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Daily Column
US Papers Mon: More of "The War Within"
Woodward says surge overrated: What makes Americans feel less guilty about Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 09/08/2008 02:01 AM ET
Not much Iraq news in general, but the Washington Post more than makes up for it with their continued blitz of Bob Woodward on Iraq. Those books sure better sell! There’s also news of a psychological study which tested Americans’ guilt about Iraq, a photo essay, and an opinion piece about the flag-draped coffins which are flown home, far from cameras’ lenses (and Americans’ minds).

More of “The War Within”
The release of Bob Woodward's new book "The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008.", is still what keeps Iraq coverage going, at least in the Washington Post. Woodward pens a story about Washington conventional wisdom being incorrect in translating Iraq’s dramatically improved security into a simple view: That the surge had worked. He writes that the full story was more complicated, that “At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge.”
Beginning in the late spring of 2007, the U.S. military and intelligence agencies launched a series of top-secret operations that enabled them to locate, target and kill key individuals in groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgency and renegade Shia militias, or so-called special groups.
For months, U.S. forces worked with tribal leaders, who had once fought the Americans, to build local security forces throughout Anbar. "We are the ones who saved our country," Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, whose slain younger brother first allied himself with U.S. forces and who now serves as president of the Iraqi Awakening Council, said in an interview. "We were able to fight al-Qaeda."
And third...
A third significant break came Aug. 29, when militant Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his powerful Mahdi Army to suspend operations, including attacks against U.S. troops.
Then, we have the second day of the four-part series of writing drawn from “The War Within”. Today’s installment is entitled ”Outmaneuvered And Outranked, Military Chiefs Became Outsiders”. It begins...
At the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late November 2006, Gen. Peter Pace was facing every chairman's nightmare: a potential revolt of the other chiefs. Two months earlier, the JCS had convened a special team of colonels to recommend options for reversing the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Now, it appeared that the chiefs' and colonels' advice was being marginalized, if not ignored, by the White House. During a JCS meeting with the colonels Nov. 20, Chairman Pace dropped a bomb: The White House was considering a "surge" of additional troops to quell the violence in Iraq. "Would it be a good idea?" Pace asked the group. "If so, what would you do with five more brigades?" That amounted to 20,000 to 30,000 more troops, depending on the number of support personnel. Pace's question caught the chiefs and colonels off guard. The JCS hadn't recommended a surge, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Iraq commander, was opposed to one of that magnitude. Where had this come from? Was it a serious option? Was it already a done deal?
...A rift had been growing between the country's military and civilian leadership, and in several JCS meetings that November, the chiefs' frustrations burst into the open.
Woodward tells of President Bush losing confidence in General George W. Casey, who opposed the surge, and also in General John P. Abizaid. The events leading to the surge are at the center of the discussion. The Joint Chiefs of Staff frustration with the debate over the surge grew so intense that Pace told Bush, "You need to sit down with them, Mr. President, and hear from them directly." Woodward writes of when he interviewed President Bush on the topic.
"In my own mind, I'm sure I didn't want to walk in with my mind made up and not give these military leaders the benefit of a discussion about a big decision." The president said that if he were just pretending to be open-minded, "you get sniffed out. . . . I might have been leaning, but my mind was open enough to be able to absorb their advice." I told him that, based on my reporting, some of the chiefs thought he had already decided, that they had sniffed him out. "They may have thought I was leaning, and I probably was," Bush said, noting that the chiefs had felt free to express themselves. "But the door wasn't shut." Still, Bush fully understood the power of his office. "Generally," he said, "when the commander-in-chief walks in and says, done deal, they say, 'Yes sir, Mr. President.' "
From Iraq
Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor reports from Baghdad on the evolution of U.S. counterinsurgency tactics, in an article entitled “U.S. begins hunting Iraq's bombmakers, not just bombs”.
When members of the Air Force's 447th Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit first arrived here in May, they were dealing with three to four roadside bombs a week. During prior tours, the group's veterans say at least one a day was normal. But last month, they went their first week without encountering a single roadside bomb. For US soldiers in Iraq, this decline is perhaps the loudest herald of a quieter Iraq. It's also representative of the US military's greater strategic shift, focusing less on individual threats like improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and broadening their scope to the larger counterinsurgency mission. "We've made a mistake focusing on IEDs as a technological threat," says Frederick Kagan, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute. To defeat roadside bombs in Iraq, the military had to broaden their focus beyond the devices and look at them as a piece of the entire conflict. "As we've been winning the counterinsurgency, the effectiveness of IEDs has been wearing off," he says.
Bombmakers often leave fingerprints and other biometric data that soldiers can use to find those behind the bombs. "We're more with gathering evidence, trying to preserve evidence, bring it back so we can try to do that CSI aspect," says SMSgt. Pervis King. "The way it has evolved since the war started, weapons intelligence teams now assist us with gathering evidence out on the battlefield so we can come back and try to prosecute the insurgents."

Washington Post staff photographer Andrea Bruce continues her effective and personal series of photos accompanied by her written descriptions. These aren’t photos of burning cars or military operations, but of people. Today’s photo is a dark inside shot of an old woman in a bleak-looking bank office in the city of Khanaqin(a disputed city in Diyala province currently all over the Iraqi newspapers – It’s the site of a standoff between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government). The following is an excerpt from Bruce’s description.
Leaning on a cane, a gray-haired man exits the bank with unapologetic slowness while the policeman checks a list and calls Zakia Suleiman's number. She looks down at the young, mustached man pictured on the ID card in her hand -- her husband, dead for five years now. The card is the key to his disability check, her only income. After she enters the thick darkness inside, her abaya, draped over her head, is removed and searched by female hands. The room doesn't provide the relief she was looking for. The windows are closed for safety reasons, and there is no air conditioning.
American Guilt
Washington Post “Department of Human Behavior” columnist Shankar Vedantam covers intriguing new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by social psychologists Michael J.A. Wohl and Nyla Branscombe. The results of the research suggest that reminders of the Sept. 11 attacks seem to dull the responsibility that Americans feel for the harm caused to Iraqis by the U.S. war in Iraq, whether or not they believed there was a connection between the two. Even injustices done to Americans many years ago seemed to dull guilt about Iraq. In the controlled experiments, volunteers were randomly divided into groups.
One group was reminded of the terrorist attacks, while another was told about Nazi atrocities in Poland during World War II. A third group was reminded of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The volunteers were then quizzed on their views about the Iraq war. Volunteers reminded about the Sept. 11 attacks were less likely to perceive the distress the war has caused many Iraqis, and less likely to feel collective responsibility, compared with volunteers told about the tragedy in Poland. Is the result confused by the fact that many Americans associate the Sept. 11 attacks with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein? Although links between Hussein and 9/11 have been systematically debunked, it is possible that Americans reminded of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon feel less responsibility for Iraq because they think it was implicated in the terrorist strike. That's where the third group of volunteers comes in. When it comes to dulling Americans' sense of responsibility for their country's actions in Iraq, it makes no difference whether you remind them about the Sept. 11 attacks or about Pearl Harbor. Even though there is no conceivable link between Pearl Harbor and the war in Iraq, reminding volunteers about the Japanese attack on Hawaii that left about 2,400 Americans dead reduces their sense of responsibility for the harm caused to Iraqis by the war.
"What is the basis for feeling guilt?" asked Branscombe, of the University of Kansas. "Guilt stems from feeling you or your group is responsible for having done illegitimate harm. . . . To the extent people feel their actions were completely legitimate, they won't feel any guilt."

The New York Times’ editorial page has a piece called ”Shrouded Homecomings”, in which it makes the case that the Bush Administration’s ban on news photography of coffins containing dead U.S. servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is ill-conceived, and a disservice to the fallen soldiers. It speaks of a bill before Congress which would repeal the ban, and which is gaining bi-partisan support in the House. If passed, accredited journalists would be granted access to commemoration services and arrival ceremonies for flag-draped coffins coming home at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The measure in no way interferes with the right of grieving families to bar news coverage of interments at national cemeteries. The sponsor, Representative Walter Jones, Republican of North Carolina, focuses instead on the graphic moment of homecoming and honor that has been foolishly denied the nation’s notice. “I hope that anyone who sees a flag-draped coffin will remember this individual gave his or her life for this country and respect and revere that sacrifice,” he explained this month. Congress should approve his bill. As the debate over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continues, the dead keep journeying home. Proper attention and reverence should be paid, in plain sight.
Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.


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