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The MSM Was Right.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

Funny, he doesn't look Jewish.

Rich Lowry of National Review Online, no less, goes all heretical:

First Lady Laura Bush spoke for many conservatives when she excoriated the media’s coverage of Iraq the other day. She complained that “the drumbeat in the country from the media ... is discouraging,” and said “there are a lot of good things happening that aren’t covered.”

What are those things, one wonders? One can only imagine how Mrs. Bush can figure that they outweigh the horrors in Iraq. The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that more than 1.6 million Iraqis have fled the country, about 7 percent of the population. But that means that an overwhelming 93 percent haven’t left. Why doesn’t the liberal media ever report that? About 120 Iraqis are killed per day, nearly 4,000 a month. But most are still living. Couldn’t one of the morning shows do a soft feature on this heartwarming fact?

The conservative campaign against the mainstream media has scored notable successes. It exposed Dan Rather’s forged National Guard memo and jumped all over Newsweek’s absurd report of a Koran-flushing incident at Guantanamo Bay. The mainstream media is biased, arrogant, prone to stultifying group-think and much more fallible than its exalted self-image allows it to admit. It also, however, can be right, and this is most confounding to conservatives.

In Iraq, the media’s biases happen to fit the circumstances. Being primed to consider any military conflict a quagmire and another Vietnam is a drawback when covering a successful U.S. military intervention, but not necessarily in Iraq. Most of the pessimistic warnings from the mainstream media have turned out to be right — that the initial invasion would be the easy part, that seeming turning points (the capture of Saddam, the elections, the killing of Zarqawi) were illusory, that the country was dissolving into a civil war.

Partly because he felt it necessary to counteract the pessimism of the media, President Bush accentuated the positive for far too long. Bush allowed himself to be cornered by his media critics. They wanted him to admit mistakes, so for the longest time, he would admit none. They wanted him to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, so for too long he kept him on. They wanted him to abandon “stay the course,” so he stuck to it. In so doing, he eroded his own credibility and delayed making the major strategic readjustment he needed to try to check the downward slide in Iraq.

The “good news” that conservatives have accused the media of not reporting has generally been pretty weak. The Iraqi elections were indeed major accomplishments. But the opening of schools and hospitals is not particularly newsworthy, at least not compared with American casualties and with sectarian attacks meant to bring Iraq down around everyone’s heads in a full-scale civil war. An old conservative chestnut has it that only four of Iraq’s 18 provinces are beset by violence. True, but those provinces include 40 percent of the population, as well as the capital city, where the battle over the country’s future is being waged.

In their distrust of the mainstream media, their defensiveness over President Bush and the war, and their understandable urge to buck up the nation’s will, many conservatives lost touch with reality on Iraq. They thought that they were contributing to our success, but they were only helping to forestall a cold look at conditions there and the change in strategy and tactics that would be dictated by it.
(My bolds.)

Good boy, Rich, and only three years and a few months late.

The MSM was right, the rightwing echo chamber was wrong. Thus speaks the guy who once wrote a National Review cover story headlined, "We're Winning!" And, according to Lowry, he and his confreres were not just wrong, but wrong with a persistance that actively contributed to the mess in Iraq. Defeat looms in part because knee-jerk critics of the MSM simply would not or could not take off the blinders and see the truth.

I've done plenty of I told you so's on this already, so I'll confine myself to a single, "duh."

The fact that Iraq was handled incompetently is not something that only became clear last week. It has been clear for years. Years. Three of them. Almost four now. For all that time it has been obvious that we screwed up right from the start. Obvious. Right out there in the open for all to see. It wasn't the Fermat's last theorem of geopolitics.

"If you're asking me if I can defend the competence of the occupation so far, I don't think anyone can defend the incompetence of the occupation so far. But we just got there. Give it a while. Let's see." That's me, on videotape, in France, responding to a question about the ocupation from a Frenchman who foretold that it would be, "A nightmare." First week of May, 2003.

It wasn't hard to see -- from the beginning -- that the occupation was a mess. But of course I was wrong: there were plenty of people who could defend it nevertheless. And defend it. And defend it. And attack anyone who didn't defend it.

Why was it so hard for people to see what was right in front of their face? I wrote about one reason below: they were looking in the wrong direction, paying attention to side issues and not to the central question of whether we had brought enough power to bear.

But you have to add to this strategic myopia a prejudice against the so-called mainstream media that has turned the MSM into a modern version of the Jew: everyone's default scapegoat. Did the war go badly for you, Kaiser? Blame the Jew, er, the MSM.

The MSM: they mix the blood of gentile children with their matzoh. That's why the beet crop failed and your cow gave birth to a two-headed calf.

This is not to suggest that the media, like every human institution, is not fallible. They are often lazy, often stupid, and almost always move with the careful judgment of a herd of panicked wildebeest. But you cannot get at the truth if you start with the assumption that the truth must be the opposite of whatever the MSM claims it is. You cannot reverse-engineer the truth by assuming that everything Brian Williams says is wrong.

First, ask the right questions. In this case: did we bring enough power to bear to accomplish a very difficult task? Did we match means to goals? Did our plans make any sense? Then, having figured out the right questions, look at the information you have without regard to your preferences or your prejudices. See what's actually there, not what you think ought to be there. And not what you want to be there. And not what would most irritate your brother-in-law.

The irony here is that the critics of the MSM, who rail endlessly at the media's lack of "objectivity," and claim that the media views everything through a hazy mist of prejudices, could not see what was right in front of their noses because they themselves viewed everything through a hazy mist of their own prejudices.

Oh, well. We've all learned a valuable lesson in epistemology. Thank God nothing really terrible happened as a result.

(H/T: Dailykos.)

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Something Not Stupid.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

So . . . smaller boat?

It's about goddamned time.

WASHINGTON - President Bush said he plans to increase the overall size of the U.S. military because of its worldwide campaign against terrorism, saying he agreed with complaints that the armed forces are stretched too thin.

Three plus years of rational critics of this war suggesting, then begging and finally screaming that we needed more men not fewer, more force not less, a bigger Army and Marine Corps not smaller ones. And being denounced by smug Rumsfeldian nitwits for being impatient, ignorant, panicky and treasonous and finally, finally, fi-nal-ly the jackass in the White House decides it might be time to get a bigger army.

Well, what do you know? Rummy barely clears the Pentagon parking lot and suddenly, as though, say, the lithium finally kicked in, the President snaps back to reality long enough to say, "Holy Christ I'm losing two wars. Maybe . . . maybe, just putting the idea out there . . . maybe, I need a bigger goddamned army."

Well, better too fucking late than never, I always say.

No details yet, so maybe it's just a sop. Maybe it will amount to nothing. Maybe it's just another stupid Rovian trap for Democrats. Who the hell knows with these idiots. But for now, for this moment -- mark it on your calenders -- George W. Bush may actually be doing something right.

Feel free to gasp.

And while we're at it, let's note the fact that what I've been saying since about a month after "Stuff happens," to whit that we needed more not less -- and what does it tell you about the geniuses out there in the President's cheering section that this is actually an insight? -- is now White House doctrine.

Keeping score at home? The new-army Rumsfeldians: Zero. Me: One. Them wrong, me right. Them: learned, sober, firm-chinned men of prodigious upper-lip-stiffness who write in ponderous, magisterial tones replete with references to the Entente Cordiale and sneer as I run around with my hair on fire. Me: a kids book writer who made his money writing, "Rrowwrr!".

Does it not scare you just a bit that the kid's book hack got it, and the Krauthammer-manque crowd didn't? Isn't that just disturbing?

Yes, George, we need a bigger army. Yes, more is better than less. And if you're fighting several wars at once a BIG army is better than a tiny army. And more money is better than less, and healthy is better than sick, and the sky is blue. So many things to learn, George.

Okay. Bigger army. Now. Where the hell are you going to get one? Because honest-to-God I cannot imagine what would convince a man to risk his life to get a piece of this cosmic fuck up. This is like enlisting in 1970 when all you were going to get was your name on a sad black wall and no glory.

But, then, there are better young men (and women) out there than I ever pretended to be. I'm free to be a snarky, cynical know-it-all because there have always been better men than me ready to ensure my freedom. Maybe there will be enough to make this happen.

For the first time in not quite four years we're doing something useful. Don't get me wrong: it won't salvage the situation in Iraq. But at least it's not a completely stupid thing to do. And that's progress.

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Bringing The Power.

Monday, December 18, 2006 by Michael Reynolds


Clever people like clever solutions.

Want to know why so many smart people have been so wrong for so long on the Iraq war? Because clever people like clever solutions.

It all goes back to nerds and bullies. Nerds know one thing: bullies are scary. And they believe another thing: that intellect will trump brute force. They're right, of course. They're right that brutes are scary, and they're right that intellect is more powerful than simple thugishness. And starting from those two truths they drive the car right into a brick wall.

At sites like Winds of Change, Done With Mirrors and Stubborn Facts, very smart writers (guys I like) have spent three years missing the point. What is the point? Power. That's the point. I'll explain. Stay with me here.

The grown-up nerds (I am one, so I write from love) gaze back at their childhood and see themselves on that long ago playground carefully sidestepping the bully, snarking at the bully from behind the bully's back, scoring rhetorical points off the bully, and yet angry at themselves for cringing. As adults now they see that the bully wasn't ten feet tall. They wish they had stood up to the bully. If only they'd stood up to the bully. If only all the nerds had stood up to the bully together.

From this, I am convinced, derives the belief that war is primarily a matter of will.

It's not.

The grown-up nerds -- now all respected professionals -- have seen for themselves the triumph of intellect. The bully who terrorized them now installs multi-head showers in the master bathroom of the nerd's five bedroom colonial. The bully now adjusts the suspension on the nerd's Audi. The nerd is victorious.

And this proves the superiority of thought and idea -- cleverness -- over mere action. From this we get Rumsfeld Syndrome: the idea that war is a sort of intellectual puzzle, an engineering problem not much different than designing software. We're told that war is no longer about obliterating large numbers of enemies, no, no, it's a much more subtle business. Throw out the bully's bludgeon and replace it with the nerd's scalpel. We won't murder the enemy, we'll outwit him.

It's all a kids' book. In chapter one we see Sensitive Lad losing his lunch money to Thuggish Boy. In the last few chapters we see that Sensitive Lad has found a brilliant way to humiliate Thuggish Boy and demonstrate his own superiority. This usually involves manipulation of adults, or some clever machinery, or uniting all the nerds, or hacking a computer.

Hell, I probably wrote some of that myself.

So, the grown up nerd goes to war (or sends the bully) with these two notions firmly in his head: Will and Idea. (Tres Schopenhauer.) If we all stand together and refuse to flinch in the face of the bully, and we apply our clever, clever brains to the problem, we will prevail.

Let me explain why this is bullshit. Remember the first Indiana Jones movie? Remember when the bad guy jumps out waving his scimitar impressively, ready to cut poor Indie all to pieces? Remember how funny it was when Indiana Jones pulled his revolver and shot the guy?

War isn't a test of wills, it's a test of power. Go ahead: stand up against the bully. If you have a sword and he has a gun, you lose. Now, get all the nerds to stand up together against the bully. If you have swords and he has a machine gun, the bully still wins. Ask any poor dumb bastard who ever climbed out of a trench in Flanders and went bravely up against a German machine gun. It's not about will. It's about power. It's always about power. That's the test in war: who brought the power?

President Lincoln's great military insight was to recognize very early on that the Civil War would be a test of raw power. (It took the military a while to figure it out.) He knew he had more men, more guns, more cannon and more money. The South fought brilliantly and very bravely. They were the nerds in our scenario: bold, united, clever and doomed to lose. Why? Power. The North had more of it than they did. Who was braver? Probably the Confederates who often fought with inferior numbers and occasionally without food or boots. Who was smarter? No one was a smarter general than Robert E. Lee. And again: who won?

The other great iconic American war is World War Two. Were we braver and more determined than the Japanese? No one was ever braver or more determined than the Japanese. They're the gold standard for brave and determined. And who won? We did. Why? Because just less than three years after Japan sank our fleet at Pearl Harbor we were able to park 1,300 ships off Okinawa. We had a ship for every 75 Japanese soldiers.

Now, I'm not dismissing the necessity of courage in war. But courage is mostly a given, on all sides of a war. We were brave, but so were the Brits in 1776 and 1812, and so were the Mexicans in 1846, and the Confederates less than two decades later, and the Spaniards in 1898, and the Germans both times, and the Japanese, and the Koreans and Chinese and the Vietnamese.

We win wars when we bring the power. And the only really important use for intellect is in finding ways to bring the power: tank design in WW1, industrial production and nuclear physics in WW2, night-vision equipment and pilotless aircraft today

So. Let's go back to nerds and bullies on the playground. Standing up to the bully just gets you a beating. Hacking the bully's computer gets you a beating. Showing the whole school how much more clever you are than the bully gets you a beating. You know what doesn't get you a beating? Sneaking up behind the bully with a baseball bat and beating him so badly he's on crutches for the rest of the year.

Power. Force. Violence.

Would that it were not so. Yes, war sucks.

Why are we losing in Iraq? Because we didn't bring the power.

It's not that we aren't united. It's not that we had the "wrong" configuration of troops as opposed to the exactly "right" configuration. It's not that reporters don't like the war. It's not that the American people are weak sisters. It's not that the Iraqis are some especially tough case.

We didn't bring the power. Oh, we have the power. But we didn't bring it.

Now, belatedly, after three years of trying to convince us that we were winning, the nerds have begun to admit what has been obvious since "Stuff happens." They admit that we're having problems in Iraq. And along with the grudging admission that we aren't exactly winning, comes the sneaking concession that what they have angrily denied for three years was necessary, has beecome necessary: more power. Now the Rumsfeldians admit, we may just need more men. Say . . . 20,000 more. Just for Baghdad.

Well, too fucking late.

We didn't bring the power. The enemy had home field advantage which means they can fight a guerilla war. The enemy had the inherent advantage of fighting a defensive war. The enemy has no supply lines. And although it might still work if we were to sneak up behind the bully with a baseball bat, we are just about out of bats and the bully knows we're coming.

You don't outbrave the bully. You don't outsmart the bully. You beat the bully till he can't stand up. That's how you win a war.

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