Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Nation v. Weekly Standard on Iraq

Dimitri Simes, the publisher of TNI, likes to say that while people are free to have different opinions, they shouldn't have different facts. But I couldn't help wonder whether or not this is indeed the case, when reading the essays, one by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in the Weekly Standard, the other by Nir Rosen in The Nation.

What is most interesting is not that they disagree and present diametrically opposed pictures, but that, in essence, they attack each other's sources. Rosen does so directly, writing, "Kagan ... speaks no Arabic and was baby-sat for a few days by American soldiers." Rosen groups Kagan with others who "know nothing about Iraq except what they gain second- or third-hand, too often information provided by equally disconnected members of the US military."

Kagan doesn't directly address Rosen's charges, but responds more generally that the less than positive stories about recent events in southern Iraq "come from Iraqi stringers, the usual anonymous Iraqi officials, and, it seems, some Sadrist media outlets. In all previous operations where U.S. forces were present, we have learned that such information is of limited value."

Kagan sees what has happened as further evidence of positive developments; Rosen's picture of Iraq is one where "the proper standard for judging Iraq is the quality of life for Iraqis, and sadly for most, life was better under Saddam."

By the way, do we think that our elected representatives are going to do better at sorting through this?

Meanwhile, the Washington Post quotes an anonymous U.S. military officer in Iraq who gives this summary of the results of what happened in recent days:

While some Iraqi troops "fought well," he wrote in an e-mail, others were "largely ineffective." Up to 1,000 army and police personnel reportedly either deserted or refused to fight. In the National Police, which is known to be sympathetic to Sadr, "hundreds" of officers were fired, ... The most "positive spin I can put on it," the official said, is that "the Iraqi Army didn't cut and run." The Mahdi Army, also known as Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM, "did not prevail. Did the Iraqi Army rout JAM? No."

Accurate summary, or just splitting the difference?

Nick, it is important for you not to fall into any sort of both are right-let's split the difference-the truth is out there-approach. Who is actually on the ground doing reporting should have greater credibility than some pundit.
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