War Theater Critic

New York Times’ former top theater critic Frank Rich, in an Op-Ed titled Tet Happened, and No One Cared, proves he should still be reviewing plays, not wars.

Here are some excerpts. I cannot recommend that you RTWT. The link is provided since you may otherwise have difficulty believing the NYT employs Frank Rich in his current capacity, and in any case, requires registration. (Numbers) are added.

(1)…The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that by March 2008 the percentage of prominent news stories that were about Iraq had fallen to about one-fifth of what it was in January 2007.

(2)…That’s why it’s no surprise that so few stopped to absorb the disastrous six-day battle of Basra that ended last week — a mini-Tet that belied the “success” of the surge. Even fewer noticed that the presumptive Republican nominee seemed at least as oblivious to what was going down as President Bush, no tiny feat.

(3)…When the battle ended last week, Mr. McCain said: “Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the cease-fire, declared a cease-fire. It wasn’t Maliki. Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a cease-fire.” At least the last of those sentences was accurate. It was indeed the losing side — Maliki’s — that pleaded for the cease-fire.

Let us parse.

(1) Mr. Rich acknowledges that the Maim Scream Media™ have been doing a poor job covering the Battle of Iraq. He does not suggest any reason for this, nor even speculate that there may be one. As always, The Other Club is willing to assist even the deliberately clueless: The reason MSM coverage of Iraq is down is the overwhelmingly obvious success we have enjoyed there since mid-2007. Progress in Iraq does not fit the established MSM story-line, so it is not “newsworthy.”

Mr. Rich’s script cannot acknowledge that bias, so he dismisses progress in Iraq with scare quotes – “success” – as if it were not. This allows deployment of the MSM Quagmire Agenda.

The MSM has failed to cover the Battle of Iraq for many months now. Why did Mr. Rich wait to complain about this malfeasance? (If you think it’s merely misfeasance, you don’t get it.) Probably because he just now sees an opportunity to invoke the Tet Offensive sub-meme.

To summarize Mr. Rich thus far; “No one cares that “Tet” just happened in Iraq because the New York Times, for example, has not been doing its job.”

You may quaintly interpret that job as reporting the facts, and, indeed, the New York Times has not been doing that. However, reporting the facts is manifestly not what Mr. Rich means. He means the job is to turn a military victory into a propaganda defeat.

(2) That, after all, is the Tet story-line. To theater critics of Mr. Rich’s persuasion, the 1968 reporting on Tet represents the pinnacle of real journalists’ power. While he was considering the epistemological subtleties of Hair!, they were bringing down a President and setting the stage for pictures of people hanging off helicopters above the American embassy in Saigon. Rich’s “mini-Tet” reverie is penile-envious, atavistic nostalgia.

Rich’s criticism is that the MSM is not positioned to properly seize the fifth-column opportunity to shout the “War is Lost” in Iraq when there’s a spike in the fighting initiated by our allies (the opposite of Tet).

To interpret Mr. Rich’s column otherwise, it is necessary to believe he is unaware of the fact that the Tet Offensive was a devastating military defeat for America’s enemies. It is impossible to believe that he is unaware that it was American news media that promoted the propaganda defeat.

Nonetheless, Frank Rich really does mean that the events in Basra, his “mini-Tet,” were disastrous for the United States and the Iraqi government; “It was indeed the losing side — Maliki’s — that pleaded for the cease-fire.” This proves he is less familiar with the concept of analogy than your average theater critic.

If it was a victory, then it could not be a disaster. If it was not a victory, it wasn’t like Tet.

For Rich, the actual disaster is that you have not “absorb[ed] the disaster.” What is a propaganda disaster without followers? He does hint that he may vaguely understand his mistake with one throwaway line, “Even then, the result was at best a standoff, with huge casualties.” “Even then,” being the fact that the operation was planned, executed and commanded by the Iraqi government against outlaw Iraqis. The outlaw Iraqis are the ones who suffered huge casualties. Referring to large casualties without identifying who sustained them has become a standard MSM approach.

Rich intends us to assume that Iraqi government forces took “huge casualties,” even though the freedom fighters Mahdi Army may have had casualties of its own. In fact,

From March 25-29 the Mahdi Army had an average of 71 of its fighters killed per day. Sixty-nine fighters have been captured per day, and another 160 have been reported wounded per day during the fighting. The US and Iraqi military never came close to inflicting casualties at such a high rate during the height of major combat operations against al Qaeda in Iraq during the summer and fall of 2007.


…Here is a synopsis of what those with “boots on the ground” have to say about our Iraqi allies and their adversaries:

— The Iraqis planned and executed the operation with little U.S. involvement and managed to commit more than 40,000 troops in high-intensity combat against well-armed, militia-terrorists in six cities — a feat that would have been impossible just six months ago.

— Conventional Iraqi Army and police units operated effectively together in multiple large-scale, simultaneous urban combat for the first time. Though there were inevitable “SNAFUs,” most of the problems were logistical, not operational. All commended the courage and tenacity of the Iraqi soldiers.

— The Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) and Hillah SWAT units, with which we were embedded in December, killed or captured more than 200 “high profile criminals” for which they had arrest warrants. Most of those apprehended or killed were renegade members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al Mahdi — the Mahdi Army.

— Intelligence collected during the operation confirms that Iranian Quds Force fighters have heavily infiltrated southern Iraq and that Iranian weapons, explosives and equipment continue to be delivered to areas previously controlled by the Mahdi Army.

— Though the ISF lacks the sophisticated casualty evacuation and medical treatment available to U.S. troops, their compassion toward wounded and injured non-combatants rallied civilians to the side of the Iraqi government.

One U.S. commander summed it up this way: “This was a necessary operation — and it couldn’t have happened without ‘the surge.’ By going after the Shiite militias, Maliki has proven to the Sunnis that he intends to be even-handed in the process of bringing law and order to Iraq. The Iraqi troops fought well in both day and night operations. Their officers and NCOs are leading from the front. The militias — and their Iranian sponsors — got their butts kicked.”

On Tuesday, General Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker will likely use less colorful language to describe the increasing effectiveness and challenges facing our Iraqi allies. The only question: Are the administration’s critics willing to listen?

Nancy Pelosi has already answered that rhetorical question. To think she would have answered any other way would require the willing suspension of disbelief of an entire village of idiots.

We also need to deal with (3). Maliki’s “defeat” is an outright falsehood based on everything we know thus far. It is of a piece with declaring a “disaster,” when the positives significantly outweigh the negatives.


…But what about the recent fighting in Basra, portrayed as a disaster by the media? “The Iraqi Security Forces conducted a number of targeted operations, took over the ports [key prizes that had been funding the militias] and are in the process of reestablishing checkpoints and security positions in the city.

“The Iraqi operation did reflect a willingness to take tough decisions about tough problems. It also displayed the Iraqi capability to deploy two brigades’ worth of conventional and special-operations forces on less than 48-hours’ notice, with another brigade following. That would not have been possible a year ago.”

My source acknowledged that “the planning for Basra was incomplete and some of the local forces were incapable of standing up to the Iranian-supported rogue-militia elements.” The quality of Iraq’s security forces remains uneven – but he sees them as remarkably improved, in general. Their performance in Basra was more impressive than feature-the-bad-news reporting implied.

This officer doesn’t paint over the cracks in the Iraqi house, but he’s convinced that the Basra operation did “reflect a determination of a Shia-led government to deal with Shia extremist challenges.”

For myself, I watched the Basra dust-up from Panama, amazed at the willful obtuseness of “war correspondents” who still refuse to acknowledge basic military realities. They demanded a level of effectiveness from Iraqi troops that the British had been unable (and unwilling) to deliver over the last five years.

Unlike the Brits, who faked it, the Iraqis went into the city and fought. Was their performance perfect? Of course not. But this is where the punditry got really interesting.

Many of the critics had previously lavished praise on the counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus midwifed. One of the most-quoted maxims from that document was T.E. Lawrence’s admonition that it’s better for our local allies to do something imperfectly themselves than for us to do it perfectly for them.

Well, the Iraqis stepped up to the plate. A few units folded. Others fought ferociously. They did what we said we wanted – and the critics raised the bar again. (Unfair criteria for success now may pose a greater obstacle in Iraq and Afghanistan than do al Qaeda or the Taliban.)

And, by the way, it was Moqtada al Sadr, not the Iraqi government, who requested a cease-fire – after being urged by the Iranians to opt to let those militias live to fight another day.

David Frum: The news from Basra isn’t all bad

…And in the battle for Basra, these gangsters seem to have got the worst of it. It was the Mahdi Army that asked for a truce from the government. The Mahdi Army seems to have hoped that government action in Basra would trigger uprisings elsewhere in Iraq: Those did not occur.

The big news from Basra seems to be this: Just as the Maliki government secured peace in western Iraq by striking deals with the local Sunni tribes, so it now seems to have bought itself a constituency in the South — enough of a constituency anyway that it could stage and wage major combat operations without much assistance from the United States.

That’s more evidence that the central government is gaining strength. Yet more evidence comes from what is reported as the major piece of bad news from Basra, the role of the Iranians. Rather than sustain Sadrist resistance to the central government, the Iranians seem to have decided to back the same horse previously backed by the Americans.

Congressional hearings on the status of Iraq begin tomorrow. I can hardly wait for Hillary to repeat the “willing suspension of disbelief” insult. General Petraeus will be sorely tempted to mention that he, too, has flown into Tuzla. But he won’t. He has more class.

Here are more examples of the kind of reportage and opinion on Iraq which Mr. Rich is unaccustomed to finding in the NYT. Worth reading.

Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish Parties Close Ranks Against Al-Sadr’s Movement in Iraq

Iran joined militias in battle for Basra

Basra offensive a key step towards reconciliation?

Analysis: Iraqi PM wins rare support

Finally, we turn to Stephen Colbert for the best summarization of a typical Frank Rich column:

The October 14, 2007 Times featured Stephen Colbert guest-writing most of Maureen Dowd’s column. In that article, Colbert satirically wrote: “Bad things are happening in countries you shouldn’t have to think about. It’s all George Bush’s fault, the vice president is Satan, and God is gay. There. Now I’ve written Frank Rich’s column too.”[5]