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November 2006 Archives
Fumento interviews on Ramadi and the media - TV, radio, print
By Michael Fumento
C-SPAN's Washington Journal
John Hawkins' Right Wing News
Will the real Ramadi please stand up?
By Michael Fumento
"The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq [Al Anbar Province] or counter al Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report," began a front-page article in yesterday's Washington Post by Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks. It concerned the so-called "Devlin Report," a five-page document allegedly filled with gloom and doom. It contrasts completely with my article Return to Ramadi, in the Nov. 27 Weekly Standard, in which I write that the largest city in the province is slowly being reclaimed from al Qaeda. By coincidence, the day my article hit the stands the Times of London published an extensive article coming to the same conclusion as mine. But for the timing, you'd practically think one of us had plagiarized the other.
It helps to know that the Times writer and I both went to and reported from Ramadi. We didn't summarize classified documents or quote unnamed sources. Linzer and Ricks stayed home and reported from Washington, relying entirely on an unpublished document in addition to quoting a "senior intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity." I have recently ripped the media's "Baghdad Brigade" for pretending it can cover a country the size of California from a single Iraqi city. What does that say about those who think they can cover Al Anbar from Washington?
All of this illustrates a point I and others have desperately tried to make, that you cannot understand the Anbar if you haven't been there. That's why I went three times to the province and twice to Ramadi itself. It wasn't to attend a beerfest. It may also help explain things that Ricks has a recent book declaring the war a "Fiasco," and hence is already inclined towards a pessimistic view. Top-notch milblogger Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail declares, "Military and intelligence sources that I spoke to who have read the [Devlin] report indicate that they largely agree with [it] . . . but not as presented by the Washington Post." (Emphasis his.)
Alas, as much attention as my article has gotten it's hard to compete with a Post A1 article. Further, as Vietnam's Tet Offensive proved, guerrilla wars are as likely to be decided in the media as on the battlefield. It's looking like Iraq will prove no exception.
(Michael Fumento maintains a hybrid website at Fumento.com with blogs from his last two trips to Al Anbar, photos from all three trips, and two major articles from his trip earlier this year. Especially recommended is "The New Band of Brothers," which contains links to much combat video.)
Lots more on that video of attack on OP Hotel in Ramadi
By Michael Fumento
In an earlier blog post, I presented part of a video I got off a laptop in Ramadi showing the 2005 suicide vehicle attack on OP Hotel in the city's Industrial Area. Noting that it was taken from a jihadist propaganda production, I wondered aloud at their depicting it as a great victory over the infidels even though the objective remained intact and only jihadists were killed. None of which deterred a large number of jihadist websites from not just using the link to the video but rather linking to the blog entry as a whole, in which I'm basically calling them buffoons. In fact, it was so popular among terrorists that my host company was forced to take the clip down from its server. So I just gave it a new URL and reposted it, figuring the terrorists were too dumb to see if the link was broken. They were.
I also wondered about its source. Terrorism expert Adam Badder wrote in saying to the best of his knowledge the video had not previously been broadcast on jihadist websites. "Sometimes al Qaeda in Iraq sells VCD/DVDs of some attack videos in the markets of al Anbar and never puts them onto the net so the discs they are selling are exclusive," he said. "This is possibly the case with this video, but after watching it I believe it must have been captured at an al Qaeda media 'studio' by American forces. The reason I say this is even though the music is done and the al Qaeda in Iraq bug is in the top corner there are no opening credits and no ending as the last 2:32 minutes are just black screen."
Then I heard from a Capt. Chas Cannon. "I noticed you have the OP Hotel car bomb attack on your site. That attack was against our Able Company, 2-69 Armor. The initial explosion knocked the entire platoon out cold." He went on: "It was interesting the way we received the video, however. An informant of ours, whom we knew to be playing both sides, was given a copy as part of a recruiting drive by the insurgents. One night on our regularly scheduled meetings, he passed it on over to us. I don't think the insurgents knew that it failed....they just knew it was one helluva explosion." That it was!
Finally (I think finally), I heard from Spc. Scott Ray, who says he was in 3rd Platoon, A Co., 2/69 when the attack hit. "We never shot the driver or the dump truck. He ran into a Jersey barrier. There was another VBIED [vehicle-borne IED] that was suppose to exploit the breach the dump truck left but we guess the driver split. When we were exfiling [departing] after being relieved by our other two platoons we found the driver's body and the cab of the truck on the east side of the hotel, by where we would park the Humvees. We did have one critical wounded, Spc. David Morrow. He had major shrapnel wounds in his left thigh and was unconscious for seven hours. We continued to receive fire for about 20 minutes after the explosion until the first quick relief force showed up. it was a long twenty minutes.
More of the Baghdad Press Corp's Egocentric View of the War
By Michael Fumento
According to CNN, "A U.S. Air Force F-16CG fighter jet crashed at 1:35 p.m. (5:35 a.m. ET) Monday outside Baghdad while making a "strafing run" - firing on targets at a low altitude - an American military official in Baghdad said." Where outside Baghdad? Turns out it was "operating near Fallujah . . . " In other words, it was "outside Baghdad" like Washington, D.C. is outside New York City.
Excessive veneration of the AK-47
By Michael Fumento
In his Washington Post op-ed about the historical impact of the AK-47 automatic rifle, "Weapon of Mass Destruction," (Nov, 26, 2006), Larry Kahaner is overzealous and flatly wrong. He claims that in "several videotapes warning the West about reprisals" Osama bin Laden "is seen with an AK either next to him or propped up in the background. The typical stock footage shows a white-robed bin Laden firing an AK, a symbol to the world that he is a true anti-imperialist fighter." In fact, bin Laden's weapon is an AK-74, which is not the subject of Kahaner's piece and indeed is nowhere mentioned. The AK-74 played absolutely no role in many of the conflicts he describes, including Vietnam, insofar as it didn't go into mass production until 1976. While the AK-47 fires a 7.62 millimeter round, the AK-74 fires a 5.45 millimeter round. Thus while it may look much like the AK-47, it's actually essentially copying not just the round size of the M-16 (5.56) but the characteristics of that round. It could be argued the lineage is closer to that of the American M-16, the value of which Kahaner downplays. The new models of the AK-74 even eschew the AK-47's wooden stock and handguard in favor of black plastic - just like the M-16. Kahaner quotes somebody claiming the AK-47 is "The very best there is," but actually it's so notoriously inaccurate that -- as I've repeatedly witnessed in Iraq -- it's almost universally used in what's called "spray and pray" mode. In other words, depress the trigger until all 30 rounds are fired and hope you hit something. As the Federation of American Scientists notes on its website, "The M16A2 semiautomatic rifle is the standard by which all military rifles of the future will be judged."
[Note: In the original posting I said the AK-47 didn't fire full metal jacket rounds. It normally does. But what's more important is that it was designed to imitate the tumbling effect the M-16 round has when it hits flesh. It's no coincidence that many NATO countries have now adopted the M-16 round.]
Mike on C-SPAN's Washington Journal
By Michael Fumento
And it's with Brian Lamb! It concerns my Ramadi piece in the current Weekly Standard. 9 AM EST on Friday but I think after a few days you can watch it on your computer.
Cover story on Retaking Ramadi in Weekly Standard
By Michael Fumento
I assert that by any measurable standard, including lots of insight you couldn't possibly pick up if you hadn't been there and been there at least twice, we're are making progress in pacifying Iraq's worst city. As Frank Sinatra might have sung: "If we can beat them here, we can beat them anywhere!"
Lots of photos (including my first cover photo) and some neat video. Finally, it has a tribute to Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor, KIA in Ramadi's Mulaab area when he threw himself onto a grenade. I hope it's used as part of a campaign to have him awarded the Medal of Honor.
Fumento photos posted from latest Iraq trip
By Michael Fumento
I hope you'll find these photos interesting, but they aren't particularly numerous or spectacular because circumstances simply didn't lend themselves to it. Probably my would-be best shots got away from me when my camera followed me into an irrigation canal.
And this smaller set is for friends and relatives of men in A and C Companies, 1/506th. Normally these guys can go through a year-long deployment without having a single photo of them taken.
Sig Christenson's (failed) attempt to blame military for embed shortage
By Michael Fumento
Below is an exchange with Sig Christenson and another fellow in which I am castigated for claiming that the lack of embeds in Iraq just may be the fault of something other than the military. Apply Occam's Razor, that the simplest solution is probably the best. We don't have more embeds primarily because journalists don't want to be embedded. (Also, judging by my mail, lots of vets would like to be embeds but have no media outlet to support them.) Embedding is tough on those used to the luxurious American lifestyle and depending on where you go you it can be dangerous. Far easier to just label yourself a war correspondent and work out of the International Zone in Baghdad or a Baghdad hotel, using phones and emails and letting Iraqi stringers do the real work. It still looks great on your resume and you don't have to worry about having shrapnel dug out of your rear end. Note (as I should have in my response, that Christenson admits he was only embedded once in Iraq, back in 2003, and since then has worked out of Baghdad hotels. He is thus a member of the "Baghdad Brigade," of which I have been so critical. As to his references in his online bios about being voted "reporter of the year" by his peers, he means the small group of reporters at his own newspaper. Little wonder that he doesn't specify who his "peers" are.
Mr. Fumento is correct in calling the small number of embeds in Iraq grotesque. But he wrong in saying "the MSM Baghdad press corps," as he refers to the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Cox and the major broadcast networks, among others, "bizarrely believes it can cover a country of 26 million people" by relying on stringers, e-mail and phones. I know a few of those mainstream media people and none of them has ever suggested such a thing. So just where did he come up with this notion? Did Mr. Fumento interview any of those reporters now working on their own in Baghdad?
If so, he ought to share their comments with us to support his case.
It is my belief that the media must do better than the bombing-of-the-day story if Americans are to have any idea of the dimensions of this war in Iraq. That is why MRE is working with other war correspondents and military officers to develop a better embed process. But I take exception to his suggestion that these Baghdad journalists "may as well be back in the States" is idiotic. It implies that they never get out and that they and their Iraqi employees never take risks. Anyone who has worked as a unilateral damned well knows better.
A careful look at my views on the subject of the media's problems with embedding, including a read of my blogs on www.mysanantonio.com, will reveal that I have never placed the blame for the lack of embeds in Iraq solely on the military. There are many factors, particularly the belief among some editors I know that the benefits of reporting on Iraq either as embeds or unilaterals is not worth the risk. Cost is another critical factor. If you work on your own in Baghdad, you now will need a security team and, perhaps, an armored vehicle. While Mr. Fumento underestimates the cost of flying to Kuwait and Jordan by using a Washington-to-Amman/Kuwait flight model (many reporters who might go there live far from National and Dulles), he skips right over the most expensive parts of such a tour for non-embeds.
I'm familiar with those costs because I have run up the bills.
The embed process is laborious, and could be much improved, and the Rhino Runner armored bus to the Green Zone - as the Iraqis have long called it - does indeed run only at night. It ran during the day in July 2004, but did not during my tour last summer. For more on how we got from the airport to the Green Zone because of the Rhino's odd hours, go the San Antonio Express-News' Military City blogs. There's a good story on what photographer Nicole Fruge and I had to do in order to meet the U.S. adviser to Anbar province's governor.
And as to the CPIC identification badge, it was not accepted on numerous occasions at dining halls at Balad Air Base in August and early September. The armed Ugandan guards who control entry to the dining halls consistently refused to allow us in, referring to a large white binder that included all of the badges that were accepted, and then pointing out that ours was not. They were sticklers for the rules in that regard, but in one case a specialist ordered the guard to let us in. Mr. Fumento might have known that if he had called or e-mailed me.
That's the real problem here. In sharing his opinions with us, he failed to do his homework.
His many errors are the only reason I am responding to his column at all.
I've been to Iraq four times and know something of life as both an embed, first with the 3rd Infantry Division during the invasion, and also as a unilateral working out of several hotels in Baghdad. I also know a little something about journalism and the issues there. The next time Mr. Fumento writes a column about me, he ought to do the bare minimum and read some of my work. He might also call me. That would be a good start in offering an informed opinion.
I wish to correct an error in the Fumento story.
"Christenson even insists that once an embed receives his press pass, 'The problem with going through hell to get that card is it won't get you into the KBR dining hall on any forward operating base in Iraq.' Wrong again. That press pass gets you into any chow hall in Iraq."
A press ID most certainly will not grant access to ANY chow hall in Iraq -- KBR or otherwise. The originators comment was about DFACs on the FOBs, and a press pass may very well gain them that access...but only if they're allowed on post. In the north, if you don't have a CAC card, (DoD ID card), then you're not getting past the front door of the main DFAC - all the contractors scurrying about have to make their own arrangements for food (KBR being the exception of course).
However, a lot of KBR "chow halls" (and the best) aren't located on the FOBs and those are the places that the press would love to gain access. The REOs. For two years I watched press personnel try and scheme their way into the main compound in the IZ [International Zone in Baghdad] only to find they had to be under watch 24/7 and even then - no chow hall or accommodation. Now I'm at another location serviced by KBR and again, Press passes aren't acceptable forms of ID to the soldiers at the entrances.
Likely because no one wants the press around. War is the business of kills - for both trooper and contractor alike. The media makes it socially unacceptable to like what you're doing out here.
Anyway, I'm off the soapbox now, but I would like to say that I do very much like the article.
Let's start with this press pass-chow hall thing, which really makes me wonder if we aren't talking about two different Iraqs. I have eaten at chow halls at six different bases and two major Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). Three of the bases were in the north. On my last trip, I forgot my pass at FOB Blue Diamond in Ramadi but it was enough to have a sergeant vouch for me. I did eat at the main compound in the IZ last year by simply flashing my press card - no scheming necessary. I also ate at the Baghdad embassy compound in the IZ and stayed in a transient tent in the IZ before I got credentialed. It should go without saying that you have to be allowed on post to be allowed in the chow hall.
Nor have I heard any other embed I've met in Iraq complain about access to chow. A frequently embedded reporter in Iraq whom I met this last trip, Andrew Lubin, told me the only time he was turned away from a chow hall was because he wasn't wearing a collared shirt. As I write this, I've just received an email from Spc. Jon Hernandez at Camp Victory, near Baghdad's airport. "As a member of a convoy team here in Iraq it is my duty to transport people and equipment around Baghdad and to guard the Dining Facility (DFAC)," he writes. "Our favorite mission is the airport because [the airport road] is indeed safe, and we have never denied a member of the press access to our dining facility - to say otherwise is outright deception."
Regarding Christenson's side of this complaint, he originally wrote: "The problem with going through hell to get that [press] card is it won't get you into the KBR dining hall on any forward operating base in Iraq." (Emphasis mine.) That means nowhere, from nobody, at no time. Now he changes that to "not accepted [from him, that is] on numerous occasions at dining halls at Balad Air Base in August and early September," blaming it on the Ugandan guards. Yes, the Ugandans are a pain in the butt and they've stopped me. I grabbed an officer to vouch for me and in I went. Embeds without that much initiative don't belong in a combat zone.
Mea culpa on not catching that Christenson is no longer MRE president as of a few weeks ago. But since I quoted Christenson's statements from the MRE site, it's rather obvious I did read it.
My "notion" about the MSM Baghdad Brigade was the subject of a 5,000-word article I wrote and to which I linked in the TAS article. It speaks not well of Christenson that he either didn't click it or ignored what he read. I not only made my case separately, but offered the following: "The London Independent's Robert Fisk has written of 'hotel journalism,' while former Washington Post Bureau Chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran has called it 'journalism by remote control.' More damningly, Maggie O'Kane of the British newspaper The Guardian said: 'We no longer know what is going on, but we are pretending we do.'" I also noted the New York Review of Books did a whole article on Baghdad hotel journalism.
Christenson says I "underestimate the cost of flying to Kuwait and Jordan" because I use D.C.-area airports as the starting point. Never mind my noting that he said it cost $2,000 to fly commercial from the States into Baghdad when there are no U.S-Iraq commercial flights. In the event, a one-stop from LAX to Jordan or a two-stop from Christenson's San Antonio are both still less than $1,500 and some fares are below $1,000.
Yes, the Rhino only runs at night. If you get in early and don't catch a helo, it's a long wait. But as with those allegedly monstrous embed applications, again if you haven't got what it takes to put up with this why go to Iraq instead of staying home and eating bon-bons? Sherman was certainly right: War is heck.
Military Unfairly Blamed for Embed Problem
By Michael Fumento
All Americans, whatever their views on the Iraq war, have an interest and a right to know what's really happening there. Embeds provide a unique perspective, going in with the troops themselves rather than trying to cover a country the size of California from hotels in Baghdad. Yet Iraqi embeds have almost become extinct. Some recently have blamed the military for this, but much of the blame actually goes to the media itself. Read about it in my new American Spectator article, "Military Unfairly Blamed for Embed Problem."
Did bin Laden win the election?
By Michael Fumento
In Mark Steyn's new column, "Hyperpower hiatus," he writes "What does it mean when the world's hyperpower, responsible for 40 percent of the planet's military spending, decides it cannot withstand a guerrilla war with historically low casualties against a ragbag of local insurgents and imported terrorists?" Let's be more specific. In the taking of the small island of Iwo Jima in 1945, the subject of a current film, the U.S. suffered almost 7,000 dead in a few weeks. The country had half the population it does now, therefore this was equivalent to 14,000 dead back then. In the Battle of Normandy the U.S. alone lost 29,000 men or today's equivalent of 58,000. In the Iraq conflict to date, fewer than 3,000 Americans have died over a period approaching four years. Therefore, says the new party in power in Congress, we must withdraw soon and with no chance of victory by anybody's definition except, of course, the Islamists'. Thank God we didn't have our present gutlessness during World War II, else the Germans and Japanese would have divided up the world. God help us that such gutlessness has descended upon us today. The Islamists have made it clear that they, too, would like to own the world.
Erin Brockovich loses again
By Michael Fumento
As I've written elsewhere, Erin Brockovich has gotten a reputation for being a genius and a winner because one law firm she worked with, in combination with two of the largest law firms in California, had a huge settlement during non-judicial arbitration with a power company. In fact, she and her late boss Ed Masry often lost cases at the jury level and virtually all they did win were overturned on appeal. Alas, poor Brockovich began to believe her own myth and filed suit against 31 hospitals she claimed were making unfair claims against Medicare. Her one-third share of the winnings in 31 cases would have been quite a coup for her pocketbook. But a federal judge has just tossed out five and indicated the others will be thrown out as well. Why? Simple. Brockovich has no standing since she's not a Medicare participant - and at age 46 won't be one for quite awhile. (Disability also qualifies you for Medicare, but the inability to chew gum and walk at the same time is not considered such under Medicare rules.) The cases were dismissed "with prejudice," meaning they cannot be refiled. Lesson? Once again we see that while Brockovich is terrific at stirring up positive publicity, otherwise she's dumb as the proverbial doorknob. When are those 15 minutes going to end?
Election won't help embryonic stem cell research funding
By Michael Fumento
"Advanced Cell Technology Inc., Geron Corp. and other stem cell companies rallied as Democratic wins in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate raised hope for increased government funding for research," according to the Bloomberg news service. Why is difficult to see. It did quote Leonard Zon, a Harvard University researcher at Children's Hospital in Boston who works with ESCs saying, "This election demonstrates that the majority of Americans want this research to move forward." Fancy that, and you thought the election hinged on such factors as Iraq. You may as well argue that the GOP lost so many seats because Sen. Majority leader and Republican Bill Frist is a strong supporter of increased federal ESC funding. But no, the election wasn't a referendum on ESCs and as it happens the only legislation that Bush has vetoed was one that would let ESC companies feed more at the government trough than they already do. It's doubtful that a pickup of six Senate seats would give an ESC funding bill a veto-proof majority.
Meanwhile, adult stem cells continue to perform the real miracles. Last week a team of scientists at Newcastle University in Britain announced it had grown tiny sections of human liver. These will be used to test drugs so as to avoid the risks associated with testing drugs on humans. Originally, ASCs could only be used to treat cancer and many in the media and ESC research community would have you think that's still all they do. But in recent years they've been used to treat and outright cure numerous diseases and rebuild body organs such as skin, hearts, and livers. Now they've become a method for testing the safety of drugs.
In yet another miracle, blind mice (and more than three of them) achieved normal blood circulation in the retina, had significantly improved retinal tissue, and responded to light after researchers at the Scripps Research Institute treated them with adult bone-marrow-derived stem cells from both mice and humans. The research has implications for future treatment of degenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. True, it's just a future application -- as is every ESC promise we're given. On the other hand, for the last few years persons suffering from limited vision or outright blindness from corneal defects have had their vision restored through corneal stem cell transplants. Pardon the pun, but it's not hard to see why any increase in federal funding for stem cells need to go to the adult variety.
More from hot air activist Frank O'Donnell
By Michael Fumento
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, has responded to my Weekly Standard article "More Hot Air from the EPA" and a shorter version I ran in the Washington Times. He wrote that I took his 1997 words saying talk of regulating lawn mowers was "crazed propaganda" that was "completely out of context, declaring that back then: "The Associated Press noted that the industry-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy [now Freedomworks] 'began airing aggressive television and radio ads hammering home another lobbying theme: that new air standards would curtail the lifestyles of Americans with bans on outdoor barbecues, lawnmowers and fireworks, and set limits on the plowing of farm fields. "At the time," he continued, "I referred to these claims as 'crazed propaganda,' and I was right. Last time I looked, we were still barbecuing, enjoying fireworks and mowing our lawns."
Thanks for digging yourself into a deeper hole, Mr. O'Donnell.
Both the alleged AP story and the source of his quote (a Maine newspaper) are from 1997 and not available on the web, but the only CFSE or Freedomworks references I found to bans regarding these items was a response to an EPA official's statement that "it's theoretically possible that a state could restrict activities like barbecuing to comply with the new federal standards."
To this, Citizens pointed out that commercial barbecues are already outlawed in some southern California communities, "and if jurisdictions don't have enough other sources of particulate matter to reduce, then who's to say barbecues won't be on some bureaucrat's list of banned behavior?"
Who, then, is being quoted out of context?
Indeed, as a result of those then-proposed Clean Air Act Amendments that O'Donnell was defending, the EPA established National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or concentration limits, for two sizes of particulate matter. Multiple violations of these standards can lead to a "nonattainment" designation for an area, with penalties if there is no reduction in overall ambient particulate matter. There was no exemption for barbecues, as indeed lawnmowers have never been exempted from ambient air regulations.
We also know that Southern California had ALREADY begun regulating barbecue briquettes and starter fluid for private barbecues, just as the EPA had already proposed tightening restrictions on lawnmowers. Since then, California has also begun regulating the barbecues on the basis of ODOR!
Farm sources of particulates do include plowing; therefore non-attainment areas have the legal right to put limits on them.
Fireworks, which produce fine particles upon combustion, are therefore also covered under the Ambient Air Quality Standards. Some environmental groups and newspapers have called for an outright ban on them, based strictly on their alleged hazard to breathing.
Lest you ever be tempted to believe the least thing Frank O'Donnell or his "Ban first; ask questions later group," remember their emissions of crazed propaganda.