Saturday, August 27, 2005

Michael Yon's Iraq Counter-Offensive

Now playing on your newspapers, television screens, and monitors--the pro-war counter-offensive!!! War supporters of all stripes are striking back after a summer of bad news from Iraq was topped by Cindy Sheehan's vigil at George Bush's toy ranch. It looks like the counter-offensive is going to come from all sides. President Bush gave speeches, took sports journalists for a ride around Crawford, and even went toe to toe on his mountain bike with Lance Armstrong. Likewise, talk radio hosts did a lot of macho chest-thumping about the betrayals of Cindy Sheehan. Even mild-mannered David Brooks tried his hand at cheerleading the nascent Iraqi constitution. In a recent NYT, Brooks argues that breaking Iraq up into theocratic, regional mini-states would be a good thing. Too bad he doesn't mention that the Sunni mini-state would be a Taliban version of theocracy.

But Bush, Limbaugh, Hannity, and Brooks lack their former punch. There's a certain extent to which establishment conservatives have worn out their welcome. The audience no longer hears the conservative message that we invaded for the right reasons, that we're creating a new Iraq that will be a role model for democracy in the Middle East, and that we're preventing future terrorism. It's as if the fog of administration lies (where is Dick Cheney by the way?), poor planning, combat deaths, terrorist attacks, and disarray in the Iraqi government has enveloped American spokesmen for war, making them look confused and ineffective.

If conservatives are going to rally support for the Iraq war, they need a fresh personality to present their case. The current candidate is Michael Yon, a writer blogging from the front line in Mosul. Yon's case is simple but compellingly presented. It's American soldiers like Lt. Col. Erik Kurilla who justify the war in Iraq. In his Aug. 25 account of an operation in Mosul, Yon focuses on one patrol of Kurilla's unit and devotes his narrative to separating LTC Kurilla from the discredited bureaucratic apparatus. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the overall mission in Iraq are absent. The "Army" itself is mostly present through the clumsy way it informs families of a soldier's being wounded or killed. Yon romanticizes LTC Kurilla by making him different from everyone else invested in the war. When a man gets wounded, Kurilla calls the family personally to make sure they know that their soldier/ loved-one will be okay. Where the Army would just throw new officers into the fight, Kurilla takes them with him for three weeks before he gives them a command. When the shooting starts, Kurilla's trainees cower for protection, but Kurilla himself keeps fighting even after he's hit three times. He’s the farthest thing from a chicken-hawk. Kurilla is respected by both Americans and Iraqis. He has a legendary sixth sense for knowing who is a terrorist. He's a "warrior" and the presence of men like Kurilla guarantees that the U. S. will beat the terrorists in Iraq despite the foolishness of the Army, American policy-makers, and bumbling Iraqi politicians. With men like Kurilla, Yon believes that we can't lose.

The dispatch ends with Kurilla being flown out to Germany with a sergeant in the company who had also been wounded. Then, Yon delivers his punch line on Kurilla.

"Make no mistake about Kurilla--he's a warrior, always at the front of the charge. But it's that battle-hardened bravery that makes him the kind of leader that Americans admire and Iraqis respect. Like the soldiers of Deuce Four, Iraqis have seen too much war to believe in fairy tales. They know true warriors bleed."

The Bush administration might have believed its own fairy tales about being hailed as liberators and greeted with flowers, but the men and women on the ground have really proved themselves in battle. For Yon, the soldiers on the ground justify the war and Yon himself was inspired to pick up a weapon at a key moment in the fight.

The build-up for Michael Yon as a pro-war spokesman is that he "gets" the war better than the mainstream media. According to MSNBC:"There is actually good reporting coming from Iraq -- check out Michael Yon's blog, for example. And it's possible to get a clearer picture of the strategic picture than most big media accounts provide."

The claim that Yon provides any kind of strategic picture is entirely false. Thursday's dispatch focused entirely on one patrol. There was no indication of whether Operation Lancer Fury succeeded or not (beyond mentioning the capture of a few "suspected" terrorists), no mention of how Operation Lancer Fury fit into the American military's over-all approach to Mosul or the Sunni Triangle, and no evaluation of the strategic picture in general. For Yon, the strategy is LTC Kurilla. An essential American in the same way that Molly Pitcher, Andrew Jackson, Lawrence Chamberlain, and Teddy Roosevelt were essential Americans, Kurilla personae is the larger picture. It's Kurilla's character, bravery, skill, determination, experience, and consideration for others that differentiates the U. S. from the terrorists and guarantees victory no matter how badly the higher-ups screw-up. Yon believes that we can expect to win in Iraq as long as the focus is on Kurilla and men like him rather than the Bush administration and the Republicans. Realizing that all of the romance has gone out of the mission, Yon does his best to pump new romance into the soldiers carrying out the mission.

Ultimately, however, Yon can't escape from the same problem that's dogging other conservatives. The soldiers just aren't getting anywhere. Kurilla's patrol wounds and captures one terrorist, but a couple of Americans get wounded in the process. The other terrorists get away. It also turns out that the terrorists are courageous and well-trained. Rather than surrender, one captured man attempts to fight his way out of a building despite being seriously wounded. Other captured terrorists inform Kurilla that they've been on training patrols (much like their American counter-parts) and had been training for three months to carry out missions like sniping. The terrorists are so well entrenched in Mosul that they can afford to give newly arriving jihadis extensive training missions. Despite Yon's best efforts to promote optimism and support for the American mission in Iraq, his account is still discouraging. Despite the best efforts of outstanding men like LTC Kurilla, the American mission in Iraq is bogging down in a way that is allowing the global jihadis to establish a permanent presence. Right now, Iraq is worst than Vietnam. It's a quagmire in which the enemy is gaining strength and positioning itself for more attacks outside Iraq.


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