Sunday, July 17, 2005

Monitoring CNN: Liveblogging "Progress Report: War in Iraq" 

At 8 pm EDT tonight (the time stamp of this post), CNN will air a heavily promoted special report with the title "Progress Report: War in Iraq" (see left sidebar). Since I am at least a little concerned that CNN's perspective on the war will shape the public discussion in a direction that I will find troubling, I am going to live-blog the CNN report on this post (with the special help of TiVo, of course). Starting just after 8 p.m. EDT, I will put up a series of numbered posts with my on-the-spot analysis -- and fisking, if need be.

Any blogger who wants to join me in this exercise should send me an email at tigerhawkblog@verizon.net, and will put up the link to your live-blogging post in this post. Of course, I would very much appreciate any other help, including mere publicity (hint, hint), comments, and factual support.

All of this depends on my internet and satellite connections holding up through the thunderstorms.

Talk to you at 8.

[UPDATE: Finished the live-blogging at 9:30, somewhat behind schedule but bailed out by TiVo. I'm going to interlineate some updates with comments.]

1. Here we go.

Where do things really stand in Iraq? Who are the insurgents? "We have plenty of money and weapons and men." Can they be defeated? Is democracy taking shape? Will there be peace? Is Iraq on the right track, or sinking into a quagmire? And what do Iraqis say?

Do the reports of daily violence tell the full story? A promise to dig beneath the headlines, and begin with the battle for Iraq against the insurgency. The only safe haven is the Green Zone. But some believe that those in the Green Zone may be too insulated from the real Iraq. We asked our Senior Int'l correspondant Nick Robertson to venture out, and take a rare journey inside the insurgency.

So far, they are asking the right questions.

Nick Robertson is a Brit.

2. Robertson: "Unpredictable and deadly. Violence cuts a swathe across parts of Iraq, bloodying the US. The country is reeling under an insurgent onslaught. And the worse of these claimed by al Qaeda in Iraq and its leader..." al Zarqawi.

Robertson says that "the spectacular impact of the suicide attacks" obscures the "true nature of the insurgency, a home-grown Iraqi-based insurgency. To find out who they are, and what they want, I have come here to Baghdad to meet them."

The camera cuts to a silouette, an insurgent named "Abu Omar." According to this guy: "We represent 20% of the Iraqi resistance, but we represent fully the Iraqi will. We influence 80% of the Iraqi resistance, and we can say 'stop.' The question is, when to stop." Omar claims he is a former Iraqi general, under a false name.

TH Note: This is interesting, insofar as it supports the theory that the Sunni reactionaries are looking to negotiate.

[UPDATE: The Sunnis are, as a group, in something of a bind. On the one hand, they want the Americans to leave. On the other hand, they have to be worried that if the Shia and the Kurds are left with their backs against the wall, the gloves might come off, full-blown civil war might ensue, and the Sunnis would lose. It would have been helpful for CNN to have explored this question with Abu Omar. What would his answer have been?]

3. Cuts to video of insurgents on the streets of Baghdad. Omar introduces Abu Mohammad, also in silhouette, who speaks in broken English, and is identified as an insurgent commander, too. "We are refused American -- all American opinion. Their ideology, election, freedom. We refused anything from America."

The two met in military staff college, and are now part of a large network of nationalists, former military, tribal leaders, and other old regime hangers on. They are now reaching out to the "small band" of foreign fighters.

TH Note: CNN seems to be staking out the position that foreign fighters are a relatively small proportion of the total.

4. Robertson still reporting, cut to American Gen. "Spider" Marks: "The insurgency was not inevitable, if we had had, I think, a larger military presence, but again, that's hindsight." [TH: If he had to say "again, hindsight," what was left on the cutting room floor?]

[UPDATE: This assertion that the insurgency would not have started with a stronger military presence strikes me as speculation, and inconsistent with various of the other theories offered in the documentary. First, as is recounted below, the insurgency was planned long before the American invasion. Second, the "revenge culture" theory for the insurgency's growth would have obtained in any case. Third, if the size of the insurgency is as large as CNN suggests -- 200,000 or more -- then it surely would have existed at some level almost regardless of troop levels. The more interesting question is whether the insurgency would have thrived had we handled the demobilization of the Iraqi army differently.]

Intelligence sources say that four of Saddam's top allies met a few days after the fall of Baghdad, and decided then to activate the insurgency. Omar again: "Six months before the occupation we started training, and exercising resisting the American army in small groups."

Robertson: "Some U.S. intelligence sources say there are now as many as 200,000 insurgents. Since January 2004, 10,000 have been killed, 10,000 wounded, and 30,000 detained, yet the insurgency goes on. There are still 300-400 reported attacks per week, and that each U.S. offensive creates more recruits for the insurgents."

TH Note: That is by far the most negative assessment that I have heard. It would be interesting to know who those U.S. intelligence sources are. The report would be shocking, if true.

[UPDATE: A commenter suggests that this number derives from the number of Ba'athists before the war. Perhaps. More interestingly, though, is that CNN does not give us a sense of whose these "U.S. intelligence sources" might be. I certainly understand the need for confidentiality -- these sources undoubtedly committed a crime in leaking classified information to CNN -- but it would be nice to know the agency that developed these numbers. The bureaucratic struggles in Washington have been such that we now cannot accept "intelligence sources" willy-nilly. We need to know who is carrying whose water.]

5. Cuts to a "Sheikh Zeidan," who says "I believe that resistance is not confined to certain persons or organizations. Resistance is now the prevailing culture in Iraq." Robertson characterizes this guy as a key Sunni partner to U.S. troops "before Marines asked him to leave Iraq last year." [No explanation why he was asked to leave.]

Zeidan, who is from Ramadi, says that the U.S. failed to understand the Sunni tribes, and their culture of revenge, which is "deep-rooted in society." Everybody who loses a brother or a son to American forces" is compelled to join the insurgency. TH: That's bad news, again if true.

[UPDATE: Dymphna notes in the comments: "Well, then it would work the other way: every time the insurgents blow up other people's children, they join the Americans. Right? And so who has killed more civilians???" Agreed. CNN does not deal with Dymphna's point.]

[UPDATE: Two hours later, I'm still bothered that CNN did not explain why Marines asked Sheikh Zeidan to leave Iraq, or reveal the answer if it knew.]

6. Cuts to a public meeting of representatives from several different insurgency groups. Former government official hosts a press conference claiming that he has hosted meetings between the government and the insurgents. His credibility is doubted.

Cuts back to Abu Omar, who sends mixed signals about peace talks: "No negotiations until we kill the last American soldier. However, if they want to be serious, let it be official, and in front of all people."

Robertson: The insurgents are not a united force, and nobody speaks for them all.

Abu Omar: "I welcome al Qaeda, because they are dealing blows to the Americans. But I repeat, we are Iraqi insurgents, and they are here to give us aid and support."

[UPDATE: I'm sure al Qaeda doesn't think of it that way, though. CNN did not question Omar's assertion of primacy.]

7. Robertson: The domestic insurgents warn, however, "the time to cut a deal is now."

Back to the studio: "As we have just seen there is some promise. We've learned that some Iraqi nationalists say they are open to diplomacy, to negotiation." The foreigners have shown no sign of giving up the fight.

[UPDATE: Again, CNN avoids plumbing the crucial division between the Sunni insurgents, who are fighting to regain at least some power in post-Saddam Iraq, and al Qaeda, which is more than willing to burn down Iraq if it will humiliate the United States. If the Sunnis were to cut a deal, would al Qaeda go along? Are the Sunni in a trap of their own making?]

After the break, factoids about the economics. Daily electricity is down, and unemployment is high.

Cuts to Jamie MacIntyre, CNN's Pentagon correspondant, who looks at American strategy and its prospects for success. Cut to soldiers in the desert.

"In Iraq's vast, desolate western desert, a lone US Marine battalion patrols 40 miles of border with Syria, trying to stop foreign fighters streaming into the country. Without much help from the Iraqis, its pretty much 'mission impossible.'"

[UPDATE: CNN does not explain the relevance of Syria, other than to claim that foreign fighters are "streaming" across the border. This fact, asserted so casually by CNN, is a casus belli under any conception of international law. If the United States were to take action against Syria, it would be interesting to see whether CNN would "wonder" whether the United States had grounds to attack.

In any case, the documentary ignored the influence of foreign states on the insurgency, and the strategic significance of the fact of that influence.]

Gen. George Casey: Insurgencies average about 9 years. Only Iraqis will defeat this insurgency. "They will do it with our support, but not necessarily with out total commitment."

"Casey argues that despite the rising death toll and an insurgency that appears to be growing, Iraq is making progress every day, and will be able to defeat the insurgents after the US leaves, even though he can't say when that will be."

Casey: "I am optimistic because I see ... Iraqis wanting something better, and I see Iraqi security forces coming forward every day to join the army, to join the police, and going out and fighting for the future of Iraq."

MacIntyre: The number of those forces and their competence is the topic of some debate. Only 3,000 are fully capable of fighting without U.S. help. Cut to Rumsfeld: "They're police. They're not supposed to deploy any place!"

Whatever the number, critics argue it is not enough.

8. Cut to Col. Thomas Hammes, who says that the battalion commanders are playing "whack a mole." We know in the past that is a losing approach. Hammes argues that you have to fight insurgents the way police fight street gangs. You need to be there all the time, not merely when something happens. Cut to John McCain saying the same thing.

TH Note: I agree with this, by the way. You need a lot of people to do it, though.

MacIntyre says that "Iraqization" smacks of "Vietnamization," but Hammes defends the strategy. He contends that "Vietnamization" would have worked as well, but the American "will" broke. That is why sustaining our will is so important in this war. TH Note: That is why I'm writing this post.

[UPDATE: Even if you don't agree that Vietnamization would have led to American victory had we not withdrawn, there is a crucial difference in Iraq. There, 80% of the population hate the Sunnis, who dominate the insurgency. The Shiites and the Kurds know their enemy, and will wage a civil war to crush it if the United States withdraws. Indeed, the greatest weakness in CNN's documentary was its failure to explore the significance of ethnic divisions within Iraq to the counterinsurgency.]

9. Back to the studio, talking about life in Baghdad among the Iraqis. CNN basically says that its American reports can't walk around because it is "too dangerous," so it asked two of "our Arab producers to spend a week taking the pulse of life in Baghdad. We found that amid the chaos and the fear and the frustration, there is some hope, some guarded optimism."

Cut to the Arab producers looking in on middle class Baghdad families.

"In Baghdad, frustration is a permanent state of mind." Fuel lines last hours, and sometimes days. They interview people in cafes, people at the track. Lots of fatalistic talk, despair for the future, and so forth. Non-stop individual "man on the street" stuff. Another group is "in between pessimistic, and understanding their responsibility for building the country."

According to the CNN Arab producer, "not a single person said the situation was good, or getting better." [UPDATE: A commenter points out that this is not consistent with poll results. Perhaps CNN's producers mostly hung with dispossessed Sunnis. In CNN's defense, it did confine its work in this segment to the Baghdad area, but the polls sample more broadly. CNN should have made that point, though.] The other one said "I don't think the Iraqis want the Americans to pull out. I think they want them to be invisible. They don't feel in control of their own country."

10. It's after 9, and I'm only a little over halfway through. Thank you TiVo.

Back to the studio. Lots of Chrenkoffish good facts about the rise of a free press, and the twists and turns of Iraqi democracy.

Lots of discussion about the difficulty of establishing a democracy, and trust in a fledgling new government, "all the more so because of what Iraqis regard as an unwelcome occupation."

Leslie Gelb, who was in Iraq studying its democracy at the request of the State Department: "Creating democracy in Iraq is going to be far harder than it was for us in the United States, and it was hard for us. We forget that." Very true.

Cut to Condi: The political progress is moving forward, and there will be a new set of political circumstances when they have a permanent government.

Kenneth Pollack (who is a very smart guy, and wrote the book on regime change in Iraq): "I think it is a mistake to keep pegging our hopes to these major events. Events like the election are important psychological milestones, but they are not necessarily major factors in determining whether or not Iraqi democracy can succeed." I agree, but the psychological factors should not be underestimated. "Will," after all, will be the margin of victory in this war.

Different Iraqis talking about whether the Sunnis will come into the political process, and that has exposed the insurgency, according to one guy.

Gelb: "I think that in order to keep Iraq together, the irony is you are going to have to give virtual autonomy to each of the three major groups to run its own affairs. That way they can have confidence that they will be essentially making the laws for themselves."

Iraqi: "The only way to defeat the insurgency is to have a strong state."

Pollack: "There certainly are Islamists who would like to be voted into office, and, like Hitler, have the democracy evaporate with that one vote."

Gelb: "I think we will be able to tell when there's victory or when we're on the way to victory by one simple measure: When in the center of Iraq, people can come out on the streets and begin to lead normal lives."

11. Studio: There does appear to be an effort by the Shia majority to reach out to the Sunni minority. But the insurgency has targeted the leadership, so they do their work in seclusion.

Gelb: "American officials, Iraqi leadership, are really cordoned off from the rest of society. In effect we're blinded by the need to protect ourselves, so we don't see what's going on out there." TH Note: That is also quite obviously true of the press.

Cut to a wedding [I hate wedding "moments" in war documentaries. - ed.]. The father of the bride was a captain in the Iraqi navy. He complains a lot about how lame the Americans are. TH Note: It is not revealed whether he is Sunni or not, Ba'athist or not. He sounds like a Ba'athist loser to me. "Is it true that the great America cannot fulfill its promises?"

[UPDATE: CNN only occasionally told us whether a particularly Iraqi was a Sunni, or whether the person had had an important position in the old regime. This is part-and-parcel with its failure to tease apart the sectarian issues in the country, and their relevance, if any, to the counterinsurgency. It is not clear whether CNN omitted this data because it genuinely believes it is immaterial, or because it -- like most Western media -- is extremely uncomfortable talking about sectarian or racial rivalry, or because it wanted to obscure whether a particularly negative person was an old regime loser.]

Cut to filmmakers, who are thrilled with their new freedom of expression "since the Americans came." The artists are the most optimistic people in the documentary, by a long shot.

12. Cut to Fallujah, a "symbol for the battle for Iraq." "Once an insurgent stronghold, it was nearly destroyed by American and Iraqi forces. CNN returned to Fallujah, to see what is working and what is not"

People are rebuilding, notwithstanding the profound destruction, "each brick a sign of optimism."

So far, this is the most optimistic segment in the documentary. There is significant progress in rebuilding both the housing stock and the civil society. Residents like the Marines (apparently), but do not like the Iraqi soldiers -- "too quick to shoot."

Conclusion: "So what can we say we have learned about the war in Iraq? We can say we know the insurgency remains the number one threat to success, and that the sooner the Iraqis learn to protect their country, the sooner the American forces can go home. We can also say we know more about what it will take for Iraq to build a real democracy. Iraq remains a grueling, painful work in progress. Things could still go either way."

UPDATE: Strata-Sphere live-blogged the show as well.


By Blogger Dymphna, at Sun Jul 17, 08:17:00 PM:

I wonder what Michael Yon would say here...and how accurate are Omar's claims? They had to set this up with someone ahead of time...how did they (CNN) do that? These are the same folks who played footsie with Saddam while he slaughtered just so they could have access. They lied by omission then; what are they doing now?

Not that I'm suspicious or anything.  

By Blogger Dymphna, at Sun Jul 17, 08:26:00 PM:

each U.S. offensive creates more recruits for the insurgents

Bull. They've been creating insurgents since before the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. This is crap, special CNN crap. Who bread is *that* supposed to butter? Are they hoping for another special 'in' if they can manage to put a spanner in the works?

They ought to be ashamed of recirculating such leftist trash.  

By Blogger Dymphna, at Sun Jul 17, 08:42:00 PM:

Now I remember why I don't have a TV. They were lying in 1979 when I got rid of it and they're still lying.

How do you stand watching this left-wing lying drivel? You oughta get some kind of bloggers medal -- maybe headphones rampant on a big pile of you-know-what.


1."Resistance is now the prevailing culture in Iraq."

2. "Everyone who loses a brother is compelled to join the insurgency." Well, then it would work the other way: every time the insurgents blow up other people's children, they join the Americans. Right? And so who has killed more civilians???  

By Blogger Dymphna, at Sun Jul 17, 08:59:00 PM:

After the break, factoids about the economics. Daily electricity is down, and unemployment is high.

But where is it compared to what it was??? No comparisons means we're doing better than they want us to know.


By Blogger AJStrata, at Sun Jul 17, 09:05:00 PM:

I did not see your request until after it started, but got most of it.

Good idea


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 17, 09:15:00 PM:

A bit of info on the "200,000" insurgents. That is the membership of the Ba'ath Party! The Ba'athists had about 200,000 on the rolls before Saddam fell. Of those 200k, about 40k have been in the fight, with the majority providing more passive support. Saddam also dumped out 100k of no-kidding criminals when we got to Baghdad. The criminals have formed gangs - they work with the bad guys fairly frequently because both groups have a vested interest in keeping the government week. The Al Quida/foreign fighter group is smaller, but are the primary suicide bombers. The insurgent casualties I've heard of is about 15-17k bad guys killed, same number wounded, and about 65k have been scooped up. Roughly 100k killed/wounded/captured, or 1/3 the size of the Iraqi Army we destroyed on the way to Baghdad. Those numbers include insurgents, criminals, and AQ guys. I seem to remember that that number came from MNF-I and the Iraqi defense ministry. It was a disingenous reportage of the total number of insurgents. The reason that the Sunnis are coming to the table is they are getting ground up by the US/coalition/Iraqi forces, and have to deal before they are broken. I always thought it was interesting that Sadr would "claim victory and negotiate" after we killed half his forces - twice! So, no, the roof isn't falling in and yes, there is still hard fighting to do. I found it interesting that the Sunnis still claimed they spoke for "Iraq". Old habits die hard.  

By Blogger AJStrata, at Sun Jul 17, 09:56:00 PM:

So, how did it go? I thought it was more balanced than their usual tirades.  

By Blogger SeekerBlog.com, at Sun Jul 17, 11:04:00 PM:

Great job, thanks heaps for the effort! All I know of the CNN report is from
you and Strat-Sphere (ADAGIO is a TV-free zone). Overall it sounds like there
was more balance than I would have expected. There were many mistakes of fact,
and the usual TV reliance upon interviewing the apparently random man-on-the-street.
Can the CNN people read? Or maybe they don't have internet access?

To select just one awful inversion of truth:

According to the CNN Arab producer, "not a single person said the situation
was good, or getting better."

A good example of why I believe passing a certification in basic statistics
should be required to obtain a License to Journalize. Yes, I know reading the
results of scientific polls doesn't make very good Video. Just one recent counter-example
from May:

Recent polling data shows that fully two-thirds of Iraqis believe their country
is headed in the right direction, Saboon said. While a poll in January showed
only 11 percent of Sunni Muslims in Iraq shared that view, that percentage
has since grown to 40, he said. . . .

Cheers, SeekerBlog  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jul 18, 01:58:00 AM:

Wow, you guys must really be right-wing to consider CNN left-wing. Holy shit.

About the lecture, "The Arab Discourse and the International Role":

Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab news network, isn't the Bush Administration's favorite media outlet. But Hafez Mirazi states that his network's motto is "both sides of the story," and that it provides an indispensable service by sharing Arab perspectives with the entire world. Today, says Mirazi, there is widespread outrage at the U.S. occupation of Iraq. "If you don't say, 'We made a mistake and there were no WMDS (Weapons of Mass Destruction)', but instead switch to saying 'We did it for democracy, reform and the region,' you're giving ammunition to people who question anything coming out of Washington." Another issue for Arabs is Washington's fight against terrorism. Says Mirazi, "It doesn't look nice that you want to battle in Arab backyards rather than your own." Mirazi says that many Arabs believe the U.S. is occupying Iraq "because of a desire for hegemony on Arab oil," and that the U.S. will next target Iran and Syria. He describes a scornful attitude toward the stated American agenda of establishing a democratic model in the Middle East. Arabs believe that the U.S. has instead created anarchy in Iraq by dissolving the Iraqi Army, which "helped in protection and law and order of the country." They also view the U.S. shaping Iraq along sectarian lines -- the "Lebanonization of Iraq, by design and intention." Why not, Arabs wonder, be pragmatic and "deal with political Islam" to stitch the country's factions together? While the U.S. projects a success story about democracy, Arab media like Al-Jazeera describe "lessons about the severe limits of power….When it comes to the end game, you will have a problem controlling 10 miles of highway between the green zone in Baghdad and the airport."

About the Speaker:

Before Al-Jazeera, Mirazi was correspondent for BBC Arabic/World Service in Washington and talk show host for the Arab News Network and Arab Network of America in Washington. He also held positions as writer, editor, and broadcaster for Voice of America in Washington.

Mirazi started his career as a radio journalist and broadcaster with Voice of the Arabs (Sawot Al-Arab) on Cairo Radio in Egypt in 1980. He holds an M.A. in World Politics from the Catholic University of America in Washington and a B.A. in Political Science from Cairo University. Mirazi has lived in Washington and covered US politics since 1983.


By Blogger panther33, at Mon Jul 18, 06:03:00 AM:

Regarding the Vietnam analogy, I think it's important to note that the South Vietnamese government did not fall to their "insurgents". It fell to North Vietnamese soldiers (in uniform) driving Russian-made tanks. This is where the Vietnam analogy seems to fall apart.  

By Blogger Counter Trey, at Mon Jul 18, 12:48:00 PM:

Thanks and great job, TH. You did a yeoman's job.

Had I known that CNN was going to do this I would have watched just to get the blood pressure up a bit. Fortunately, channel 360 on DirecTv is my home page.  

By Blogger Brian H, at Thu Jul 21, 08:20:00 PM:

Just got a surprise: Canada's CBC's Newsworld is going to air a program tonight called, "Media Jihad", which will focus on the jihadists' use of the media as a recruiting tool. Should be fascinating, both in terms of actual content and spin.  

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