Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fact - & Spin - Checking the NYT Iraq Reporting

Here is a gem of weak reporting and strong speculation from the New York Times, suggesting that the surge is not having an effect. They name but do not cite to the GAO report that they rely upon. I link to it below. After reading this analysis, do please read the GAO report. You have to in order to understand the rather wide swath of dissimulation cut by the NYT in this latest gem.

Iraq Attacks Stayed Steady Despite Troop Increase, Data Show
Great headline. It certainly suggests that the surge is having no impact. The problem with that, of course, is we know that it is not true. The initial goals of the surge are to stop a slide towards a civil war and to secure the major areas of Baghdad and Anbar. We know Anbar today is one of the safer places to be in Iraq, and sectarian violence of the "civil war" variety is down two thirds. So how does the NYT come up with this as a headline? What Pinch's boys have done is to build that headline and an entire news story around one paragraph and one graph in a sixty odd page report dealing with Iraq's Oil & Gas sector. You can find the report here.
Newly declassified data . . .
Stop. This is hogwash. The GAO just published a report and included therein is a single graph listing daily number of attacks in theatre since 03. The graph is of the kind released quaterly in the Pentagon report to Congress, and the GAO report was never classified. This is a minor point, but the NYT makes it sound like the military is playing hide the ball. Given the NYT's firm position that we should leave Iraq yesterday and the Democrats' new meme that General Petraeus and the military lie and cannot be believed, I can't let this one slip by without raising the brown flag that has "B.S." printed on it. There is nothing to suggest the information in the GAO report was ever classified.
. . . data show that as additional American troops began streaming into Iraq in March and April, the number of attacks on civilians and security forces there stayed relatively steady or at most declined slightly, in the clearest indication yet that the troop increase could take months to have a widespread impact on security.
Here is the problem with looking at one statistic taken out of the larger context. Actually, that statistic tells us nothing more then the surge is underway. We have moved our troops out of cantonement areas and into the back yards of the folks we want to stop. It is sort of like the difference between watching a bee hive from 100 feet away, and walking up next to it and giving it a good swift kick. I am actually surprised that the number of attacks isin't up a lot more. For example, we have troops living in Sadr City today - what was not too long ago almost a no-go zone.

So what does the number of attacks tell us about the nascent surge. Next to nothing, really, including about the "impact on security." It is impossible to make a logical leap from the number of attacks to the overall security situation. If the number of attacks has increased in Diyala (where al Qaeda in Iraq has taken up residence after being tossed from Baghdad and Anbar) while down in Baghdad and Anbar, that means the security situation has improved in a very short period of time, and that al Qaeda is under intense pressure. If the attacks are far lesser in lethality, that is another marker of an improved security situation. But again, despite the NYT suggesting that they have reached a firm conclusion, there is nowhere near enough data inthe GAO report to support the NYT's speculation.
Even the suggestion of a slight decline could be misleading, since the figures are purely a measure of how many attacks have taken place, not the death toll of each one. American commanders have conceded that since the start of the troop increase, which the United States calls a “surge,” attacks in the form of car bombs with their high death tolls have risen.
You have to love this one. Even the suggestion of a decline cannot be taken as objective proof that the surge is working. How about General Petraeus and his hour long plus brief to the United States but a few weeks ago. Does any of the enormous amount of information he imparted count as solid evidence? Or by ignoring that and concentrating on a single ambiguous paragraph in a report not directed towards the surge, is the NYT suggesting that the information provided by Petraeus is not a valid objective indicator?
. . . Over all, the attack statistics, which the accountability office has been compiling since the early days of the conflict, paint a sobering picture of where the country is headed. The number of daily attacks remained low through 2003 and the early months of 2004, but then began a relentless climb even as the United States promoted what it saw as important political milestones in Iraq.

. . . As troops continued to arrive, the statistics show, the early effect on countrywide attacks was at best marginal, although there does appear to have been a slight decrease. The daily attack figures for March and April, released yesterday for the first time, were 157 and 149, respectively. . .
So now, the NYT says that this one paragraph about the number of attacks in theatre is indicative of greater future violence and an ever detriorating security situation, irregardless of the surge. This sounds like Pinch living in a fantasy world. The NYT ignores that the jump in violence in 2004 was the result of an Al Qaeda attack on the Golden Mosque. They ignore that Al Qaeda is on the run today. The NYT ignores switch in loyalties of the Sunnis in Anbar and Diyala, and the switch in loyalty of the SICI. And they ignore a host of other facts you can get off this blog and the links therein. The NYT are dangerous. The quicker Pinch runs their stock value down to $0, the better for America - and for honest journalism.

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