January 04, 2010

For shame

A certain popular blogger (who I've mentioned before but shall not link to now or hereafter) recently put on his website details relating to a recent IED strike of:

*number of total casualties (including wounded);
*details of the damage to an ISAF vehicle produced by a certain quantity of explosive;
*precise details of the limitations of counter-measures employed by that vehicle; and
*the ISAF name for the route where it occurred.

In the same post, that blogger urged Canadian media to publicize the same info and claimed the Canadian government was trying to cover up its own incompetence by citing the security of the troops in asking other media not to reprint it. "There is nothing classified or sensitive about the information supplied..." he yawped. For the record, he's wrong, on all four counts above; that information would have been considered under various levels of classification during my tour under ISAF regulations and I'm sure still is today.

Whether you or I agree with those restrictions or not (and your opinion or mine doesn't and shouldn't count for squat) operational security rules that were intended to protect soldiers' lives in future were broken by his deliberate and provocative little bloggy temper tantrum. Some days we really make it easy for our enemies.

That same blogger has frequently complained about restrictions on his freedom of movement imposed by various nations during his embedding time in war theatres, on which this sort of action sheds an uncomfortable new light. I seriously hope those restrictions are only tightened after this evidence of flagrant irresponsibility on his part. Were it not for his rep alone, his actions in this instance would clearly indicate him to be a potential menace to any troops he accompanied and claimed to support in the future (Geraldo was expelled once for something similar after all, and his rep didn't help him then), and anyone who is thinking of hitting that particular internet tipjar from now on might want to keep that in mind. Those who care will know exactly who I'm talking about.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, anyone can always make an honest mistake, and journalists should be expected to push back behind the scenes at these sorts of barriers to telling a story. It's the open incitement to subvert the rules set out for embedded news organizations by their handlers that rankles here. I may think the French practice of not releasing the last names of their soldiers is kinda silly but I wouldn't publish those surnames because I felt like it, or encourage other journalists currently embedded with the French military to, either.

UPDATE #2: Um, okay, I give up: it was Michael Yon.

Posted by BruceR at 11:24 PM

If Sarah Palin were a three-star...

...her interviews would probably sound a little like this. Yeesh. I can see why COMISAF does most of the media work.

To be fair, a lot of it is the transcriber here. No one talks in perfect sentences: when I worked as a journalist, I at least tried to put in periods where they would make sense in a written piece and avoid the run-ons. The staff of Stars & Stripes obviously couldn't be bothered, and now they've made the second-in-command in Afghanistan read like a babbling idiot. Even if they had done their job, he would have still sounded pretty fluffy, but as it is it's just embarrassing to all involved.

Posted by BruceR at 11:03 PM

A reading recommendation

A commenter who shall remain nameless reminds me that the Afghan bibliography in the post below doesn't reference opinion pieces, only factual research pieces and monographs. Yeah, I know, I was just too lazy to do two posts there, so I stretched for the segue. Never mind.

In the monograph recommendations (yeah, I know this isn't for the bibliography either, I'm segue-ing again), if you're looking for a really good history of the 1916-18 Arab Revolt (and really, who isn't?) I must strongly recommend Brit James Barr's Setting the Desert on Fire, which was released in this hemisphere finally in 2008, but which I only finally got around to over the holidays. So good I wished I'd written it... When you compare it to the pallid stuff on this topic that went before, like that 2002 work by Anthony Bruce with the stupid title, it's just not even in the same league.

On the critical topic of what T.E. Lawrence was really all about, he comes across as neither pie-eyed, nor obsessively iconoclastic, finding a new middle ground on that flawed but pivotal figure. And like any good history, it spends the minimum necessary time on the dry what, who and when, and illuminates instead the "how did they manage that?", "why did they act that way?" and "why the hell should I care?" sorts of questions that make for good reading. Bravo for Barr on what was obviously a five-year labour of love.

Posted by BruceR at 10:34 PM

A valuable Afghan resource

Christian has updated his Afghan Analyst bibliography, I see. An absolute must-have for serious researchers and scholars.

One possible future addition might be Rory Stewart's NYRB must-read:

As long as the US asserted that Afghanistan was an existential threat, the front line in the war on terror, and that, therefore, failure was not an option, the US had no leverage over Karzai. The worse Afghanistan behaved—the more drugs it grew and terrorists it fostered—the more money it received. If it sorted out its act, it risked being relegated to a minor charitable recipient like Tajikistan. A senior Afghan official warned me this year "to stop referring to us as a humanitarian crisis: we must be the number one terrorist threat in the world, because if we are not we won't get any money." By asserting convincingly that Afghanistan is not the be-all and end-all and that the US could always ultimately withdraw, Obama escapes this codependent trap and regains some leverage over the Afghan government.

This strikes me as exactly correct as a diagnosis.

UPDATE: A contrasting opinion on the Stewart piece, here.

Posted by BruceR at 08:44 AM