L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

15 April 2008 Blog Home : April 2008 : Permalink

Trying to Tet

When the Iraqi security forces attacked the JAM in Basra (and then Sadr city) the MSM story was pretty much: They came, they ran away, they gave up. Subsequent coverage from people on the ground has been minimal and it seems that all that is left is for columnists based in New York to describe the Iraqi government effort as a miserable failure. Badger6 pointed out the column by that military expert Frank Rich where the headline descibes the Basra operation as the Iraqi version of the Tet offensive (in the real Tet, the North Vietnamese lost the battle but won the media war). I also note that in the New Yorker the lack of success written about in such a way that it's assumed to be common knowledge:

Last week, it proved necessary for the Bush Administration to claim that an obvious failure—Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s ill-prepared raid on rival Shiite gangs in Basra, which was aborted after mass desertions within Maliki’s own ranks—was actually a success in disguise, because it demonstrated the Iraqi government’s independence of mind.

And then from London there is the wonderful BBC, which reports that Moqtada Al Sadr is demanding that the ISF members who refused to fight him be reinstated, ends the article with:

Correspondents say the government's failure to retake control of Basra despite superiority in numbers and firepower was an embarrassment for Mr Maliki and cast doubt on whether Iraqi forces could take full responsibility for security from the US-led coalition.

This is bizarre because, as far as I can tell, the fighting in Basra hasn't stopped; indeed the BBC (and others) report that the Iraqi forces have just rescued a British cameraman held in Basra:

A British journalist has been rescued by Iraqi forces after being held hostage for more than two months.

Richard Butler, who works for the US television network CBS, was found in a house in Basra with a sack over his head, said the Iraqi defence ministry.

Mr Butler described how the Iraqi army stormed the house he was in, overcoming his guards and rushing him away.

Indeed the NY Times article on the journalist's freeing indicates just how little power the Sadrists seem to have in Basra:

But Harith al-Ethari, head of Mr. Sadr’s political office in Basra, said on Monday that the freeing of Mr. Butler and the arrest of at least one suspect was proof that the Sadrists were not involved.

Mr. Ethari said that five days after Mr. Butler and the interpreter were kidnapped, the Sadr group received a message that he would soon be released but he was not. Later, Mr. Ethari said, someone sent him a threatening message on his cellphone saying, “Remove your hands from the matter of the journalist or we will kill you.”

The freeing of Mr. Butler, Mr. Ethari said, “is a very good thing for us because it will reveal that the kidnappers are not part of our movement.”

This sort of comment makes it look like the Iraqi army narrative, that they are going after gangs and thugs, some of whom claim to be the JAM quite credible and the official Sadrists are now left clutching at straws to try and avoid the deadly loss of face and political power that seems to be heading their way.

In fact the Sadrists seems to be losing in the political dimension too. Having begged for a ceasefire they haven't got one - or at least the one they got was tantamount to surrender. Then Sadr said he'd disarm if major Iraqi clerics said he should. Thed did say so, his militia mostly didn't disarm, Sadr fails to demand that they do so. Then he cancels his million man march of protest because it looks like no one would show up. Add in the fact Sadr himself seems to be staying in Iran all the time and well reports of the Iraqi government's loss seem to be exaggerated to put it mildly.

Now there are parallels between events in Iraq and events in Vietnam, certainly but the parallels seem to be occuring in the media and their 'progressive' political allies which seem determined to convince the US military to quit Iraq in the same way that it managed to get the US military to quit Vietnam. The problem is that they haven't really been able to spin things badly enough. Unlike in Vietnam, the (second) Iraqi enemy - Al Qeada - has now been pretty much comprehensively defeated, as was the first, Saddam Hussein's Ba'athists. The thrid enemy - Iran - which might possibly take the N Vietnam/Soviet Union role in Iraq seems to have been rather less successful and also unwilling to directly intervene in the way that the N Vietnamese did. I suspect the key difference is the lack of a monopoly narrative. 35-40 years ago there was no blogosphere and very few alternative outlets for journalists who wanted to tell a different story. Now there is. And thanks to the Internet books such as Michael Yon's Moment of Truth in Iraq: How a New 'Greatest Generation' of American Soldiers is Turning Defeat and Disaster into Victory and Hope not only get published but also get wide distribution and publicity. It may not defeat the forces of doom and gloom who are trying to get their Tet but it makes it a lot harder for the media war to be lost when the war on the ground is being won.