Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

  An update on the Pentagon report about Iraq

Chris Floyd at Empire Burlesque took to heart my complaint about the difficulty of downloading the PDF of the Pentagon's report on Iraq, which I wrote about here yesterday. He has now posted a much more accessible HTML version of the Pentagon report. Kudos to CF.

Now you've got no excuse not to peruse the document, if you haven't already. The executive summary is mind-numbingly vague and exceedingly sanitized. Anybody who stopped reading at the executive summary and did not carefully examine the details, and strip away the Pentagon spin from them, might easily overlook the fact that this document is describing an extremely messy civil war.

By now several news accounts about the Pentagon report have appeared: WaPo, the Associated Press, Reuters, and the NYT.

I thought I would comment here on what these news reports fail to do.

None of the news accounts digs at all deeply into the document; none summarizes more than a very few of the embarrassing revelations, even those the Pentagon explicitly acknowledges in the text; none bothers to consider the information that is buried in graphic form but ignored in the text (as I did); none looks into the slippery statistical methodologies, shifting/tendentious units of reference, and such tricks that the Pentagon employs (as several commenters have remarked, especially cadejo4, shirah and lcbo); none of the news reports pokes its finger into gaps that the document tries to paper over (such as the gap between the nominal numbers of trained Iraqi security forces, and the actual numbers).

Not one of these news accounts so much as hints that the report is evasive or unreliable, even less that the Pentagon has turned it into a piece of propaganda.

And how far would one have to dig to discover that? Just for fun, let's look at the very first section of the report (after the executive summary): "1.1 Political stability" (p. 9).

In the first sentence, we learn that "the political milestones for democracy in Iraq have been completed." Quite.

But all is not entirely well, admits the Pentagon: "In October 2006, there were more Iraqis who expressed lack of confidence in their government's ability to improve the situation than there were in July 2006." That's putting it rather mildly, isn't it?

Thereafter the very first actual details we get in the report, beginning in the second paragraph, concern a solution to the "terror, murder, sabotage, extortion, bribery, and corruption" that is undermining Iraqis' confidence: Nouri al-Maliki's "national reconciliation program".

Yes, the next page is a gushing tribute to all the topics that Maliki says he'd like to incorporate in a national reconciliation agreement. We're also given a sunny but vague description of the first two in a series of conferences he held with Iraqis in pursuit of an agreement.

Most of us, I think, realized back in June or July at the latest that this national reconciliation plan was dead on arrival. The Pentagon report pretends otherwise, however, even though it admits that one of the "planned" conferences "has not been scheduled", and another on political reconciliation "has been postponed several times". The latter, we're told with a straight face...

may provide participants with an opportunity to make concessions and reach agreements that could lead to constitutional amendments in the hopes of solidifying Iraqi unity and security. At a minimum, the conference could improve the atmosphere for crafting amendments in the CoR. Such amendments might provide political and legal structures that would allow other initiatives—such as the Maliki Peace Initiative, de-Ba'athification reform, and the demilitarization of Iraq--to proceed.

In other words, you need only to read the first two pages of the full Pentagon report before it becomes unmistakably clear that it is more interested in fantasy than fact. Somehow, the newspaper accounts neglected to tell their readers this.


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