The Continuing Story of Iraq

A snapshot from the fighting grunt’s life in Iraq:

Geostrategy and regional politics are other people’s business. At the tactical level, on the ground in their sector in the most violent battle space in Iraq, this Band of Brothers is winning … The 506th’s officers attribute the 75 percent decline in violence on their turf to the retaking of Fallujah, the insurgent stronghold 15 miles away. But after more than a month with them I get the feeling that the fighting has also diminished because of the unit itself: its aggressive tempo, its cultivation of local intelligence. Now the 506th mostly contends with roadside and suicide bombs. Suicide bombers have become the main enemy now that the local insurgency, sapped by severe losses, has stopped fighting head-on.

So writes Radar magazine, whose “Summer” issue (which we believe counts as its third) features an in-depth profile of some of the guys in the Army’s 3rd Platoon of Charlie company of the 1st Battalion of the 506th infantry, serving in the hot zone between Fallujah and Ramadi. It’s well worth a read, if only to catch a glimpse of how soldiers are living (think laptops, Internet porn and video games), eating (think junk food), and dying in a war that still seems very remote to most Americans.

Speaking of the war, The Weekly Standard seems to be starting to lose faith in one of the chief architects of its course to date: Donald Rumsfeld. The Standard’s William Kristol runs a little interference for the president in his latest piece, blaming Rumsfeld and the Pentagon for the recent talk of beginning a slow troop withdrawal soon after Iraq’s August 15 elections — which would be before the “mission is completed,” according to Kristol’s reading of the president’s rhetoric.

Kristol detects a “whiff of weakness and defeatism” in Rummy’s withdrawal talk, writing, “The president knows we have to win this war. If some of his subordinates are trying to find ways to escape from it, he needs to assert control over them, overrule them, or replace them. Having corrected the silly effort by some of his advisers to say the war on terror is not fundamentally a war, he now has to deal with the more serious effort, emanating primarily from the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, to find an excuse not to pursue victory in Iraq.”

Sticking with domestic matters that in some way relate to the war (or, more precisely, the intelligence that led up to it), Michael Wolff deals with the Rove/Plame/Miller fracas in this month’s Vanity Fair (the article isn’t available online). Wolff manages to find a unique approach to the issue, positing the thesis that the New York Times and Time magazine are complicit in the cover-up of the fudging of intelligence in the prelude to war in Iraq — in that they knew Rove was the source of the Plame leak intended to discredit Joe Wilson after he called the administration to account. “Not only did highly placed members of the media and the vaunted news organizations they worked for know it, not only did they sit on what will not improbably be among the biggest stories of the Bush years, they helped cover it up. You could even plausibly say that these organizations became part of a conspiracy — they entered into an understanding that, as a quid pro quo for certain information, they would refuse to provide evidence about a crime possibly having been committed by the president’s closest confidant.”

To Wolff’s mind, newspaper and magazine editors need to ask themselves an elementary question: “To whom do you owe your greatest allegiance: sources or readers?”

As Wolff sees it, by throwing their hand in with anonymous sources up to no good, instead of with readers, several distinguished media outlets let themselves become tongue-tied and thereby muffed an incendiary story that was in the palms of their hands.

“… [T]he greatest news organizations in the land had a story about a potential crime that reached as close as you can get to the president himself and they punted, they swallowed it, they self-dealt” — all to protect a dubious source.

It’s a novel take, but an intriguing one.

Paul McLeary

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.