Saturday, September 04, 2010






Today Poynter publishes an internal AP memo written by Tom Kent, the AP's Deputy Managing Editor for Standards and Production,
Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country's future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.
As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."
However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.
In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
Our stories about Iraq should make clear that U.S. troops remain involved in combat operations alongside Iraqi forces, although U.S. officials say the American combat mission has formally ended. We can also say the United States has ended its major combat role in Iraq, or that it has transferred military authority to Iraqi forces. We can add that beyond U.S. boots on the ground, Iraq is expected to need U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter possible attack from abroad.
Unless there is balancing language, our content should not refer to the end of combat in Iraq, or the end of U.S. military involvement. Nor should it say flat-out (since we can't predict the future) that the United States is at the end of its military role.
We're opening with that because it is news and it is important. To be clear, not every journalist has jumped on the Iraq War over ball. For every idiot on MSNBC or John Nichols, there have been cautious voices who have refused to play along. Diane Rehm has repeatedly noted that 50,000 troops and the claim of an end make no sense, Michael R. Gordon has offered perspective as well, as has Steve Inskeep, Matthew Rothschild, Chris Floyd, Sonali Kolhatkar, Jane Arraf, Margaret Warner, Scott Horton, Jason Ditz, and Kelley B. Vlahos among others. But they have been the exception. (Scott Horton is the journalist, not the attorney. To be clear on which one, he gets a link.) More commonly, American news consumers have been repeatedly greeted with blind repetition of White House spin and, especially for so-called 'independent' media (Katrina, we're especially talking about The Nation, the magazine you've ruined), a desire not to contradict Blessed Barack.
We wanted an independent media -- in terms of the advertising-backed as well as the donation dependant -- when the build up to the Iraq War was beginning. We attacked and bemoaned corporate media but where has Panhandle Media been the last two years? They've had no independence. Let's not kid that you can be part of Journolist and be independent. Let's not kid that you can be exposed as a part of Journolist -- as the bulk of The Nation writers were -- and get away without issuing a public statement of apology to your readers. It doesn't matter that you're an "opinion writer" -- in fact that's even worse because people reading Katha Pollitt, Chris Hayes, Eric Alterman, Richard Kim and the other Nation writers who were on Journolist thought they were reading independent thinkers, unaware that they joined with other like-minded writers to determine what to cover (Chris Hayes and Spencer Ackerman issued the edict not to cover Jeremiah Wright -- even to object to him -- because it could hurt Barack). Whores. That's who staffs independent media and that's only demonstrated all the more when they refuse to apologize for their backroom dealings, their hidden agreements and instead carp about Tucker Carlson and the outlet (Daily Journal) which exposed them.
The other reason is that Tom Kent notes that the media can't "predict" the future. We've noted that here for nearly two years as outlets have repeatedly insisted that the SOFA means the Iraq War ends at the end of 2011 when it doesn't mean that at all. Tom Kent and AP deserve serious applause for doing what we say we want to see: An independent media that questions, an independent media which doesn't just repeat the spin of government officials.
Today on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane spoke about Iraq with Youchi Dreazen (National Journal), Adberrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera) and Kevin Whitelaw (Congressional Quarterly).
Diane Rehm: Let's talk about the president's comments on the US combat mission in Iraq officially over. Kevin, what does that mean for the role of the remaining 50,000?
Kevin Whitelaw: Well that's right. The-the combat phase of the war is over according to-to the Pentagon and according to President Obama. That doesn't mean that US troops will not engage in any combat anymore. We still have a-a sizeable portion, ten, fifteen percent of the force, that really is part of a Special Forces component that is stationed in Iraq. Still, remember, 50,000 troops. So you take about ten, fifteen percent of that. These are troops that will still go out on missions here and there to captue and kill --
Diane Rehm: With Iraqis?
Kevin Whitelaw: In most cases. We don't know for sure, keep in mind, whether or not there might still be some unilateral missions but in most cases that's correct, they'll go out with Iraqis to-to do certain targeted missions and they'll also -- in the various training mission, the larger training mission -- there will be US troops that accompany Iraqis on various missions and you can expect that if they find themselves under fire they will certainly defend themselves. So there is still combat capability with this force that is in place. Having said that, what it does mean is that the Iraqis are-are, you know, in the front lines, they're the ones that are expected to do-to do the bulk of the security work and to make the bulk of the security decisions about where to target, where to go, how to defend and how to proceed.
Diane Rehm: What about NATO forces still in Iraq, Abderrahim?
Abderrahim Foukara: Well, I mean, if I may comment on the - the broader issue first of all?
Diane Rehm: Sure.
Adberrahim Foukara: It all harks back to democracy obvivously. In a democracy, when you make a pledge, you have to live up to it. President Obama made the pledge that, you know, he would get the US forces out of Iraq and obviously now that we uh-uh-uh closing up to-to the November election, he has to be seen as living up to his word. Now leaving -- withdrawing 50,000 combat troops and leaving several thousands more in Iraq at this time when there isn't even a government in place in Iraq, when despite all pronouncements to the contrary, security forces -- the Iraqi security forces are still not up to snuff, it is -- It may be a little controversial calling this phase, combat phase, over because, it seems to me that, US forces will remain in Iraq, will continue to be combat forces, in one kind or another, in one situation or another. So I hark back to my opening statement in this show which is that in the same way that it is managing the crisis situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Iraq will remain a crisis and the United States will keep on managing that crisis for a long time to come.
Diane Rehm: Youchi.
Youchi Dreazen: You know the war in Iraq has been a war of semantics from the very beginning. "The Coalition of the Willing" which didn't exist. I mean, there was a coalition of the US and a small number of allies, in some cases absurdly small. The one Icelandic female soldier who I met who was, excuse me, who was Iceland's entire military contingent in Iraq. You had five Dutch. You had a Costa Rican bomb dismanteling team who didn't want to leave any of its bases so, if the bomb was brought to them, they would dismantle it but otherwise they wouldn't go. So you had the "Coalition of the Willing" which of course didn't exist, you had "Shock and Awe" which neither "shocked" nor "awed." Now you have this transition from combat mission over to advise-and-assist mission beginning and the previous points were exactly right. You have 50,000 troops which is a considerable number. They are still having the same equipment they had before. They still have the same armored vehicles. They will still be out on patrol. It's a semantic difference but that's been the case with Iraq from the very beginning. The key difference to my mind is there's no government. The second key difference from what the president said, the president's speech sounded very much like "We are out the door." The feeling within the Pentagon is that this will be renegotiated and that, by the end of next year, there will still be troops there.
Diane Rehm: David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post yesterday that, "One of the mysteries of U.S. policy is why Washington keeps pushing a formula that will allow Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to keep his job (or another top post) at a time when he is rejected by nearly all Iraqi political parties. America's silent ally in this peculiar gambit is Iran. After so much pain, Iraqis deserve better." Youchi?
Youchi Dreazen: There is a very short and simple answer to the first part of the question. It's that American officials have come to like Nouri al-Maliki and to trust him which is remarkable if you remember a memo leaked out a few years ago, which had been written by Stephen Hadley who was then the National Security Advisor for the Bush administration, raising questions about Maliki and making clear that, if you read the memo carefully enough, that he was under some sort of American surveillance because they didn't trust him. Now they do. And the reason why there willing to keep him in power -- even as a caretaker, let alone post as a caretaker -- is that there's a feeling that he's a person you can do business with, a person you can trust and who has some measure of control with the security forces.
Diane Rehm: But how much trust is there, Kevin, that they can finally get a government put together?
Kevin Whitelaw: You know, we've been down this road. Every time there has been one of these elections, there's been a lengthy transition. This one's been even longer than the other ones but all the other ones did result in a government that was able to exercise some amount of control. At this point, it has dragged out even more, it's a sign of how little trust still exists between the parties over there and I think you also have a sense of while, while, there's a lot of Iraqis who are not big fans of Prime Minister Maliki, he's still something of a known entity to them whereas any new member -- any new potential leader , particularly from a different party will be a gamble, a roll of the dice. And so you have a real difficult question there for these Iraqi politicians to decide: Do you go with -- Which guy do you go with? The devil you know? The devil you once knew, which is a former prime minister Ayad Allawi, whose party, whose coalition did well in the election? Or do you bring in yet again somebody else? And then, obviously, all of the political jockeying below that level. It's-it's --
Diane Rehm: And considering all of that, how realistic is it that the US will pull out at the end of 2011?
Adberrahim Foukara: I think militarily they will. My sense is the President Obama will be able to live up to his pledge to get all or most of the military out of - out of Iraq and by the end of 2011. Now what will that remain for the role of the United States in Iraq? I think the role of Iraq in the United States will, in different ways, continue to be very strong, for different reasons. One of them is obviously the fear although [US Vice President] Joe Biden actually trashed it but the fear that the Iranians are playing an increasing role and therefore for the United States to handover, if you will, Iraq to the Iranians or to anybody else, for that matter, in the region, it's not going to happen. Having said that, there's nothing that the United States, I think, they current state of play being what it is in Iraq, there's nothing that the United States can do in Iraq to actually increase its influence beyond what the -- beyond the influence that's actually attributed to-to the Iranians. You have to remember that the United States, the Americans have built a huge embassy, it's probably one of the largest embassies in the world in terms of its physical size and in terms of its staffing and that gives you an indication as to the transformation of the role of the United States in Iraq post-2011. But there's no doubt that the United States has lost influence in Iraq.
Diane Rehm: There is also transformation of opinion about the United States as a result of the war in Iraq. Youchi?
Youchi Dreazen: Well that was something that President Obama tried to address in his speech earlier this week. You know the multiple facets of that, obviously, the war began in tremendous, tremendous controversy which has never really gone away. It was a measure of original sin in many ways. It was seen as illegitimate, it was seen as under false pretenses. In Iraq, you've seen opinion on the United States really vary, almost like on a sign [sound?]wave. There was the initial, what Gen [David] Petraeus referred to as "the man on the moon" feeling of "Hey, US, you put a man on the moon. Why can't you restore our electricity? Why can't you restore our water or our sewage?" Then during the civil war, there was the feeling of the US is at least less of an evil than the Shi'ite death squads or the Sunni death squads. Now again, there's a feeling of -- my Iraqi staff are e-mailing from Iraqi daily, my fromer Iraqi staff when I was at the Wall St. Journal, there's still no power, it's a 125 [degrees] and they have three hours of electricity a day. So there's again the feeling of, 'We know you spent all this money, we know that it enriched a lot of corrupt officials, but why can't you fix these very, very basic issues?' One point on the speech that I thought was very interesting, if you think back to how politicized this war has been from the start -- Did Bush lie? Did Bush tell the truth? Was Saddam containable? Etc. I thought it was remarkable that, on the end, in the speech, that basically was our "We're departing" -- President Obama couched the cost of the war primarily as an economic issue. I mean, in his reasoning for why it's good we're getting out, he paid tribute to the troops, he paid tribute to the sacrifice and then said, 'We need to spend that money here at home.' And I just found it very interesting that a war that began with so much high level debate about honesty and lying and torture and deception and all these grand issues, in the end, comes down to 'we can't afford it.'
The conversation continued. We'll stop there. If Adberrahim Foukara crotch nuzzling of Barack got on your nerves, Marcia's addressing that tonight at her site. Again, FYI, Diane has a new book that was just released today Life With Maxie -- Maxie is her chichuahua and the book's being called a must for dog and pet lovers.

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