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Punditry before Civility or Substance


Spencer Ackerman at the New Republic gets upset that I criticized an anonymous White House source for suggesting that we would leave Iraq if a full blown civil war started.  Rather than address the issue—the fact that insurgents may misinterpret such statements to ratchet up violence—he decides to get personal. 

I don’t engage in such discourse.  My writings for The New Republic stand, for example, this article exposing Iranian involvement back in 2004. I was roundly criticized at the time by the various partisan bloggers who swore that our friends in Tehran only meant well for us and Iraq.

As for National Security Council staff that serve as unauthorized sources, all you have to do is read George Packer for that.  But to Mr. Ackerman’s point: Many women serve on the NSC.  But, as for the person Mr. Ackerman mentioned, The New Republic profiled her—not very favorably—in the March 26, 2001 issue.  But, again, the problem is not so much the unauthorized comments, but how they’re used abroad.  Whether for the sake of the source’s ego or the favor of a journalist or for policy gain outside formal process, it’s wrong to do something that endangers our men and women under arms.

Chalabi?  It must be nice to have an obsession and a scapegoat. It enables U.S. bureaucracies to avoid tough introspection.  Mr. Ackerman can base his opinions on secondary accounts themselves based on unnamed intelligence sources or the outcome of one-man Jordanian military tribunals.  But, the question I addressed was how Chalabi keeps arising with or without Washington’s blessing and why parties that otherwise won’t talk to each other choose him as opposed to others as their mediator.

Hopefully, after the November elections, the dichotomy won’t be between blindly staying the course or abandoning Iraqis.  The questions to be addressed are multifold. 

  • It’s not enough to have a joint U.S.-Iraq strategy, but we also need to counter our adversary’s strategy.
  • The big question is how to counter the militias.  Diplomacy won’t cut it; our adversaries don’t take our diplomatic red lines seriously anymore.  The question is going after supply lines and advisors, just as we did in Bosnia.
  • Too many pundits lump the defense and interior ministry forces together.  They shouldn’t.  The Defense Ministry is much better trained.  The interior ministry is out-of-control.  Of course the U.S. embeds with MoD at every level, and the interior ministry—where the Shi‘a death squads reside—is left to its own devices.  If we’re serious about ending militia violence, it’s time to turn our attention to the Interior Ministry.  And also to the much-delayed biometric IDs for legitimate security officers.
  • There are other small things we could correct, of course.  It’s unacceptable that when security forces go home on leave (related to their pay period) on average they return with about 1/3 of their kit bag missing.  The terrorists buy these supplies on the black market and use them to better infiltrate.
Anyway, there’s a lot of people working on such things now.  It may be intoxicating for some bloggers to criticize without having to research.  Ad hominem attack shouldn’t substitute for debate.  Outside the Beltway, it just sounds silly.  When it comes to Iraq, it’s just plain dangerous.


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