Blogs > Cliopatria > A Whole Pile of Nutshells

Apr 14, 2006 3:33 pm

A Whole Pile of Nutshells

In the spirit of Manan Ahmed's recent posting on the war in Iraq, I offer this excerpt from George Packer's long article in the April 10 New Yorker:
From Tal Afar, I flew by helicopter to an airfield a few miles north of Tikrit, called Forward Operating Base Speicher. The headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, Speicher is an"enduring FOB" -- one of a handful of gigantic bases around Iraq to which American forces are being pulled back, as smaller bases are handed over to the Iraqi Army. Speicher has an area of twenty-four miles and the appearance of a small, flat, modular Midwestern city; there is a bus system, a cavernous dining hall that serves four flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream, a couple of gyms, and several movie theaters. At least nine thousand soldiers live there, and many of them seemed to leave the base rarely or not at all: they talked about"going out," as if the psychological barrier between them and Iraq had become daunting. After three months on the base, an Army lawyer working on the Iraqi justice system still hadn't visited the Tikrit courts. A civil-affairs major who had been in Iraq since May needed to consult a handbook when I asked him the names of the local tribes...

Much of the activity at an enduring FOB simply involves self-supply. These vast military oases raise the spectre of American permanence in Iraq, but to me, they more acutely suggested American irrelevance.

I've noted before the curious determination of American military forces to make sure there's plenty of ice cream and big screen televisions in the war zone, and I've tried to describe the slipshod nature of our actual, you know, military effort.

Speaking of nutshells: At my own FOB in northern Kuwait, we just got soft serve ice cream machines in the dining facilities, at long last supplementing the six flavors of Baskin-Robbins and the freezer full of assorted ice cream bars. Fascinating to think that someone, somewhere sat in an office, looked at our FOB, and thought: Not enough ice cream, yet.

So to those who wonder about the effect of a near-term American abandonment of the war in Iraq, I offer the suggestion that the American military mostly never made it into the war in the first place. There's a whole lot of motion; there's not much action. It's hard to imagine the eventual success of an effort that so far appears to be focused on getting Baskin-Robbins to the war zone, while the long-present civil affairs officers have to look in the handbook to see who lives in their area of operations. We are watching 160,000 people try to pretend that they're somewhere else, fighting from a growing distance. And for Iraqis the implications of that tactical distance are awfully serious. The increasing (and, I suspect, irreversible) irrelevance of the American military in Iraq is incalculably dangerous for everyone involved.

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Lawrence E Crane - 5/21/2006

Nir Rosen reminds George Bush. He is
also a fundamentalist in his
just like Bush.
Just because everything George Bush
is sure we should do , Nir Rosen
is sure we should have done the
opposite , Rosen is not the opposite
of Bush.
The educated believed ,and have
come to believe even more ,
there never was and never
will be any good understanding
or solutions in Iraq.
Nir Rosen believes , like Bush,
the answers and reasons are simple and obvious.
Let's not trust Rosen. At least
Bush will try to protect us .

Barry DeCicco - 4/16/2006

Chris, perhaps because the facts are anti-administration, which means that the facts are *against* America! Any 'fact-lovers' are islamofascists in disguise.

Chris Bray - 4/16/2006

Mr. Lederer,

So you managed to ignore the substance of the post; you have nothing to say about the excerpt from George Packer's article, nothing to say about my own suggestions, nothing to say about the substance of the discussion in the blog post I linked to that references Nir Rosen. Having ignored all of that, you choose to build an argument around the idea that someone whose work is discussed by someone else in a link in my post is a leftist. After five years of Rovian politics, this is an enormously tired tactic: Ignore the substance of whatever discussion you wish to pollute; find a thread you can pull on somewhere; and make that tangential piece the center, so you can pull that inconsequential thread like it's the foundation of the argument. Did you know you had linked to a left-winger is not a really impressive question, and it reminds me why I regard you as someone who is worth ignoring.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/15/2006

I'd suggest that you don't know to a point of certainty that Rosen's work is unreliable.

John H. Lederer - 4/15/2006

My objection is not that Rosen is of the left, but that he presents distorted information about Iraq. Some leftist reporters strive to report a full sided picture. Rosen does not.

This makes him unreliable, in the same way, that one might balk at a reference to Walter Duranty's writings to support a point about Ukrainian agriculture in the 1930'a..

Mr. Bray is entitled to cite or link whomever he wants. Readers are entitled to infer their own valuation of the reliability of Bray's work based on what he chooses as support. My query was whether Mr. Bray was aware of the unreliability of his source.

Chris Bray - 4/15/2006

What I want to know is, why does Paul Eaton hate America?

Ralph E. Luker - 4/15/2006

You don't bother to notice that Chris linked to a piece by someone else -- not by Rosen. It only quoted Rosen. And now you make this big deal about it. So Rosen is of the left -- so what? If he were simply a pro-Palestinian propagandist, he would not be a friend of Adesnik. Of that you can be sure. You are of the right. Are you a propagandist? Would someone who quoted you need to be interrogated?

John H. Lederer - 4/15/2006

What do you mean "mischaracterizing"?

Rosen has a consistent message about Iraq: The problems in Iraq are caused by American intervention. Without that intervention there would be no animosity between Shiite and Sunni, Iraq would be peaceful. American troops may be decent people but American policy forces them to be brutal and inhuman occupiers and that fans the flames of a justified insurgency..

Alright... that perhaps is an honestly held view on his part, though one that is consistent with that spread by the insurgents.

However, Rosen represents himself as reporter, yet his reporting is selective to support this view. The vignette given in the link -- American soldiers rip member out of family and take unjustified action against "father", "brother" or "son" is, for instance a repeated Rosen theme. It also is a consistent theme in insurgent propaganda.

When a "reporter" begins to systematically provide facts that support the viewpoint of a faction, while ignoring or belittleing contrary facts, that seems to me propaganda.
Rosen, for instance, chaarcterizes the tensions between Sunni and Shiite Arabs as caused by Shiites being U.S. "collaborators" while ignoring other possible causes.

David Adesnick of Oxblog is friends with Rosen . He describes him as:Adesnick also describes him as a "committed journalist" and a "genuine friend and nice guy". But he also states:

"My friend is one of the most hardcore leftists I have ever met. His mission in Baghdad is to document and expose the inner workings of American imperialism. This is the same guy who insisted that the United States bombed Kosovo in order to expand into the Balkan marketplace."

Is it our definitions of propaganda that differ? My assertion that Rosen's theme is the same as one pushed by the insurgents? My characterization of Rosen's work as selectively supporting that view? My implication that Rosen is not a reliable author to link to for a description of the "implications" of tactical distance?

You have said I have mischaracterized the link. How?

Ralph E. Luker - 4/15/2006

This is your excuse for mischaracterizing a link that Chris posted? Does the Ministry of Propaganda have other orders about what may or may not properly be linked?

John H. Lederer - 4/15/2006

I think it is a fair question.

Rosen has enjoyed extraordinary access to insurgent operations on the insurgent side.

The principal argument of the insurgents in 2004-2005 was "If the United States would leave Iraq, Iraq would have peace". That was also Mr. Rosen's principal argument, and still is, though it is difficult to maintain after the insurgency shifted its main target from the US to Iraqi civilians.

According to Rosen the Israeli government has a file " identifying me as pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist and an enemy of the state" I assume that results from his statements such as suggesting the "quixotic" idea of punitive bombing of Tel Aviv till Israel complies with international law.

The title of his new book "In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq," seems to suggest a position.

His writings have a choice of emotion laden words. The contractors killed and dragged through the streets of Fallujah and their charred orpses hung on a bridge were "mercenaries", the mutilation of the corpses a supposed Iraqi "tradition". , the U.S. response, "Stalingrad-like"

Ralph E. Luker - 4/15/2006

I've rechecked the link and your snide question is even worse than I thought. Chris didn't link to something by Nir Rosen but to something by someone who quotes Nir Rosen. Shame on you!

Ralph E. Luker - 4/14/2006

If I may say so, Mr. Lederer, this kind of question ought to be beneath you. Do you question the patriotism of everyone who publishes work with which you disagree? Or only those who publish it within your lifetime?

John H. Lederer - 4/14/2006


Your last link is to Nir Rosen. Do you regard him as a reliable source or as a propagandist for the insurgents?

Oscar Chamberlain - 4/14/2006

This report, which I heard today on "All Things Continued" suggests some willingness to follow Petraeus's model.

While I find it good that more intelligent strategies are being used, this one is labor intensive, and I'm not sure we have the forces there to use it on a widespread basis.

John H. Lederer - 4/14/2006

Here is a much different perspectivein a paper that has veen recommended to company commanders by Gen.Petraeus: