Last week, I had an opportunity to interview Michael Fumento, who has now been embedded in Iraq three times and has recently returned from a trip to Ramadi. If youre looking for someone in the media with the ground experience in Iraq, you couldnt do much better than Michael Fumento. Now, on to the interview, which has been edited.
Now, Michael, you were just embedded with the troops out in the field in Ramadi. There are not a lot of reporters who do that. Why do you think that is and do you think reporters over there lose perspective if they dont embed?
Yes, its preposterous to think that you can cover a country with 26 million people, the size of California, from a hotel room or from the international zone in a single city. Nobody would try to be a Hollywood reporter from Des Moines, Iowa. What if you turned on the news about some catastrophe, like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans that has been going on a day or so, but the reporter was talking to you from Nome, Alaska? You wouldnt give it much credence and you shouldnt give it much credence. The Baghdad Brigade, as I call it, operating out of these hotels – not only would you think that they dont deserve credence, but time and time again when you look at the stories they write about non-Baghdad areas, you find that theyre wrong.
You dont have to pull a name out of the hat, but give me an example of that.
This is actually quite important. The Los Angeles Times, right after my next to last embed in April, reported that apparently there was another Fallujah style, Operation Phantom Fury (type attack) about to be carried out any day against Ramadi—and it talked about huge numbers of forces being brought up and this and that – and, of course, we now know it never took place. But, the fact is at the time, there were five reporters listed as chief, secondary, and then contributors. Four were Baghdad-based and one was based in Washington, D.C. So, is it a coincidence that they were completely wrong about this? No, not really. If they had someone in Ramadi, they wouldnt have written the story. You cant do these things out of Baghdad and you sure as heck cant do them out of the District of Columbia (laughs).
Now, what do the troops think about the news media? Do they have a good opinion of the media, bad opinion? Do they think the media give people back in America a fair account of what theyre doing?
I have never heard an enlisted man say anything nice about the media, (but) I have heard them say, out of nowhere, "I hate the bleeping media," and Im thinking, where did that come from and I hope it wasnt directed at me (laughs). But, I dont think it was. They were on friendly terms with me by the time they were saying things like that. The "enlisteds" will tell you that the media are doing a very bad job in Iraq. Now, the officers, the higher you get in the ranks, get more and more political. But, the lower officers will also tell you the same thing.
Now (youve been to Ramadi twice). Is the situation there better, worse, improving, going down the tubes? What do you think?
This year, I went to Ramadi twice – once in April and then once in October and there was a discernible improvement in that six month period of time. They give you a briefing with all the statistics that are all very impressive sounding, but, of course, you know theyre self serving as well – and the statistics are impressive – things like going down from 20 attacks a day to 15, again, over a period of six months. But, more than that, my purpose for being there was to observe for myself, to get a second look and compare it to the first – and everything I saw indicated that they were making real progress. Things that people back in the states wouldnt even think about inquiring into ... like convoys. The U.S. owns the night in Iraq. Thats why helos fly almost exclusively at night and, in fact, the first time I went into Ramadi, it was at night, with a huge, heavily armored and heavily armed convoy. That was the situation months ago. This time ... (the convoys I was in) werent particularly big. In fact, one of them was only four vehicles. They were heavily armored, but very, very, very lightly armed with nothing more than 50 "cals." And one of the trips, believe it or not, was in broad daylight. My God, to think about a broad daylight entrance into Ramadi down Route Michigan six months ago, people would have thought you were crazy. You would have gotten a discharge from the military for suggesting it. Now its routine.
Youve been to Iraq (three times) now. Youve been embedded with the troops. Youve been shot at. So, youve got some on-the-ground perspective. What do you think the way forward over there is? Should we go big, go long, go home, something else?
Ideally, we would go long and go big. Lets start with going long. A lot of Americans by this point have seen the movie or read the book, or both in my case, Flags of our Fathers. Maybe that movie will help remind them of what has been forgotten about the last good war. Here we were, wed already defeated Germany. D-Day was past us. All that was left was basically the main island of Japan itself and yet, Roosevelt felt like he was in dire straits because the public was tired of the war. This is the good war, wed already defeated the Nazis and yet, we were having [to go] through these incredible efforts to get people to buy war bonds and what have you. They were losing interest after three-and-one-half years. ... Moreover, Iraq is, of course, a guerilla war. Guerilla wars take on average about 10 years to win. How anybody can judge the war [at this point] is simply beyond me. Weve got to be in it for the long haul.
Is there anything else youd like to promote or add to that, Michael?
Well, I think its important after having said this about the length of guerilla wars in general is what youve got to look at is the trends, and ... from what Ive seen in the most insurgent heavy city in all of Iraq, those trends are all positive. We are retaking Ramadi. The Washington Post recently said were doing well in Tal Afar, right up against the Syrian border. Were doing well in Fallujah. We are, I absolutely believe that we are winning the ... war, which was our first objective. The problems lately have come from the militias and sectarian fighting and we have to get our hands around that as well. But, our first objectives, our military objectives are being met and I think our secondary objectives can be met as well. But, we have to give it time. Six months is not "time."
Michael Fumento is a veteran of the 27th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne) and has been embedded three times in the western Iraqi region of Al Anbar. Read Michael Fumentos additional writing on the military, on Iraq, and on the media, and view his Spring 2006 Iraq photos from both the Fallujahh area and Ramadi, his Fall 2006 Ramadi photos and personal photos. View his 2005 Iraq photos.