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