Friday, August 10, 2007

Iraq: The Latest Spin Cycle

"How the troops are configured, what the deployment looks like will depend upon the recommendations of David Petraeus."

George W. Bush, August 9, 2007

As I've said before, the Bush administration and the Pentagon have put more effort into spinning our Iraq escapade than they've spent on winning it. In the past week or so, we've seen a classic example of how the spin cycle works.

If you've been following at home, you know two of the administration's major pro-war propaganda points: A) newly appointed U.S. commander in Iraq David Petraeus is the second coming of Lawrence of Arabia and B) the Iranians are causing most of our problems in Iraq by supplying weapons to Shiite insurgency groups. The credibility of both of these assertions began eroding over time, and then…

Damage Control

On Monday August 6, the New York Times ran a story by Glenn Kessler revealing that a Government Accountability Officer report says over 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols and more than 200,000 helmets and pieces of body armor distributed by the U.S. to Iraqi security forces have disappeared, and many experts and officials fear this materiel has fallen into the hands of insurgents presently fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. This not only supported the argument that the U.S., not Iran, has been the main arms supplier to Iraqi militant groups. It put another ding in the armor of General Petraeus, who was in charge of training Iraqi security forces and police at the time most of the unaccounted for equipment disappeared.

Lo and behold, come Tuesday night, Petreaus was on the phone, giving an interview on Fox News Radio's Alan Colmes Show, and come Wednesday morning, Washington Post Iraq correspondent Josh Partlow had written an article that retransmitted--unchallenged--Petreaus's main talking points.

In "General Blames Clerical Errors In the Case of Missing Arms," Partlow wrote "Bookkeeping deficiencies allowed thousands of weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005 to then go missing, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said yesterday."

Bookeeping deficiencies? Amazing. Just what other kinds of deficiencies would allow issued weapons to disappear with no record of where they went? That question apparently didn't occur to Partlow, who further wrote:
Petraeus, who then led the security training effort, said Iraqi units were ready to fight but did not have the equipment they needed just as Moqtada al-Sadr's influence grew in the summer of 2004. He described one case in which U.S. forces flew into the war zone of Najaf at night, their helicopters under fire, and "actually [were] kicking two battalions' worth of equipment off the ramp and getting out of there while we still could."

This was an astounding piece of double talk on Petraeus's part. No military unit can be considered "ready to fight" unless it has trained with the equipment it's going to fight with. But according to Petraeus, two Iraqi battalions were not only ready to fight without ever training on their equipment, they were already in the middle of a fight before he got their equipment to them. If that was Petraeus's idea of readiness when he was training them to fight, no wonder the Iraqi forces are in such a sad state.

Partlow quoted Petraeus as saying of the arms dumped into the middle of the firefight at Najaf that "we believe those weapons all certainly were given to Iraqi units."

Well, no kidding, General. Certainly all the weapons unaccounted for on your watch were given to Iraqi units. That's who the insurgents got them from!

During the actual Fox News interview, Colmes twice asked Petraeus if any of the missing weapons were in the hands of our enemies. Petraeus dodged the question both times, and Colmes let him do it. Partlow's lack of experience makes one tend to want to forgive him for being such a willing administration echo chamberlain. After all, when we invaded Iraq in 2003, Partlow was still a Post intern, training to be a financial reporter.

Reporters on some of the other big eastern papers, though, don't have Partlow's excuse.

Old Dogs, Old Tricks

Also on Wednesday, the New York Times ran an article titled "U.S. Says Iran-Supplied Bomb Kills More Troops." The author was Times chief military correspondent Michael R. Gordon, who has worked for the "newspaper of record" since 1985 and has covered wars since the U.S invasion of Panama. You may also recall that Gordon was Judith Miller's partner in crime in helping the Bush administration disseminate false information regarding Iraq's WMD program during the run up to war. Gordon also has an established track record of giving bandwidth to the administration's as yet unsubstantiated claims that Iran is arming Iraqi militants.

Gordon's Wednesday piece opened with "Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military." As always, Gordon was vague in discussing who exactly says that Iran is providing these bombs or on what the allegations are based. Gordon did concede that "some critics of the administration" think that "the White House of exaggerating the role of Iran and Syria to divert attention from its own mistakes," but seriously, folks. It's not "some critics" who think the White House is exaggerating to divert attention from its mistakes. At this point in the program, everybody who isn't part of the non-sentient right thinks that.

Gordon saves the money message for the end of his article.
General Odierno [Petraeus's second in command] said Iran was increasing its support to Shiite militants in Iraq to step up the military pressure on the United States at a time when the Congress is debating whether to withdraw American troops…

…“I think they want to influence the decision potentially coming up in September,” he added.

On Thursday, NBC political director Chuck Todd remarked to Chris Matthews that if Petraeus gives a positive report on the "surge" strategy in mid-September, a third to half of anti-war congressional Democrats will cave in and vote to give Mr. Bush whatever he wants to conduct his woebegone war however he wants and for as long as he wants to.

In order for that stratagem to work, the administration must maintain Petraeus's façade of infallibility. I for one find it ironic that this façade is being reinforced by two mainstays of what AM talk radio, Fox News and the rest of the Big Brother Broadcasting network refer to as the "liberal media."

And I am horrified that, by fiat of the worst commander in chief in U.S. history, a vital decision on foreign policy is about to be dictated to Congress by a four-star general.


Related article by Jeff Huber: "The Cult of Petraeus."


  1. Anonymous7:22 PM

    I would not be surprised if the missing weapons were:

    a) redeployed...
    b) just a book entry...
    c) never existed ...
    d) converted to other assets...

    Whatever the reason, it was done with a wink and a nod - all on Gen. Petraeus' watch and without consequences.

    Left Coast

  2. My guess on the weapons is, the Iraqis got em, and then lost em, gave em away, misplaced em, whatever, they gave em to the insurgency...

    And when American troops come up dead FROM those weapons, I wonder who the Bush administration will blame??

  3. They will blame the media for slanting the coverage of Arabs who, having a 1000 years of theivery and sloth bred into their culture, traded them to the highest bidder.

    And guys like me for daring to believe that the United States has a responsibility to look out for itself in the commerce of nations-rather than those same Arabs who still can't get there stuff together after a long time.

    I'll say it again-McArthur lives. There is no need to wait till September-the report on the surge is already out in the press. Its all over but the whining now. American troops will be in the hell hole for at least another year. Which was the goal from the start.

    Plus it never really was a surge-a surge implies something quickly. This was a semi-permanent escalation so that when we drop back to the pre-January numbers it will seem like an improvement and an election year concession.

    The worst part to me? The United States will still be as exactly safe or unsafe as it is today. So what exactly is our sacrifice buying us?

  4. Thanks again, gang, for the discussion.

    Skippy, do you seriously expect an answer to that question from me? ;-)

  5. Your "buddy" (buddy always being only half a word) Unlce Jimbo, has slimed you again over at Blackfive. You must be getting something right-you seem to have really irritated him. Must be from having both a brain and military background.

  6. I take it that Uncle Jimbo and JIm Sorber over at are the same jackdaw. They make the same kind of noise.

  7. Anonymous2:53 PM

    Mr. Huber, your rhetoric is superbly crafted (I loved "a full magazine of talking points") and generally well aimed, but the stuff about Mr. Partlow wasn't needed -- and did he write the linked article? The byline doesn't mention him.

    Also, is there a link for the Chuck Todd quote about the Dems? I didn't see it in the official "Hardball" transcript from Thursday, August 9, 2007 (which includes, by the way, a really scary video clip of Bush saying, basically, that he's a holy crusader and he wouldn't care whether or not Petraeus advised him to pull out of Iraq.)

  8. Anon,

    Actually, I took it easy on Partlow, IMO. This is the severalth time since he's been Iraq that he's let the Generals and the PAO boys bullhorn their message unadulterated. He was, in fact, one of the worst offenders when the "proof" of Iranian involvement in Iraq came out in February.

    The Dodd quote didn't come on hardball. Matthews was anchoring after Bush's speech. I doubt there's any manuscipt at all. I happened to catch it and typed it down real fast.

  9. Anon:

    Re Partlow: Here's a piece by me from February.

  10. Anonymous4:40 PM

    Jeff, the problem with your critiques of Pres. Bush, the strategy, the commanders on the ground, the intelligence on Iranian support to the insurgency, etc is twofold.

    First, your ad hominem attacks detract from whatever credibility your retired military officer status brings you. (ad hominem alibi: I do not question your qualifications to opine on strategy but am curious on what part of Naval flight operations prepared you for a tactical analysis of an insurgency).

    Second, you are incorrectly comparing strategic intelligence before the war on a regime that made it a policy to obfuscate its WMD status (even senior members of Saddam's regime thought they might have the weapons) and intelligence developed from the ground up by the very men and women being killed by Iranian weapons. There is no mistaking Iranian efforts, intel reported to that effect is not mythology cooked up by the NYT and the NSC...

    Cynical jabs at the integrity of everyone who does not agree with your assesment may be entertaining for those that have already given up on their critical responsibility to speak out in loyal opposition to our nation's policies, but it seems a waste of your Naval War College education.

  11. Anonymous,

    Regarding ad hominem attacks: I'm on the receiving end of plenty of them, so I think I know one when I see one. As a satirist, I'm likely to get under a few skins, but I don't think you'll find me throwing barbs that aren't backed up with a fair amount of factual information, logical conclusion or supporting opinion from a fairly knowledgeable and or respected source. I don't base my analysis of insurgency operations on my experience of naval flight operations. I base them on study and common sense. Note that analysts like Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, even Fred Kagan have no first hand knowledge of any military operations whatsoever.

    I sure as hell know and understand a lot more about strategic and tactical intelligence than you do. You state the intelligence on Iran is "developed from the ground up by the very men and women being killed by Iranian weapons." What makes you say that? Do you have any idea whatsoever how this intelligence is being developed? If so, how do you know?

    As to taking critical jabs: Voltaire said something to the effect that witticisms never prove anything. That's true, but they can certainly bring a point home, and that's how Voltaire used them. As to taking jabs at other peoples' integrity, I think you'll note that in this piece and most of my other writing, I never say something critical of another person by name that isn't justified by the evidence I present, and I hopefully never attack an aspect of anyone's character that isn't strictly related to the subject at hand.

    Here's something else I don't do. I don't surf the web and try to knock commentators off message with frivolous criticisms. And oh, I don't hide behind anonymity.

    Best regards,


  12. Anonymous6:26 PM

    Sorry, I missed the satire. As for the analysts you note, for the most part they are not rejecting information from on-the-ground-experts and observers out of hand. I will admit they have a stated political position which they support with their read of the information but they are not challenging the integrity of the observers or the commanders on the ground. As far as strategic and tactical intelligence expertise I have an extensive military background including on the ground in Baghdad. I do not pretend to have all the answers - I would question anyone who claims such. I am only looking for something that disappeared in this country a while ago - honest debate. And I do blmae the current administration for a lot of the problem in that regard. As far an the source for the Iranian involvement the US military has released, on multiple occasions, a lot of very specific information on Iranian weapons, training and personnel in Iraq. Anyone with knowledge of Iraq over the past 30 years would be surprised if it were not true. I see nothing wrong with taking jabs (satirical or otherwise) but my point is that your starting position leaves no room for honest people. Since the crux of your post was that there are no honest people left in the system - I thought my comment was on topic.

    General Blames Clerical Errors In the Case of Missing Arms
    By Josh White
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, August 8, 2007; Page A10

    Bookkeeping deficiencies allowed thousands of weapons issued to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005 to then go missing, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said yesterday. [...]

    * * *

    I think Josh White, or his editor, was trying to make General Petraeus sound ridiculous.

    And succeeding.

    It was terribly unfair of the WaPo to actually quote what Petraeus said.

  14. Anonymous,

    You've lost your conversation priveleges around here. Tell whoever sent you to replace you with someone else.


    You know, it almost does seem as if they're mocking Petraeus, but I don't think that's the case. I say that because Partlow and his editor(s) have done this sort of thing before. I can't say why.


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