willful deceit.
Some of the better commentary linked by Memeorandum. (No claim to objective sampling here):
Ace of Ace of Spades breaks the story that Scott Beauchamp is the likely fiancé of a TNR staffer, and TNR staff openly discuss “nepotism” as the basis for Beauchamp getting his pieces published. The TNR “leaker” of that bit of information has already been fired by TNR, according to Ace.
Much more to come here, I think. Bet on more shake-ups at the TNR, more dissembling, more attacking the fact checkers for fact checking, more sweeping the whole credibility and accuracy issues under a veneer of righteous indignation about Conservatives who “only support the troops who agree with them” BS.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Of a piece with previous leaks by oppositional CIA bureaucrats, this latest attack elevates analytic differences, vested bureaucratic interests, crass selfish ambition, and plain old politics above any possible concerns about National Security.
That those at the CIA responsible for these leaks base their criticisms on their self-justifying perception that the Bush Administration has “politicized” intelligence reveals a level of hypocrisy rarely achieved, even in Washington.
Any intelligence official who reveals details of classified information is breaking the law and violating a sworn oath. That they do so to achieve partisan or political ends is immoral and unethical. That the press corps seeks out such incidents of both criminal and immoral behavior speaks volumes of them, as well. Politicized, it all is surely. If only the Bush Administration were political minded by half as their internal and external enemies. If only. Partisans on both sides of these issues must know this, and those opposed to the President must have quite a laugh at his expense.
These anonymous disclosers of classified information assert to Raw Story that the NIE “does not provide evidence to support its assertions.”
Speaking of an unsupported assertion, Raw Story asserts that these unauthorized disclosers of classified information were “speaking under condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.” Another way of phrasing this, in a manner supported by facts, rather than partisan dissembling, is that these intelligence officials spoke under conditions of anonymity because to speak at all in these matters is to commit a felony. They speak anonymously because they’d go to jail for years to say the exact things publicly.
I don’t seek access to the classified NIE, but I have seen the unclassified versions of several such documents. I don’t recall any, nor any description of their classified versions, that make much mention of evidence.
Yet, the Raw Story piece offers several conflicting assessments of the significance of the NIE assertion that terrorist group and Iranian proxy Hezbollah may attack the US if the US threatens Iran, so much so that it’s difficult to glean what point they think they’re making.
First, Raw Story asserts that the NIE “may have inflated the domestic threat posed by the Lebanese political and military group Hezbollah, perhaps because it receives financial support from Iran.” Note the grossly misleading phrase, “political and military group.” Sounds like a militia group, perhaps a paramilitary one, hardly a phrase that adequately describes an active terrorist group like Hezbollah.
Then, Raw Story suggests that the allegations about Hezbollah were simply "thrown in," and reveal that “The NIE seems… fiddled [with].”
Yet even as the CIA leaker responsible for this assertion makes that point, he contradicts himself: “Whether it is or isn't is not really the point. The point is that nobody is ready to believe it.” I would think that whether the potential threat of a Hezbollah attack against the US was real or not would be entirely the point of the NIE, regardless of the political viability of the assertion or the willingness of belief (in some quarters).
Consider the total corruption of a career Intelligence Community (IC) bureaucrat: whether a threat is real or not is beside that point of whether anyone would believe the threat. Oh well, if nobody would believe it, then we better not suggest it. Sounds like a perfect prescription for another 9/11.
Raw Story follows this illogic with what they believe are definitive proofs (prior Raw Story reporting, of course) that the US is seriously planning an attack on Iran, as well as conducting covert actions against Iranian interests.
Raw Story then introduces expert testimony that the inclusion of the warning about Hezbollah is entirely justified when considered by the exact same caveat mentioned in the NIE, “if they perceive a threat from the US (against Iran or Hezbollah itself)”:
Professor of International Relations at Boston University Augustus Richard Norton, the author of a new book on Hezbollah titled Hezbollah: A Short Story, does not believe a Hezbollah-based attack on US soil is likely as long as the US does not attack Iran.By Raw Story’s own assertion, the US poses “a real external threat” in several forms to Hezbollah and Iran, and by Norton’s assessment, means the threat of attack by Hezbollah ought not to be considered “low.”
"The NIE language about the threat of an Hezbollah attack on the U.S. homeland basically states that it is conceivable that the group would attack in the US if the US attacked it or its sponsor, Iran," Dr. Norton wrote in an email to RAW STORY over the weekend.
"In contrast, al-Qaeda is accurately depicted as aggressively seeking to bring terrorism home to Americans," Norton added. "We may conceive of many unwelcome events, but the question is how likely is this to happen? Following the language of the NIE, I would argue that so long as the US does not pose an existential threat to Hezbollah, or to Iran, the likelihood of an attack by Hezbollah on U.S. soil is low."
If only US Government and military officials would implement national security policies favored by disgruntled CIA leakers of National Security secrets with oppositional partisan leanings, then we wouldn’t have to worry about these terrorist threats. Or we’d win against them. Or they wouldn’t bother us anymore. Or something.
So much for politicized intelligence.
John Barnes speculates about the true identity and motivations of The New Republic’s fabulist Scott Thomas at the Amazon Blog using a rather unusual tool: semiotic analysis. Barnes also offers valuable insight into the likely vulnerability of Franklin Foer, editor of TNR, to fabulist tales and other propaganda with which he may sympathize.
I am among those MILBLOGGERS who took up Michael Goldfarb’s challenge to consider the likely accuracy of Thomas’s slanders against the military. Military veterans see the small inaccuracies and great incongruities of Thomas’s unlikely accounts compared to our experiences in
Here’s an extended excerpt from Barnes’s analysis:
Anyway, the particular variant I do, which has considerable commercial application in advertising and marketing and so forth, is statistical semiotics. I get paid to use various semiotic methods to encode enormous databases of texts (e.g. samples of hundreds or thousands of blog entries) into a processable form, and then use various kinds of math to find patterns and regularities in the way that all those messages make meaning, use signs, alter significance, and so forth. (The difference between a statistical semiotician and a regular semiotician is roughly the difference between an epidemologist or social psychologist and a doctor or counselor; there are also FrancoGerman types who call themselves semiologists, who are more like Freudian shrinkoanalysts or Tarot card readers, who helped to make sure semiotic studies would be isolated within the academy, irrelevant to life as lived, and unknown to the lay public except for occasional jokes, and I fart in their general direction).
So to sum up the angle from which I am coming at this problem: I have seen immense heaps of writing by writers at the beginnings of their careers as writers, and I have spent much of my working life staring into vast incoherent swarms of signs and learning to see the patterns in them.
Based on all that, here's how I read the text that is so far the only direct evidence most of us have about "Scott Thomas":
The text has the following characteristics –
1) Writing focused on a parade of cruelty and suffering.
2) A rigorously flat affect that refuses any sort of emotional engagement – stone-faced reportage of the sort that bad thrillers and suspense movies have taught us to associate with the mental process of sociopaths.
3) Enormous sensitivity to physical detail; a great concern with writing down what things look and sound like, to some extent the things that are apt to upset some readers' stomachs, but also in general. (As an agency reader I have seen writing of this kind in which literally more than 500 words are expended on describing drinking coffee).
4) Physical detail is mildly slanted toward the refined senses (sight and sound) rather than the vulgar senses (smell, taste, touch, and kinesthesia); the refined-sense details tend to be more specific, and the vulgar-sense details tend to be alluded to more than specifically named. (I think this is caused by a lack of actual experience; in actual experience the vulgar senses are the strong ones, but in library research the refined senses are the ones easier to paraphrase to avoid being caught in plagiarism).
5) Disinterest and senselessness with regard to any emotional connection between people.
6) Lack of signs indicating what the intended point of any anecdote or individual story may be ("effacement of the author.")
7) Heavy use of brief, choppy, transition-less SVOs (subject-verb-object, the most basic kind of English declarative sentences), without much variation either for rhythm or for nuance, as in bad Hemingway parody or Raymond Carver or Chuck Palahniuk's fiction when either of them is badly off his game.
8) Raymond Chandler-style macabre wisecracks as the crescendo of a run of physical detail.
9) A peculiar cop-out in reported encounters with people who might be offended by the viewpoint character: the viewpoint character (who is of course the reported version of "Scott Thomas," as reported by "Scott Thomas," who reports himself to be the same soldier) is only rarely confronted with any reaction to his callousness. In the type of writing I am talking about here, mostly other characters in the narrative are struck dumb by the narrator's callousness and stare off into space. Occasionally (not in Thomas's text, except for the burn-victim woman) they may show small signs of emotional distress. The narrator thus gets a free pass on sociopathic behavior, and the narrative proceeds without empathy and hence with only the viewpoint character feeling psychologically credible. The narrator is always left with what is called, by semioticians, the "presence of an absence" in his reported feelings – after the victim or witnesses are out of the field of view there is an absolute emotional stillness in which a cold chuckle or an ostentatious yawn is implied but unstated.
I see manuscripts with all nine of these symptoms – you might think of it as one syndrome with nine common symptoms – about a half dozen times per year, generally from agents rather than as offers to book-doctor them since the creators usually have no money and the books have only limited commercial potential. And they all come from pretty much the same sort of person:
He (it is always a he) is an MFA candidate or recent graduate at one of the big-name creative writing programs in the USA, sometimes in poetry, usually in fiction, and increasingly in "creative non-fiction" (the litsy byline that "feature writing" took on when it moved uptown, became significant, and stopped having lunch with its old buds at the newspapers). Usually he is in his mid-twenties and is probably among the bright stars in the tiny constellation (and complicated pecking order) that MFA programs create. His particular niche in that social ecology will be the Big Talent With Big Balls, a role that requires some claim to a "dangerous" or "edgy" past, meaning some connection to interpersonal violence and to having seen some gruesome sights. (Being recently back from combat duty in Iraq, particularly if the young man is a reservist who will be going back for another hitch there, would certainly fit the bill nicely – at various times I have known such characters to claim to be motorcycle gang members, to have smuggled cocaine into the US in small boats, and to have competed as Ultimate Fighting professionals).
He will have a fetish for macho props and activities like guns and motorcycles or hunting and motor racing. Generally he'll have a drinking problem, or at least give a very good exhibionistic performance of having a drinking problem. (One teacher once said to me, "Some of these guys seem to think that if they can't write like F. Scott Fitzgerald, at least they can drink like him.") They swagger through their programs in a haze of raw manliness, sometimes hang around for a year or two afterward in the same town, and then vanish into the "I could've been a great writer" pose somewhere.
I can't say that all of them are fakes and pretenders in their macho credentials; I haven't met all of them and I don't want to. I can say that every single time I have been in a position to find out, the "used to be a cop," "I was a Green Beret," "I was a roof man for the Cleveland Fire Department," etc. etc. etc. has turned out to be a fake. Not that there are not guys with adventurous and romantic backgrounds around writing programs or in professional writing – I've known, among others, highly talented writers who were one-time paramedics, professional boxers, police, private eyes, back-country prospectors, and so forth.
But none of those guys wrote like "Scott Thomas". (For that matter they don't write much like each other, either).
I find Barnes’s analysis convincing, his introduction to semiotic analysis compelling, and his writing very entertaining. He may well have his target spot on, and I think he’ll be proven right.
I wonder what my writing would reveal in semiotic analysis. As readers here know, I am a 1SG who went on a dozen convoys (not many, none resulting in IED or other combat), experienced the rather mundane random mortar or rocket on the FOB (only two incidents caused injuries in 10 months), and otherwise served in a distinctly non-combat role. Given my leadership position, concern for OPSEC, and desire to contribute something authentic, I stuck to profiles of the men and women around me (non-combat).
I can see the temptation to gain audience or capture attention. I've seen it in some of the MILBLOGS, and over the least couple of years had my doubts about a couple.
In the same way that a young ideologue like Foer can blind himself to possible fakes, I think many in the MILBLOG or military communities overlook potential warning signs when military writers support the consensus view (pro-victory, pro-US, pro-military). We often fall for what we want to believe, don't we?
That said, most of the MILBLOGGERS write for ourselves, to capture our experiences, and maybe in a small way help write the first draft of whatever history will survive the politics. And phony creative writing pieces that slander the military in this particular way --
Since the story against the stories broke, many MILBLOGGERS have criticized TNR for running the clearly unsubstantiated stories from Thomas, as well as a related anti-war hit piece authored by The Nation.
I can’t dismiss the anti-war voices in The Nation piece, but I can quickly surmise that many of the soldiers interviewed are anti-war careerists, who have attached themselves to groups like Code Pink or Iraqi Veterans Against the War (IVAW). I can also state with absolute conviction that among those who make the most damning assertions about US military conduct have no first hand basis for their assertions.
Sergeant Geoffrey Millard is one such soldier who makes claims beyond his experience in The Nation piece. Millard was assigned to the Rear Operations Center (ROC), 42nd Infantry Division at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Speicher in Tikrit. I also served with the 42nd, I am familiar with the ROC at Speicher, and know two officers who served in the ROC during the same period as Millard, one of whom I would say I have a casual acquaintance (and great respect). I served as his First Sergeant for a brief period when he was the HHC Commander.
After redeployment, I had a chance to get reacquainted with spent some time explaining to me what his section did, how they interacted with the Division HQ and the other 42nd ID Commands. Among other duties, the ROC tracked the convoys that exited and/or entered the FOB. Their mission included the tracking of IEDs and VBIEDs in the Area of Operations, supervising the proper submission and quality control of convoy paperwork – there’s always paperwork for everything -- and keeping command and staff informed of recent trends, updated threat assessments, and so forth. SGT Millard served as a staff NCO in an administrative section in the rear – what combat soldiers would correctly (if harshly) ridicule as a “Fobbit.” (I was a Fobbit too, though I complete about a dozen convoys off the FOB.)
In The Nation piece, Millard even reinforces the obvious distance from which he offers criticism of our military, as the “clicker” for a Command Powerpoint presentation on an unfortunate checkpoint shooting of a family. His beef in that instance? That a Colonel, briefing staff officers and commanders at what sounds to be like a weekly Commander’s brief, made the comment that “If these fucking hajis learned to drive, this shit wouldn’t happen.”
If that passes for scandal to anti-war types, we’ve come quite a ways from My Li.
Based on what I know of the 42nd in Tikrit and our Command structure, the Colonel Millard uses as example for US military callousness is likely a Brigade Commander, most probably from Artillery or one of the Infantry Brigades. These were some no sh**, can the nicety type commanders. But discipline is discipline, they knew the public relations and “hearts and minds” importance of their missions, and took extraordinary effort to prevent the kinds of unfortunately incident briefed in Millard’s powerpoint slides. The fact itself that they briefed the incident in detail speaks volumes about how important the command viewed these setbacks, as setbacks, to be avoided however possible.
What Millard didn’t add to this little anecdote was what happened next, based on this incident and others like it in theater: revised Rules of Engagement, follow-up training and briefings by Commanders and NCOs, and changes in procedures for Convoy drivers, truck commanders (TCs), and gunners. I know, because our guys bitched like hell every time some incident or another caused yet another command directive: Wave them off (or for a while, throw small stones at windshields), point the barrel of the M2 at them, and lastly, fire a warning shot on the pavement in front of the vehicle.
Sometimes that meant the round glanced back into the engine block, disabling the vehicle entirely – not good, now you have a broken down vehicle in your way – or even into the vehicle and causing injuries to driver or passengers.
Iraqi drivers obey a coda of traffic laws known only unto themselves, if at all, in peacetime. Adding the stresses and threats of insurgents,
Just as at our FOB (Danger) down the road about 20 kilometers, FOB Speicher received its share of mortar and rocket attacks, the overwhelming majority of which were completely ineffective without causing any injuries. Yet SGT Millard, endearing himself to his anti-war audiences, makes it out like some Vietnam redux, only worse, with “pops of machine gun fire and the bangs of mortar rounds exploding all hours of the day and night.”
Our FOB was tiny in comparison to the square mileage of Speicher, so the net effect of any rounds impacting this great big patch of desert with great amounts of open space had to be even less intimidating.
Look, we had soldiers who were spooked by what little we experienced at Danger. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting poor Millard can’t be suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) -- if not from close physical contact with Cindy Sheehan, then from whatever he witnessed at Speicher (or was told about, or heard about in FOB gossip). But I would bet a month’s wages that, pressed top back up his claims, Millard like most of the other voices The Nation selected, they “heard about this kind of sh** from lots of guys.” (Especially after making themselves celebrities in the anti-war industry.)
No doubt, there are many stories my colleague (the officer, not Millard) can share about what he saw in the ROC, about the difficulties he had in getting command to recognize IED trends and initiate effective interdiction, or about the infractions and violations of regulation or policies that are a part of every military throughout history. But in no way would he tolerate, nor would he be silent about, the kinds of abuses exaggerated in the Nation report.
The Nation can at least be credited with quoting actual military Veterans sharing their honest assessments of the war, albeit with a Nation-generated 9 to 1 anti-war weighting in viewpoints. TNR appears to have swallowed some rather outlandish tales full gulp, without so much as putting their Scott Thomas war stories in front of credible military experts for a sniff or two.
Mackubin Thomas Owens at NRO:
I have news for the editors of The Nation: War, especially the sort of war we are waging in Iraq — a war in which a man or boy who waves at American troops during the day may plant an IED at night — can desensitize even the most decent individual. History proves that in the absence of leadership and enforced rules of engagement, war can lead one to the depths of moral depravity. But no military in history has attempted to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage to the extent that the
John Podhoretz at The Corner:
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that if what's in there is in any way true, TNR would know it by now. Or maybe TNR is just too busy getting the New York Times to change its copy around multiple times on the question of the epistemological certainty of Editor Franklin Foer's knowledge of whether Scott Thomas is actually a soldier.
Laughing Wolf at Blackfive:
Given the stonewalling and such going on with TNR (and supporters), I am not ready to call check fire on this one. Frankly, I think we need to arclight TNR and Scott Thomas.
Dean Barnett at Townhall:
I’M NOT SAYING THAT SOMEONE who has only written for a living can’t produce important and brilliant work. But a professional writer who thinks he knows everything? That’s as useless a creature that has ever wandered the earth.
There are reasons that guys like Andy Ferguson and Malcolm Gladwell are writers that other writers look up to.
On the other hand, you have guys like Franklin Foer. To take one example of his ignorance, Foer clearly doesn’t understand military terminology or military equipment. There’s no great sin in that. Since I’ve been writing, I’ve learned obvious things like the words “former” and “Marine” should never be juxtaposed. Why, just in the past week, I’ve learned the difference between a Dining Facility (DFAC) and a “Chow hall.”
Foer’s problem is, since he thinks he knows everything, his job is merely to “explicate ideas” to less knowledgeable and insightful people. If he admitted to himself that he doesn’t know jack about military matters, he would have run Scott Thomas’ pieces by someone who did.
Alas, that brings us back to where we started. The reason Foer suspended the skeptical nature he probably deploys when reading a Defense Department press release is that the collected works of Scott Thomas did a wonderful job of “explicating ideas” that Franklin Foer found hospitable. Whether said explication was accurate or trustworthy were clearly matters beneath Franklin Foer’s pay grade.
Another take provided by Greyhawk over at Mudville Gazette, who thinks the TNR needs to turn Scott Johnson into military authorities for punishment, unless they condone the behavior to which he confesses.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
For those not familiar, Jesse MacBeth was an anti-war charlatan, darling of the anti-war left. Macbeth claimed to have witnessed and participated in all manner of war atrocities in
Goldfarb introduces the TNR piece this way:
The first episode puts "Thomas"'s unit at a "chow hall" at an unnamed base. A woman eating there is wearing "an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn’t really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor." The woman's face is described as having been "more or less melted, along with all the hair on that side of her head," by an IED. She sits down for lunch next to the men. Here's how "Thomas" describes what happens next:
We were already halfway through our meals when she arrived. After a minute or two of eating in silence, one of my friends stabbed his spoon violently into his pile of mashed potatoes and left it there.
“Man, I can’t eat like this,” he said.
“Like what?” I said. “Chow hall food getting to you?”
“No—with that fucking freak behind us!” he exclaimed, loud enough for not only her to hear us, but everyone at the surrounding tables. I looked over at the woman, and she was intently staring into each forkful of food before it entered her half-melted mouth.
“Are you kidding? I think she’s fucking hot!” I blurted out.
“What?” said my friend, half-smiling.
“Yeah man,” I continued. “I love chicks that have been intimate—with IEDs. It really turns me on—melted skin, missing limbs, plastic noses . . . .”
“You’re crazy, man!” my friend said, doubling over with laughter. I took it as my cue to continue.
“In fact, I was thinking of getting some girls together and doing a photo shoot. Maybe for a calendar? ‘IED Babes.’ We could have them pose in thongs and bikinis on top of the hoods of their blown-up vehicles.”
My friend was practically falling out of his chair laughing. The disfigured woman slammed her cup down and ran out of the chow hall, her half-finished tray of food nearly falling to the ground.
The TNR piece continues with “Scott Thomas’s” “war story” with other highly doubtful anecdotes:
The author claims that his unit stumbled across a mass grave filled with the remains of Iraqi children, and, rather than report the find, chose to desecrate the corpses:
About six months into our deployment, we were assigned a new area to patrol, southwest of
One private, infamous as a joker and troublemaker, found the top part of a human skull, which was almost perfectly preserved. It even had chunks of hair, which were stiff and matted down with dirt. He squealed as he placed it on his head like a crown. It was a perfect fit. As he marched around with the skull on his head, people dropped shovels and sandbags, folding in half with laughter. No one thought to tell him to stop. No one was disgusted. Me included.
The private wore the skull for the rest of the day and night. Even on a mission, he put his helmet over the skull. He observed that he was grateful his hair had just been cut—since it would make it easier to pick out the pieces of rotting flesh that were digging into his head.
Again, American troops might be capable of such behavior. But most incidents of soldiers taking such war "trophies," to be blunt, involve dead enemy fighters, not massacred children. The questions pile up. Would a child's skull fit on the head of fully-grown man? Would pieces of flesh and hair still remain so long after the fact? Would American soldiers fail to report the discovery of a mass grave? Are there really units corrupt enough for a private to dare do such a thing for a day and a night?
Finally, the author tells of a friend who drives a Bradley armored vehicle and has a penchant for careening around the streets of Baghdad in the hope of causing as much destruction--and killing as many stray dogs--as possible:
I know another private who really only enjoyed driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles because it gave him the opportunity to run things over. He took out curbs, concrete barriers, corners of buildings, stands in the market, and his favorite target: dogs. Occasionally, the brave ones would chase the Bradleys, barking at them like they bark at trash trucks in
Goldfarb has updated his initial post with lots of reactions, and reactions came in fast and furious from multiple sites with strong military connections or credentials:
In comments to the posts mentioned above, real military veterans signal this is BS reporting, pointing out multiple areas with high probability of falsehood, I’ll summarize:
Vehicle operation. The Bradley doesn’t “sneak up, it’s lumbering, very noisy mechanically, tracks, etc., would no more run over a dog (unless already dead) or catch it unaware. Also, driver visibility probably precludes what is described in the story, seeing dogs along the right side of the vehicle. Lastly, corpses and other dead animals are likely means of hiding improvised explosive devices (IED), and avoided by vehicles, Swerving suddenly in a city setting could get the vehicle hung up, or run the risk of an IED or mine set near the edge of the roadway. All military drivers know these things, and the behavior described would be highly improbable.
Mass grave. Like GIs who came upon Concentration Camps, soldiers today in
Mocking of IED victim. “There but by the grace of God,” is the universal reaction of anyone to the reality that others are hit by IEDs. Soldiers come up and shake the hands of obviously wounded, and thank them for their service, or ask God to bless them, or speak with reverence and respect, with encouragement. (Even stupid 20 year olds.) NCOs and officers in earshot would have beaten any such idiots down, read them the riot act, or taken their names. Zero tolerance, “we’re all on the same team,” “that could be you, you sh*thead” kind of reactions. The remark that the soldier couldn’t tell if the clothes she was wearing was a uniform is likewise hard to believe. Someone familiar with the DCU would not mistake it for the tan jumpsuits, chino/workshirt combinations, or even the desert camouflage uniforms of other services or Iraqis. Each are distinct, and you know your own.
Medical. Informed medical personnel confirm the great unlikelihood that a person could survive and IED-induced “melting of the face” without extensive (and lengthy) medical treatment, many surgeries, recovery time, and rarely would anyone be allowed back in
And I’d add the following circumstantial evidence. Commenters note a similarity between some of what’s described here and events depicted in the (anti-war) movie Jarhead. I’d add that one of the
Speaking of The War Tapes, one of the soldiers was clearly traumatized by the accidental killing of a woman when she ran in front of their HUMVEE at night, following a close call near-collision with a civilian vehicle that approached rapidly and swerved in front of the HUMVEE. Likewise, my soldiers and I were deeply disturbed to walk through vehicle graveyards (as a soldier on The War Tapes), seeing the horrible damage and knowing the certainty or great likelihood that vehicle occupants were incinerated or blown to pieces (or both).
Sounds to me their phony veteran might be pulling stories from movies or what he’s read. (Or from anti-war websites.)
For those who claim that the
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Democrats agree with the President, that chaos will almost certainly result from our withdrawal from
As reported by Noam Levey, a reporter for the LA Times with a piece in the Baltimore Sun, Congressional backers of the many “get out now” proposals are fully aware that surrender and abandonment of Iraq is what their plan is all about:
"I wouldn't be surprised if it's horrendous," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat who has helped lead the drive against the war. "The only hope for the Iraqis is their own damned government, and there's slim hope for that."
Democratic lawmakers and their small handful of GOP abettors make little provision for what happens next, if they get their way. All of those making the point that Iraq is in the middle of a “civil war” fundamentally misread actual facts on the ground, and “coincidentally” swallow in one gulp the prepackaged, preplanned disinformation campaign led by Al Qaeda (in Iraq surely, but directed by AQ leadership elsewhere).
Note to the ignorant: if international terrorists blow up mosques and other holy shrines, busloads of civilians, children, police academy candidates, and other innocent civilians, as a means of provoking sectarian reprisal; if these same terrorists conduct or initiate similar atrocities against the other side, with the same end in mind, would you still want to characterize those acts of violence as part of a civil war?
Wouldn’t it be more accurate to identify those responsible for these provocations as guilty of acts of war, and crimes against humanity as well? And what if the targeted populations, after some period of sectarian-based reprisal, decide not to fight each other, but cooperate in a fight against the true aggressors?
The Democrats have been against our efforts in Iraq since shortly after the war began, when they evidently concluded that a successful war made President Bush too popular, and his aggressive anti-terrorism policies, made them and their “talk, talk, talk” foreign policy prejudices inconsequential. Ever since, they have latched on each new development or trend (always negatively construed), and hung on to these mischaracterizations and exaggerations way past the expiration date of their delusions. So it is with the Civil War in
The level of Congressional ignorance, not only in matters Iraqi, but militarily, is breathtaking. Note this concluding quote from willing accomplice Oregon Senator Gordon Smith:
Few, if any, champions of pulling out
"It will grow," predicted Oregon Sen. Gordon H. Smith, one of three Senate Republicans backing the Democratic withdrawal plan. "But it will burn itself out. That's how civil wars are fought. That's just the brutal truth."
Hmmm. That’s not how I would characterize any civil war with which I’m familiar. Seems like they do indeed grow and violence worsens, before one side manages to defeat the other, or some outside force intervenes. But as I’ve concluded, describing the situation in
In what I would consider providential timing, the US military reports on a major capture in
The AP report actually downplays the significance of the capture and the results of interrogation, no doubt due to how unpleasant AP finds this particular news.
Fortunately, better reporting is immediately available in the person of Bill Roggio, who provides an in-depth analysis of the significance of the capture, and the broader implications about who we fight in
On July 4, Coalition forces captured Khalid Abdul Fatah Da’ud Mahmud Al Mashadani, a senior al Qaeda in
Contrary to AP’s disinterest in specifics, Roggio dug into reports of Mashadani’s interrogation:[
During interrogations, Mashadani admitted that the Islamic State of Iraq was merely a puppet front group established by al Qaeda in order to put an Iraqi face on the insurgency. Mashadani co-founded the Islamic State of Iraq with al-Masri in 2006. “The Islamic State of Iraq is a ‘front’ organization that masks the foreign influence and leadership within AQI in an attempt to put an Iraqi face on the leadership of AQI,” said Brig. Gen Bergner.
But not only is the Islamic State of Iraq a contrived entity, its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is as well. “To further this myth [of the Islamic State of Iraq], al Masri created a fictional political head of ISI known as Omar al-Baghdadi,” said Brig. Gen Bergner. Al-Baghdadi is actually played by an actor named Abu Abdullah al Naima, and al Masri “maintains exclusive control over al Naima as he acts the part of the fictitious al-Baghdadi character.”
Al Masri then swore allegiance to al Baghdadi “which was essentially swearing allegiance to himself, since he knew that Baghdadi was fictitious and totally his own creation,” said Brig. Gen Bergner. “The rank and file Iraqis in AQI believed they are following the Iraqi al-Baghdadi but all the while they have actually been following the orders of the Egyptian Abu ‘Ayyub al- Masri.”
Mashadani said the domestic insurgents groups recognize that al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq are fronts. “The idea of al-Baghdadi is very weak now because other insurgent groups have realized that the concept of al-Baghdadi is controlled by the al-Qaeda foreign fighters in
Mashadani stated that al Qaeda in
For those who might hope Congressional critics would turn to sources such as Roggio, rather than the woeful AP or New York Times, their hope is pre-empted by the absolute need of Democrats to find only signs of defeat. Victory or any hope of it moves the debate in a direction they don’t want to go.
Somehow, as in
Miracle of miracles, if the
(As in, “we made the President change his strategy and pull this one out of the toilet.” Not, of course, admitting they were wrong.)
Also commenting on the capture today:
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Hold Firm Opinions
In honor of the efforts of Vets for Freedom to rally OIF and OEF veterans on Capitol Hill today, here’s a summary of some of the best “hold firm” commentary from the past couple of days.
First, comes the admonition to keep on surgin', from the redoubtable Bill Kristol, writing at the Weekly Standard:
The Defeatist Democrats have lots of support from the mainstream media, most of whom have simply given up on reporting the war or analyzing arguments about the war. Actually, the newsmen who know something, like John F. Burns and Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times, have produced some terrific reporting. But run-of-the-mill foreign policy and White House reporters have little interest in what is actually happening in
As for the foreign policy establishment and its fellow travelers in the punditocracy, one might have thought they could be serious about this war--actually analyzing events, engaging in a grown-up debate about the real-world consequences of different courses of action, keeping calm amid the political posturing. Many in the Bush administration who care for their standing in the establishment's eyes have spent an awful lot of time cultivating these masters of nuance and complexity. All for naught. The establishment, like the media and the Democrats, wants to discredit and humiliate an administration that too often (though not often enough!) dared to think for itself, and to act without their permission. They're out to destroy Bush, his ideas, and his supporters, no matter the consequences for the country.
Over the last few weeks, all of these estimable entities--the Democratic party in Congress, much of the media, and the foreign policy establishment--have joined together to try to panic the country, and the Bush administration, into giving up.
Over the last few months, the
Surges within surges within surges within surges. Sounds like a kind of geopolitical acid-reflux. Our side has all the gas, and our enemies experience the real heartburn.
Next up, long-suffering Michael Ledeen thinks the military knows what’s really going on in
The fight in
The same Hezbollah terrorists who are waging war against the forces of democracy in
The same Syrian regime that provides support and sanctuary for Islamic jihad and Hamas has refused to close its airport in
...the war against extremists and radicals is not only evident in
In short, the president sees that it is a regional war, as it has been from the beginning, just as our enemies in
Big wars require big strategies, and we do not have one. Yet. I believe the country would support one if the case were made clearly and honestly. Taking the war to our enemies in Damascus and Tehran does not require troops on the ground or bombs from the air, except in the limited cases of terrorist training camps and weapons factories. It requires, above all, two things: support for the democratic forces in
It’s long past time to hear those words.
It’s a wider war. Beyond the issue of hold firm, or surrender in
Rich Lowry, writing at the New York Post, sees President Bush as the “last hawk standing” in holding firm, whether he successfully rallies his fellow Republicans, or not:
Bush is as confident and upbeat as ever. Even once-friendly commentators like The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan wish he'd show some strain and worry as the war drags into its fifth year. But Bush must have confidence and optimism written into his DNA. As leaks, GOP defections and plummeting approval ratings swirl all around him, he remains resolute: The Iraq War must, and can, be won.
Asked about persistent reports that he is looking to find a compromise with Congress around the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group for a troop drawdown, Bush is adamant that he is going to see the troop surge through September and then rely on the advice of Gen. David Petraeus on how to proceed.
"What you're asking me is that in order to placate people in Congress, am I going to write a strategy before the military reports back?" he says. "And the answer is, 'no.' "
Bush says that one of his most important audiences is not just the American public, but the enemy, who "thinks we're weak." He says "these are sophisticated people and they listen to the debate." They doubt "that we're going to be tough enough. I really believe that the additional forces into
If only the opponents of our efforts in
The Vets for Freedom rally today is all about bringing the voices of military veterans, the men and women who fight on our behalf, to bear on a wavering Congress. Despite grossly dishonest and distorted attack pieces (see most issues of the NY Times, and this phony story in particular) that claim military support for our efforts in Iraq is weakening, the US military wants to win, and knows we can.
John Burns captured a few of the many strong military voices urging support for our current efforts in a remarkable NY Times article that refutes the positions taken by the Times own editors:
General Lynch, a blunt-spoken, cigar-smoking Ohio native who commands the Third Infantry Division, said that all the American troops that began an offensive south of Baghdad in mid-June were part of the five-month-old troop buildup, and that they were making “significant” gains in areas that were previously enemy sanctuaries. Pulling back before the job was completed, he said, would create “an environment where the enemy could come back and fill the void.”
He implied that an early withdrawal would amount to an abandonment of Iraqi civilians who he said had rallied in support of the American and Iraqi troops, and would leave the civilians exposed to renewed brutality by extremist groups. “When we go out there, the first question they ask is, ‘Are you staying?’ ” he said. “And the second question is, ‘How can we help?’ ” He added, “What we hear is, ‘We’ve had enough of people attacking our villages, attacking our homes, and attacking our children.’ ”
General Lynch said his troops had promised local people that they would stay in the areas they had taken from the extremists until enough Iraqi forces were available to take over, and said this had helped sustain “a groundswell” of feeling against the extremists. He said locals had pinpointed hide-outs of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an extremist group that claims to have ties to Osama bin Laden’s network, that had been used to send suicide bombers into
General Lynch also challenged an argument often made by American lawmakers who want to end the military involvement here soon: that Iraqi troops have ducked much of the hard fighting, and often proved unreliable because of the strong sectarian influence exercised by the competition for power between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political factions.
“I don’t know,” he said, how American war critics had concluded that the new American-trained Iraqi Army was not up to the fight. “I find that professionally offensive,” he said, after noting that there were “many Iraqi heroes” of the fighting south of
No soldier wants to lose a war. No soldier wants to fail in his mission, by giving up while the opportunity to win remains. Veterans in this fight [not to be called the Global War on Terror] know first hand the sacrifices required, the cost of achieving our military objectives.
So if those with real “skin in the game” tell us to keep in the fight, who exactly are those who urge us to withdraw? To whom should we be listening?
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