Sunday, July 08, 2007

Qaeda, Qaeda everywhere so no one stops to think

(updated below)

The New York Times flags the sudden proliferation of the words al Qaeda (or just Qaeda) in military press releases:
Bush mentioned the terrorist group 27 times in a recent speech on Iraq at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. In West Virginia on the Fourth of July, he declared, “We must defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq.” The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda.

Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.
Its ship of the desert hobbled, the administration has tried to prop up support for its failure by invoking the perps of 9/11 at every opportunity. At least somebody noticed.

Public Editor Clark Hoyt looks at the Times' coverage and believes that on the whole it has provided the proper perspective, there is room for improvement. On the increasing attribution of violence in Iraq to al Qaeda, foreign editor Susan Chira acknowledges, “We’ve been sloppy.”

They have just issued new guidelines "on how to distinguish Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia from bin Laden’s Al Qaeda."

Hoyt concludes: "Military experts will tell you that failing to understand your enemy is a prescription for broader failure."

So what did you mean by that?

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald today contrasts sloppy stenography by the Times with some solid analysis by the WaPo:
While the Post article reports on developments which fall into the "good news" category --"the administration will report that Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province are turning against the group al-Qaeda in Iraq in growing numbers"; "sectarian killings were down in June"; "The portrait officials paint of the Iraqi military is somewhat brighter" -- those reports are balanced by facts that are critical for putting those developments into the proper perspective:
* Those achievements are markedly different from the benchmarks Bush set when he announced his decision to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq;

* The Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy;
And so on. Just as a precaution, perhaps we should remove fourth estate from the wagon carrying the corpses of other once-thriving democratic institutions and place it in the "not dead yet" stack.

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