October 29, 2007

Hey, wait a minute, part 2: Michael Yon

Michael Yon, today:

"Iraq is looking better month by month. But at the current rate, surely we shall fail in Afghanistan."

Michael Yon, very close to a year ago:

"Mark this on your calendar: Spring of 2007 will be a bloodbath in Afghanistan for NATO forces. Our British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, and other allies will be slaughtered in Afghanistan if they dare step off base in the southern provinces, and nobody is screaming at the tops of their media-lungs about the impending disaster. I would not be surprised to see a NATO base overrun in Afghanistan in 2007 with all the soldiers killed or captured. And when it happens, how many will claim they had no idea it was so bad and blame the media for failing to raise the alarm? Here it is: WARNING! Troops in Afghanistan are facing slaughter in 2007!"

All this was wrong, of course, and thankfully so. With the season winding down, there have been 155 NATO combat fatalities to date in Afghanistan in 2007, up from 130 last year. In Regional Command-South, which Yon was referring to, the number has gone up from 83 to 91 with two historically fairly quiet months to go, but that's entirely due to one province, Helmand, where fatalities went from 30 to 50. In all the other southern provinces, combat fatalities (so far, knock on wood) are down so far from last year, with Kandahar province, where the Canadians have the lead, falling from 38 NATO KIA in 2006 to 29 so far this year. Not miraculous, but not disastrous, either.

The number of NATO KIAs in 2007, broken out by NATO regional command, actually looks like this, with the difference from last year given in parentheses (all stats derived from icasualties.org):

RC South: 91 (+8)
RC East: 48 (+10)
RC West: 6 (+5)
RC North: 4 (+4)
Kabul: 6 (-2)

As one can see, the year has been more violent throughout Afghanistan for NATO (although to be fair many provinces still haven't seen a single NATO fatality), but in absolute terms the increase is at least as due to increased fighting in the American-run RC-East as it is to the fight in the south. Hmm. Wonder if anyone predicted that?

It would be nice if Yon first acknowledged that he hasn't been batting 1.000 so far in his reading of the war-that-isn't-Iraq, before making any new predictions about it.

Posted by BruceR at 03:50 PM

Entry #2000 -- Hey, wait a minute: Glenn Greenwald

Well, this is the 2000th entry on this space since I rebuilt it in late 2001. Yes, there probably should have been more.

I was reading the latest spin on the Shock Troops affair, which involves Salon's Glenn Greenwald going a little ballistic over an email he received from a U.S. army public affairs colonel in Iraq, and that colonel's subsequent curious denial of authorship.

Now, it's fair to say Col. Boylan probably needs a break from his job. It's like when I was the editor of a small town newspaper, and the two staff reporters and I split up the local municipal councils. Which were all fairly boring affairs, and the reporter was often the only person in the audience. So I stayed with this one council for nearly a year, by which point I had a pretty good idea who the smarter ones and dimmer ones on the council, until one night at a public meeting I actually... well, let's just say I heckled the council. I'm really sorry about that, by the way, but they were really being stupid that night.

So the next day I came into the office, and switched all the beat assignments around. In like vein, it's about time Col. Boylan switched jobs with someone.

All that said, one specific accusations in Greenwald's original piece, repeated again in the followup, rang hollow to me: the argument that Col. Boylan is treating right-wing bloggers more respectfully, based on this interchange.

Look, these are quite obviously two paragraphs from a Media Response Lines document, drafted and internally circulated by a public affairs officer to help prepare their spokesmen. We know this, because exactly the same words were used by another army spokesman around the same time. Having written them myself for both army and civilian employers, it was quite obvious to me these were MRLs. Col. Boylan evidently cut and pasted them into an email and sent them off. By itself, the act shows neither privilege nor favour on Boylan's part: more laziness than anything else.

This whole Beauchamp affair has been a huge waste of a lot of people's time (which mischievous faux anonymous "whistle blowers" frequently are, which is why the press needs to treat them much more skeptically than TNR did). With prominent bloggers like Andrew Sullivan now basically demanding that the army prove a negative, any reason has long left this debate. One can understand the increasing frustration by the army public affairs team on this one. Still, I'm not sure suggesting someone's impersonating him in email (sock puppet by proxy?) is Col. Boylan's best course of action here.

More criticism of the original Greenwald piece below the fold...

As for Greenwald, his initial post really was weakly sourced, and Col. Boylan's rejoinder email did point out some serious distortions. Salon really could have exercised a little more editorial control on this one.

Greenwald: "Throughout this year, the U.S. military in Iraq has become staffed with pure Republican political hacks -- including long-time Bush/Cheney P.R. hack Steve Schmidt..."

Col. Boylan's response: "Schmidt was here, but at the time for the vote on the Iraqi Constitution, October 2005 for 30 days. He was never on the MNF-I staff and for that short period was actually detailed to the Department of State. He hasn't been back since."

Now, obviously October two years ago is not this year, and the state department is not the military. Citing a vague reference from a Hugh Hewitt transcript is not particularly good evidence for... well, anything, really, and Greenwald should have done better.

Greenwald: "...feeding supposedly secret and classified documents to Matt Drudge."

Col. Boylan: "For the third matter concerning the Beauchamp investigation and the documents that were leaked - it is very unfortunate that they were - but the documents are not secret or classified. So, there is your third major error in fact."

Words have meanings. "Classification" has a specific meaning in the military, relating to documents the release of which would be potentially damaging to the security of the nation or its forces. There are various levels of classification, like "secret" and "top secret." Documents can also have restrictions on their distribution for other reasons, such as respecting the personal privacy of soldiers named in them. These documents are normally called "protected," not "classified." It's undoubtedly true that any Beauchamp investigation documents would be restricted-access, but neither "classified" nor "secret" in the textbook definitions of those terms. So Greenwald's wrong on this one, too, something he doesn't even make note of in his recent screed. Still he does get points for posting Boylan's full email, so people can see for themselves that, on the facts, Boylan's mostly right here, albeit intemperate.

Posted by BruceR at 11:17 AM

October 25, 2007

Shock Troops update: Foer (unintelligible) vs "the next Hemingway"

Well, the truth is out in the Shock Troops story, covered previously here, here, and here.

As I said before, the real story here wasn't the accuracy of the claims of writer soldier Scott Beauchamp, it was the truly shoddy irresponsibility of his magazine, The New Republic, under editor Franklin Foer. I encourage you to read the linked transcripts, which are a highly entertaining comeuppance.

That said, saying that Beauchamp still didn't recant, as Foer does here, and Publius at Obsidian Wings repeats here (as does Kevin Drum here) is pretty much the equivalent of that scene Homer Simpson running down the hill after the roast pig, shouting "It's still good, it's still good!"

Look, I'm sympathetic with the larger cause, really, but sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. Just as with the Rathergate memos, it's time to walk away now, people. Once again, a major media outlet screwed up on some basic journalistic integrity issues, and they got caught by bloggers. It happens. Defending Beauchamp's claims, or his editors' integrity in this matter any further now, will only diminish the defenders.

As for Beauchamp, it's really hard to destroy two careers at one stroke, but he seems to have done it. More shame on TNR, which was the only agency that could have prevented the young man's self-immolation here.

One last thing: anyone who thinks Beauchamp has been intimidated by the army really should read the transcript, which shows pretty graphically that Foer wasn't above doing a fair bit of intimidating himself. Choice quotes (and the U.S. army's highly credible final verdict on the issue) below the fold:

From the Sept. 6 telephone transcript:

TNR executive editor Peter Scoblic: Ah... you're not going to be able to write anymore after this... you know that, right?

Beauchamp: I...I mean, I don't really care at this point. That's not... that's not... basically what I'm saying is that's not what is important to me...

Franklin Foer: (unintelligible)

Beauchamp: What's important to me...

Foer: (Unintelligible). You could have told us this a month ago and ah... you know -- saved us... basically a lot of heartache and pain.


Foer: Okay, I (unintelligible). Basically we need some sort of sign in good faith on your part and that would be the bare minimum at this point to prevent us from fully retracting.

Scoblic: I mean, let me ask you Scott -- do you care if we fully retract not only this piece, but the previous ones?

Beauchamp: Right now, like I said before all I really care about is the job I'm doing here. I really don't care about the media at all at this point. I'm sorry...


Foer: Okay, I don't think we have anything else to say. But if you could get us the sworn statements, that would be the one thing that could ah... delay us passing any judgment, but otherwise I think we have to publish that we can't stand by your story.

Beauchamp: As long as you include that, um... I mean - I'm not, I don't want... Basically I'm not saying anything about the stories to anyone anymore.


Foer: Ellie (Beauchamp's wife, a TNR employee) sent me an email to tell you that it's the most important thing in the world for her that you say that you didn't recant.

Beauchamp: To say what?


Beauchamp: I'm sorry if it's personally... if it hurts you or hurts my wife, which I know it will, then I'm really sorry. But, if I've learned anything from this, it's that this is her area and I'll stick to my area and things will be a lot better for both of us.


From findings of the investigation conducted by battalion executive officer (2nd-in-command) Maj. John D. Cross:

b. That the incident of blatant disrespect for a disfigured woman in the FOB Falcon DFAC is a tale completely fabricated by Private Beauchamp. See Exhibits T-Y....

e. That Private Beauchamp desired to use his experiences to enhance his writing and provide legitimacy to his work possibly becoming the next Hemingway (Exhibits C-4 & D)...

h. That Private Beauchamp is not a credible source for making the allegations he wrote about in "Shock Troops" (Exhibit A). He admitted that he was not an eyewitness to the targeting of dogs and only saw animal bones during the contruction of Combat Outpost Ellis (Exhibit E). Combined with the piece of fiction that he wrote on 8 May 2006 on his Blog (Exhibit EC-4), I find that Private Beauchamp takes small bits of truth and twists and exaggerates them into fictional accounts that he puts forth as the whole truth for public consumption.

(At which point, he takes a nice packet of money from TNR for them, they having been of course, first "rigorously edited and fact checked", as Foer put it. -ed)

UPDATES: Nice zinger from John McCain.

James Robbins is spot on on this one, too. What was really striking to me about the transcript was the complete self-interest Foer and Scoblic show in talking with a Private in an austere combat zone. Can he fax his signature to his lawyer right away? Can he call his U.S. based lawyer within the hour? Look, I have trouble doing those sorts of things on demand from my office HERE IN TORONTO. To blithely assume that a private at a combat outpost in a warzone can easily do those things for them (instead of, you know, his job with the fighting and the shooting and the glavin) and that the infrastructure that would be needed to support that, assuming it exists, exists purely for their benefit, just typifies the whole TNR mindset during this whole episode to me.

Posted by BruceR at 11:31 AM

October 15, 2007

Every now and then, they impress you

It's easy to criticize the press, so it's worthwhile pointing out when they do something right. The Globe and Mail was the only Western outlet I could find that did a story on the (peaceful) passing away of Mullah Naqib of Kandahar this weekend. Given his prominence, it's probably the most significant political event to happen in southern Afghanistan in at least a week: to run with it even though no one else was running with you showed excellent news judgment.

(Where have you heard of Naqib before? He was the pro-Karzai warlord who Stephen Harper was accused of shaking hands with last year.)

Posted by BruceR at 06:03 PM

October 11, 2007

McArdle on Clinton: not quite far enough

I think this observation is exactly on, but I'd extend the generalized across-the-border observation of "WTF?" to both parties' presumptive candidates (Giuliani and Clinton).

Both American parties seem bound and determined this time to nominate the candidate anyone outside their hardcore bases is certain to hate the MOST. The amusing thing is, they probably cancel each other out in that respect: they can't both lose, even if, running against anybody else half-serious, they'd be almost certainly unelectable.

Posted by BruceR at 05:45 PM

October 10, 2007

Ontario votes: last thoughts on MMP

After a lot of reflection and discussion, I really have to say I'm no longer comfortable with the Mixed-Member Proportional proposal for electing the Ontario legislature that's going to referendum today.

I think the whole thing is a bit of an overreach, frankly. The Opposition Leader's public defection this week is baffling to me: there's no way this proposal should haveever gone to referendum without being modified to the point where it would have the total, unconditional support of both the Opposition members of the House (the government party having obviously to stay steadfastly neutral on a referendum question). That's the problem with Citizens' Assemblies, of course... it's all or nothing for them, so they tend to try and solve everything with one go and roll the dice, rather than settle for a brokered solution.

And a simpler MMP proposal would certainly have passed, given the current discontent with politics. They could have said that the number of riding MPPs should be knocked down to 90, and have 20 members elected on a proportional province-wide basis (5% of the popular vote = 1 seat) and the idea would likely have had nearly everyone's support. Sure, it would only have made the legislature somewhat more proportional than it is now, but if it worked the numbers could have been easily adjusted by subsequent legislation.

Proponents of the proposal have been blaming the media, the government, etc. for poor promotion, but they haven't been exactly straight-up about some things either. Some have argued that the proposal will allow parties to "fill their hands" to represent the underrepresented (visible minorities, women, Northerners). Clearly that's completely orthogonal to their other promise, that parties would have to publish their list of selectees in advance of the election, since the parties would need the election results to tell what needed filling. Either you get backfills, or you get published party lists; you can't have both.

Now, assuming MMP fails with the voters today (as I now believe it should) it's going to be another 20 years before we go back down this road, I'm afraid.

Not that a victory for MMP would be a disaster, in all likelihood. In all Ontario's history, a fourth party has only met the minimum threshold defined in the current proposal of 3% of the popular vote twice: in 1919 and 1923, two elections when the emerging social democrat vote that would ultimately coalesce in the CCF and then NDP was split between the stronger United Farmers of Ontario, and the weaker Labour Party: it's a good question whether MMP back then would have given socialism a larger say in the pre-Depression years, or whether it just would have discouraged social democrats from merging under a single banner. Other close runner-ups would be Frank de Jong's Green Party in the last election (2.8%), and the pro-life Family Coalition Party in 1990 (2.7%).

Posted by BruceR at 02:45 PM

October 05, 2007

Actually a pretty good idea

I'm totally tracking Nate DiMeo on the best way to save the NHL.

Posted by BruceR at 03:49 PM

October 04, 2007

Moody Blues: "Your Wildest Dreams"

I'd forgotten how good this video was. Ah, 1986. Great sequel video, too.

Posted by BruceR at 04:49 PM

October 03, 2007

Hard-to-find books I'm looking for

Just in case anyone's wondering what to buy me for Christmas this year (you know who you are), I'm going to keep this post updated as my current hard-to-find book shopping list:

Guy Murchie, Song of the Sky (1954)
T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935)
Garnet Wolseley, Soldier's Pocket-book for Field Service (1869)
Hans Delbruck, Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der politischen Geschichte (History of the Art of War), vols 2 through 4 (1920; trans. by Walter Renfroe jr., 1990)

As a total aside, on the list of historical fathers I really respect, old Hans Delbruck must rank high. A Rankeian, iconoclastic revisionist who turned German military history in the interwar period upside down, he still had time to raise one Nobel laureate (Max), and two leading members of the tragic and futile anti-Nazi resistance movement within Germany (Justus and his sister Emmi, later Emmi Bonhoeffer). Would we could all do so well.

Posted by BruceR at 03:12 PM

Okay, they've convinced me

Okay, okay, Andrew Coyne, you've beaten me down. Please stop with the Mixed-Member Proportional columns. I'll vote for it.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservative climbdown on religious school funding (which I don't necessarily oppose, as I understand it is an appeal to fairness: I just think it's a step in the wrong historical direction) has, in fact, made me somewhat more inclined to voting for them. It's not that the McGuinty Liberals have done a horrible job, and they've certainly done far better for Ontario in their term than the Conservative government they replaced would have done, but I really find their non-position on the whole Caledonia land claims issue unsupportable. Still, if the Tory Tories lose (and they probably will now) it's not an epic disaster for the province by any stretch.

UPDATE: Re the MMP referendum, the Globe makes a pretty good argument on the Con side in its editorial today.

Posted by BruceR at 10:39 AM