Arrrrggghhhh…..

Can’t help it. It’s really becoming fun to deconstruct Riverbend. I’ve got nothing else to do here when off-duty…why not?


The Red Cross is especially important at this point because they are the ‘link’ that is connecting the families of the detainees and the military. When someone suddenly disappears, people go to the Red Cross and after a few grueling days, the missing person can often be tracked down at one of the prison camps or prisons.
Note that no concern is expressed about those who “disappeared” under Saddam. Why, it’s as if it didn’t happen! Was the Red Cross located in country then tracking down Iraq’s desparacidos? Why no concern for those people?
The easy and naive thing to do would be to blame the whole situation on fundamentalists/extremists/terrorists/loyalists/ba’athists/foreigners which many people, apparently, think are one and the same. Another trend in western media is to blame the whole of them on the ‘Sunni triangle’ and ‘neighboring countries’.
The “easy and naïve thing to do” Note the logic error. It would be “easy” to do because well, it’s often true. Even locals think so. She does have one point however, not all these groups are the same and maybe should not be lumped together. Their end is the same, but their motivations are all different. But then again, maybe they are. Maybe they are. We don’t know for sure.
There are *several* groups orchestrating the attacks against the various targets. The first and most obvious indicator is the method of attack, while the second indicator is the variety of the targets.
The techniques being used in the attacks range from primitive, to professional. We hear that some of the explosive devices being used are home-made and uncomplicated, obviously made by amateurs. We know for a fact that there are high-tech attacks against Coalition headquarters- like at the Baghdad International Airport and some of the palaces where high-ranking army personnel are located. On some of these places, like the airport, missiles are being used which is an indicator that the source of the attack is a highly trained group.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, couldn’t be more wrong if you tried. First, for those who’ve had the pleasure of actually having a shoulder-fired missile launched at them while taking off from Baghdad airport [show of hands please] you can be thankful for one thing – the people launching them are complete amateurs. Thankfully, they are not trained on how to use them. It’s not as simple as picking one up and squeezing the trigger, like you’d do with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). Not really sure where Riverbend got her training in intelligence work, but her conclusion there involves multiple errors in logic. Terrorists use the weapon they have at the moment they have them. It requires motive (which they have in spades) and means (which they take as it comes). You cannot automatically assume “if the weapon is sophisticated, so is the terrorist.” On this point alone the rests of the logical structure of her entire argument in the rest of the piece – and it just collapses here on down.
In an October 8, article in the New York Times (now archived) Raymond Bonner points out:
But portable missiles were fired at incoming planes several times in recent weeks, one senior official said. Most of those incidents have not been reported to the public. The missiles missed their targets widely, suggesting that the people who fired them had not been extensively trained…Moderating security fears is the fact that the portable missiles cannot be fired effectively without training. American soldiers go through a seven-week course to qualify to use the missiles and then are required to requalify quarterly.
The “professional” terrorists groups like Islamic Jihad use both cellular phone detonated bombs with Semtex or C4 (rather sophisticated) and plain ole garden variety suicide bomb vests. So right there her argument that you can tell a terrorist by his methods goes straight out the window.
Also, explosions at the airport (or anywhere else) are not always terror attacks. The U.S. military does controlled explosions of ordnance (both unexploded ordnance from the war and weapons caches found around the country) on a regular basis. This leads to the curious phenomenon of hundreds of people checking their watches simultaneously when they hear an explosion to see if it is a regularly scheduled controlled detonation. So Riverbend seems to be assuming anytime she hears a “boom” it’s the bad guys coming for the Americans. Ummmm, not so much, no. Mostly ’cause when they try they die in bunches. Hence the resort to the weapon of the impotent — terror attacks.
One of my uncles lives in one of the areas closer to the airport, which is on the outskirts of Baghdad. During June, we spent a couple of weeks with him. Almost every night, we would wake up to a colossal explosion that seems to be coming from the direction of the airport and less than a minute later, the helicopters would begin hovering overhead.
Syntax error and then pick your own logic error. It’s completely unrelated to the rest of the paragraph which it was in. What exactly is she trying to say? Because she heard a boom in the night she knows what is going on here? In fact, in June is when the greatest amount of controlled detonations took place out at the airport because there was a major league push on to get the airport up and running quickly. Which means it wouldn’t do to have a lot of unexploded ordnance lying about. By the way, helicopters run patrols around the airport literally 24/7. There is ALWAYS something flying there day or night.
Another example of a high-tech attack, was the attack on Rasheed Hotel a few days ago, where Wolfowitz was shocked and awed out of a meeting. (I don’t understand why the CPA is trying very hard to pretend the attack had nothing to do with his presence there).
Ummmm….actually he was on his way to breakfast. The CPA is probably “trying very hard to pretend” mostly because there is absolutely no evidence that the attack had anything to do with Wolfowitz’ stay at the Rasheed. If some turns up, maybe CPA’s assessment will be revised. But this is probably not the case. Why? Because the security zone near the Rasheed is so tight it probably took the attackers a few weeks to observe patterns in order to decide when best to attack. This implies preparation time. It is highly unlikely that the attackers had good intelligence on when Wolfowitz would be here (most the U.S. military in country didn’t even know he was here until after the attack). Besides, you don’t have to be James Bond to figure out the Rasheed is an obvious target without or without a Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary present. So to imply that the attackers had superior intelligence when — according to Occam’s Razor we should actually go with the “obvious target” scenario – violates yet another rule of logic. (Anyone keeping count here?)
The attack on the Rasheed was most emphatically not high tech. Clever, yes. Primative, yes. High tech, no. It doesn’t take a degree in physics to take some rockets (which are a dime a dozen in this country) throw them into an improvised rack system and hook them to a car battery. But when your definition of high tech is skewed you tend to think anything built after 1950 is high tech. Saddam thought his air force was high tech too – please note the unchallenged U.S. air superiority in both Desert Storm and this war.
The suicide bombings, on the other hand, are more often attributed to fundamentalist groups. To say that these groups are fighting to bring back the former regime is ridiculous: People chose to ignore the fact that the majority of fundamentalists were completely against the former regime because members of Al Qaeda, Ansar Al Islam, Al Da’awa and other political fundamentalist groups were prone to detention, exile and in some cases, execution.
Partially true. The fundamentalist groups couldn’t care less about Saddam. They just want to kill Americans. But here’s a point that Riverbend doesn’t seem to understand. The fundamentalist groups didn’t come here to provide jobs, fix the water system, refurbish electrical plants, pave roads, reconstruct schools, provide text books, provide 2.2 million vaccinations, truck in medical gear to get hospitals up and running. They came here to quite literally fight against progress. Yet all groups seem to be treated with the same kind of moral equivalence.
… Bombing works, terror works. People here are terrified we’ll end up another Afghanistan that these fundamentalist groups the CPA is currently flirting with are Iraq’s Taliban.
I can’t even dignify this by fisking it. It’s so patently asinine that it’s not worth the time. Go ahead, accuse me of a logic error there. I’ll take the hit on that one.
Finally, there are all those strange, mystery attacks that no one understands and even the most extreme members of society can’t condone or legitimatize. One such attack includes the attack on the UN headquarters. No one claimed responsibility for that. Another such attack was the bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad the Red Cross, the police stations… Many people believe that Al-Chalabi and his party are responsible for such incidents. Some of his guards are trained terrorists…
Or a more plausible explanation is that both the Red Cross and the UN are seen as Western agencies and were “soft” targets.
Al Chalabi arrived in April with a militia of Free Iraqi Fighters who, after several weeks of car hijacking, a few abductions, and some even say assassinations, suddenly disappeared his 600+ thugs were supposedly ‘interpreters’. I have very limited information on them, but someone said they were trained in Hungary? Today, people think they are acting as a sort of secret militia responsible for many of the assassinations and explosions all over Baghdad.
A “militia?” Thugs? Oh man, soooooooooo wrong. Not even close. We need internpreters and folks who know the local scene and that becomes a “militia” akin to the Badr Brigades? Wow, talk about a flight of fancy. Actually, the U.S. Army does this in Korea too with the KATUSA program (Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army). Are those Korean kids thugs too?
Yeah, Chalabi did it. That’s it. That’s a tactic straight from “Politics of Personal Destruction for Dummies.” GIVE ME SOME EVIDENCE. All you have to do is throw a spurious charge out there and you call that evidence? No one remembers the answer; they just remember that the question was asked. You know, sorta like asking someone in court, “So when did you stop beating your wife?” (Wait, that’s sort of taken as a given in the Middle East. Never mind.)
One of the hallmarks of this blog (hers, not ours) is that she never entertains alternate, plausible explanations for other events. And we’re supposed to take this seriously? Bias is one thing. That’s fine. Everyone gets to have an opinion. But provide an answer to the critics, at least, will ya?
Spare me the comments about how we need to cut her slack because she’s been oppressed. If you post ’em, I’m just going to delete them. You might as well call her a five-year old too and then treat her that way. What could be more condescending than saying she needs some help because she’ doesn’t quite “get it”? Because that is, in effect, the attitude behind the whole “cut her some slack crowd.” She’s responsbile for her ideas and defending them. The problem is, she can’t. Welcome to the big leagues, baby. How you like democracy so far?
Numerous posters, including the even-tempered Zeyad have e-mailed her and she doesn’t deign to provide a response. If it was one or two, that’s one thing. But numerous people have pointed out that they’ve tried to engage her via e-mail and have been blown off.
To me, that’s a sign of someone unable to hold two contradictory thoughts in the mind at the same time. Which, in turn, is a demonstration of an unenaged mind. Or, put another way

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12 comments

  1. Alene Berk

    Major–
    Riverbend is a soft target, but you’re preaching to the choir. What’s interesting–and profoundly
    frightening–about her is that she is representative of many Iraqis, and the way they perceive us and
    the world–all the confusion, victimhood, resentment, and illogic. And she is certainly among a
    better-educated, more weaternized fraction.
    So the issue would seem to be not so much fisking this kind of thinking. The issue is how to
    demonstrate and encourage more measured and rational sifting of events and perceptions. Doing so
    is crucial to success. How?

  2. Rich A., Colorado, US

    Re. Alene Berk’s post..
    I agree with you, except I think there is little that can be done to quickly change peoples perceptions. They are often a product of culture and in some cases they aren’t changeable at all.
    I think the US made a basic error in initially modeling the Iraq situation. There are 2 parts to it: 1) who is running Iraq and whether they are a threat to the US and other countries; 2) what Iraq is like internally. We solved the first part by destroying the Sadaam regime, and we could destroy any subsequent regime just as easily. The second part should have been mostly left up to the Iraqis and implied NOT disbanding their army and police. Our propaganda and our actions should have been in terms of “carrot and sticking” them in positive directions, but basically leaving it to them. It’s not that this approach would not have involved many problems, it’s that nothing else had any hope of working anyway.
    The basic “model” of the situation the US took on is stupid, and it is costing us.

  3. TJ, Mass., USA

    A lot of better-educated Westernized people are saying the same things Riverbend says, right here in the US, even without first-hand knowledge of Iraq. Seems to be idealogical groupthink rather than illogic. Voices of the Wilderness has (supposedly) given grants to like-minded students in Iraq to publish their own newspapers, Indymedia Baghdad is in the works, etc, so there’ll be plenty more of it.
    I take pains to ignore all of this, but then I do enjoy a good fisking too. WTG Sir. 🙂

  4. submandave

    Wow, I feel privileged. I actually got an e-mail response back from Riverbend. I didn’t beat her with a baseball bat or call her names, but did point out the falicy in her citing Juan Cole as “objective”. As we both know, stress affects everyone differently and I’m sure most would agree that Riverbend, like Iraqis and coalition members both, has most likely had a platefull. It is unclear if her stridently one-sided screed derives from personal loss (politically based, as some have opined or other) or her frustration in dealing with stress in an unfamiliar world that demands someone be held accountable. For the time being, I have chosen to give her the benefit of the doubt, assumed the latter and decided to engage with her in a calm, gentle manner in the hope that ever more normality returns to her world.

  5. gcotharn

    Truth! The truth must be spoken to counter the lies. Riverbend has a large number of readers. Not to get over-dramatic, but fisking her is a valuable service to everyone.
    I watch the cable TV shows, and I see a lot of misinformation being put out on the airwaves. The more truth that is plainly spoken about Iraq, the better off we all are.
    The U.S. is in serious danger from terrorists and terror-sympathetic nations. Success in Iraq is critically important to the security of our nation. We cannot actually lose in Iraq- unless public opinion turns and our politicians pull out before the job is finished.
    What will prevent this? Truth! Spoken at every opportunity! Major Bannion is providing a great service to Americans and Iraqis, and actually to Arab citizens of neighboring countries also.
    I have read all his posts, and have found them very informative. I excerpted his Oct 29 post onto my website. Salud, Major Bannion.

  6. Werner

    My impression: Riverbend was a privileged member of the Iraqi upper class until she suddenly fell to earth. That class is what she represents. I don´t care “what she went through” because I read a lot of her writings and it wasn´t very bad. From the way she complains about every little thing, I´m sure she didn´t have to dig up any relatives from mass graves. Her blog has only one message: bring back the happy days when Uncle Saddam kept the lid on those shia crazies.

  7. Scarab

    I’m going to keep saying this….I believe Riverbend is a journalist’s fraud. You cannot tell me that a mid 20’s female raised exclusively in Iraq during Saddam’s regime, no matter how high her level of education is suddenly able to create a daily op-ed piece using the same language, syntax, and style as the New York Times! I’m sorry, I have known many people from many differient countries with excellent educations, some living for years in english speaking countries and NONE of them talk or write like this supposed woman. What young Iraqi with this supposed background would use words like ‘snazzy’?
    I really believe someone is doing an Axis Sally on us, folks. I would be very interested in knowing what this supposed young lady had to say in her email to submandave and what vocabulary was used. Can you share, subman?

  8. Major Sean Bannion

    Concur with Werner. With the possible twist of being schooled out of Iraq for some portion of her life.

  9. AFbrat

    I don’t care who she/he is – the Major’s R’bend fisks are works of art. Fisking Rbend is probably a little annoying, kinda like pointing out to a toddler why she has to wear socks and shoes before going outside when it’s 30F . . . but the entertainment factor is v. high and I need every grin I can get these days.
    Keep up the good work, Major! I check for your posts every day.

  10. Mark Buehner

    Look, there’s a certain attribute of the Arab culture, and it can be good and it can be harmful, but they do have this ability to talk themselves into anything. If you travel the region and speak to the people enough, you’ll be taken aback with the number of conspiracy theories you hear in the course of a day (more than a JFK and a Roswell convention put together). Its their way of coping I suppose. Take it on faith that for every Riverbend there is a Shia somewhere whispering about how the Syrians are gathering an army under Saddam and OBL to destroy them all.

  11. Rachel, a Brit in London

    Major Sean Bannion, I hope that you live to regret your arrogance. As for Riverbend, she will know that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

  12. Mark Bahner

    Hi,
    Just came upon your website. Very good stuff. I’ve been planning to deconstruct some of the things Riverbend has written on my own blog:
    http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/
    …but haven’t gotten around to it. So much to do, so little time! 😦
    So, I think you’re doing some very, very good work. And I think it’s important that there be responses to Riverbend, because I completely disagree with this assessment, by Alene Berk:
    “Riverbend is a soft target,…”
    Unfortunately, I don’t think she (Riverbend) is a soft target at all! She has just enough stuff that rings true, and just enough stuff that’s wildly bogus, to make it fairly difficult to refute. Especially for someone who’s not “in country.”
    For example, I remember one of Riverbend’s very early posts that I read, where she discussed why April 9 (the day Saddam’s statue was toppled) was really a disaster for all Iraqis.
    She wrote, “Whether you loved Saddam or hated him…”
    Now, a person just skimming through her post would probably just blow by that without thinking much. But when one actually thinks about it, any person who “loved” Saddam either: 1) was incredibly ignorant about the absolutely monstrous things he has done, or 2) doesn’t really mind that Saddam Hussein did those monstrous things.
    So a person who “loved” Saddam was either incredibly ignorant, or a very bad person. But I doubt the average reader of Riverbend would think much about it, since everything she writes is in such a “reasonable” tone.
    Again, keep up the good and important work.
    Best wishes,
    Mark Bahner