Michael's Dispatches

Af-Pak Reporting


19 August 2008

Michael Yon

By now, no credible person denies the dramatic success that continues to manifest itself in Iraq. No doubt, there will be years of political dramas ahead for that country, and when they occur, we will blame ourselves for them, as is our habit. Americans have a tendency to blame ourselves nearly everything from wildfires to genocidal wars on the other side of the globe. And what we don't blame ourselves for, others will. Some might see our ability to take initiative and shoulder responsibility as naiveté. I think it's one of America's greatest strengths.

Many people around the world see America in decline. As someone who travels a great deal, I see the opposite. America is just getting started. Yes, we face enormous challenges and dangerous enemies. But the soul of our country, the initiative of our people, and the depth of the collective intelligence are all far stronger than our critics, and even many Americans, imagine. Al Qaeda thought that America would fall to her knees after 9/11. They were wrong. Today we hunt them like jackals.

Of course, the Iraq war has led some to think that the United States has committed a tragic imperial overreach. Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant, a truth widely accepted by the international community. Yet the international community can do little about evil tyrants. They leave that up to us, complaining when we do nothing and criticizing when we take action.

However history finally judges him, President Bush will be remembered for two decisions. In 2003, he invaded Iraq. And in 2006, he did not surrender.

Whether or not the first decision was right seems difficult to answer definitively without falling back onto ideological bias, partisan politics, or wishful thinking. Reasonable people likely will disagree about that decision for as long as the event is remembered. If Iraq falls apart or again becomes a tyrant state, then Bush was a brash, imperialistic President invading a sovereign nation without cause, who made things worse and spent lots of money and lives in doing so. If Iraq becomes a stable and prosperous nation even vaguely similar to the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, then most fair-minded people likely will judge Mr. Bush as a little-understood visionary who paid a moderate price to dramatically improve an important region of the world.

But few reasonable people who have been paying attention can disagree that the second decision was correct. In January 2007, one prominent Senator predicted that the Surge would only deepen the sectarian conflict in Iraq. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there: In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Now it's difficult to tell exactly what Senator Obama thinks about the Surge, for each remark he makes on the subject seems to veer in a different direction without ever actually going anywhere.

Please remember all those politicians and journalists who insisted that splitting Iraq into three parts was the only way. Meanwhile, those of us who were actually in Iraq kept insisting that the idea of splitting Iraq was ridiculous. There is no substitute for being on the ground over a sustained period.

History will show that after five years and more than four thousand American lives, we have proved that we never planned to steal Iraq's oil. To see a real war for oil, one need only look at what Russia is doing in Georgia. Vladimir Putin's Russia is reminding the world how much it needs America.

Sure, we made mistakes in Iraq, and we will continue to make mistakes in the future—there, in Afghanistan, and anywhere we dare to venture. But if we didn't try, the world would quickly turn to chaos and tyranny. The world is filled with extremely powerful weapons, and criminal-minded leaders who would use those weapons against any weaker nation who has something they want. America is the only country on Earth with power, will, and good intentions (at least, most of the time). That is why we are the indispensable nation.

Today, through perseverance, military courage, and increasingly smart strategy and politics, the Coalition has won the war in Iraq. Iraq has a chance to emerge from its bloody past. Having new BMWs and Mercedes bought with oil money does not make a country modern. Yet Iraq now has the chance to lead their people into the promise of a new life, and inspire their neighbors toward positive change.

What Iraq does now is largely up the Iraqis. They will have dramas, for which the world likely will blame the United States. But ultimately, the Iraqis now control their own future. This is what freedom means. It's not easy, and nothing's guaranteed. But at least the Iraqis have got a serious chance. If the Iraqis have the intelligence and will to seize the day, they will emerge as a powerful force in the Middle East with close ties to the West.

Looking back on the Iraq war, for all the attention the media paid, their reporting was anything but balanced. The outcome of the war was being negatively affected by irresponsible journalism, some of which was intentionally misleading. We truly could have lost the Iraq war due in large part to journalistic travesties. That we won the war despite the media demonstrates just how great our soldiers are. And let’s never forget the price that the British and others paid, like the Poles, and even the Georgians.

An unintended consequence of the Iraq war was that we ignored Afghanistan/Pakistan, where things only got worse. Now many are calling Af-Pak "The Good War," but let's see how long that lasts. Our NATO allies hide behind the sturdy legs of the United States and Great Britain, who do most of the real fighting in Afghanistan, just as they did in Iraq.

Now that media attention is turning back to the Af-Pak war, let's hope that the sum of their reporting will be more informed and less biased than what came out of Iraq. If the Iraq model is followed again, the Western politicians will say whatever is expedient, bending to popular pressure created by the media, many of whom understand the bending of truth better than Einstein understood the bending of light.

Meanwhile, the press will meander around like a herd of buffalo, occasionally stampeding in unison off a cliff, and taking public perception with them to the jagged rocks below.

My recent month-long walk in the Himalayan Mountains served as a buffer between Iraq and Af-Pak. We won the Iraq war, and now it's down to relatively sporadic violence and the arguments about what we should do with all of our troops and enormous amounts of gear still remaining. Little doubt, many of those troops will soon be in Afghanistan. But if there was not enough firsthand reporting from Iraq, there promises to be even less in Af-Pak. This front likely will not end as quickly, or as neatly, as Iraq. It could take decades. And we could still lose.

I have just left Nepal and landed in Bangkok, en route to Kabul. My plan is to spend some time in Afghanistan, head back over to Iraq in late September, then possibly return to Afghanistan before the year's end. In any case, I plan to keep my boots in Iraq and Afghanistan through the U.S. elections.

The last time I headed to Afghanistan, I spent far more money than I earned. Folks just didn't seem to care about that war. I am willing to stick it out, and have already proven that willingness in Iraq, but I simply will be unable to do so without generous reader support. These days support is scant. Folks seem to think I got rich off Moment of Truth in Iraq (I didn't). There will probably be no independent journalists who spend more than a month or so in Af-Pak during any given year. Same with the mainstream reporters I know. This means there will be almost no firsthand reporting from the Af-Pak battlefields, and less than a trickle comes to today. If readers want me there, I'll commit, but reader support is absolutely critical. I can't do it without you, and your support is needed TODAY. I should be in Afghanistan later this week.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Voice_in_DC · 13 years ago
    Michael, we can always count on you to keep us focused on what is important. It looks like you time away has given you some new life and new energy. I am so looking forward to hearing about Af-Pak and, perhaps a new book when you get a good understanding of the situation there, too. Do well, stay safe, and keep up posted.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Freedom Now · 13 years ago

    I enjoyed your writing and would like to praise what you said, but it is marred by a thoughtless attack on our allies.

    You said,

    "You're either Canadian or Eurotrash, which explains your effete personality."

    In the United States we have politicians who have reached high office like John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. There are prominent citizens like Michael Moore and George Soros. We have political activists like Lynne Stewart and Medea Benjamin.

    There is no lack of effete personalities here in the United States.

    Our Canadian allies have sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan. Our British allies have sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Germany and France pro-American leaders have been elected after our liberal elite said that we were destroying our alliances.

    Please dont stoop to the level of nastiness that they have.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anon · 13 years ago
    I found an article at BBC from the same date:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/ 861197.stm
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike P · 13 years ago
    SFC McElroy - were you a misinformation expert in the Army? What a bunch of unsupported propaganda! You give a link to a Washington Post article that you cite as a reference for Joe Wilson going about "outing" his wife by calling everyone in DC to tell them, and that his wife was some equivalent to a clerk - maybe you should read that article for your own reference. Your own citation was: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/15/AR2005111501857.html?nav=rss_politics/administration
    Evidently, even your Brit believer couldn't access a couple of your links - at least make up something that works or comes even a little bit close to the neocon babble you are espousing. Even the stuff you cite that does come close is great for misleading the ignorant - like your 1.77 tons of enriched uranium. This is not weapons-grade material - if you'll read your own citation, you'll know that it's not even good enough for a dirty bomb. If it was big news, you can bet that the Bush propaganda machine would have been all over it like maggots on meat - but it's not big news and would be too easily shot down if they had tried to tie nuke WMD development into it. Your own cite was: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/ 872201.stm

    And yes, yes, yes, a million times, yes, we were pretty confident that there were bio and chem WMD in Iraq - but, like "It's the Economy, Stupid" the move into Iraq was "It was the Nukes, Stupid". Only nuke development had the UN in an uproar - kind of - they wanted more time to investigate, but Bush wanted Saddam - so we went ahead and invaded. If you need citations for that, you wouldn't believe what you read, anyway. It's common knowledge - which evidently is much less common than I previously imagined.

    I must admit that you are fairly adept at misinformation, and if Ann Coulter is looking for an understudy, you might have a shot. You have some of these poor souls even referring to you as a hero. My god, what is the world coming to? And Huntress - if you're middle of the road, then I'm Rush Limbutt.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    William Crum · 13 years ago

    You said that the 1.77 metric tons of Enriched Uranium was not even weapons grade, then went on to falsely quote the article as saying it was not even good enough for dirty bombs, in an attempt to make the enriched Uranium found seem less dangerous. The Article did NOT say that, what it said was "Uranium would not be suitable for fashioning such a device, though appropriate material may have been among the other unidentified "sources", and that is the ENTIRE paragraph. It speaks of Uranium in general, it does not say that the Enriched Uranium found was so "SAFE" that it could not be used. You accuse her of using misinformation, then you yourself post ambiguous remarks about the legitimate information she posted. Let me ask a question. How many Nuclear Reactors does Iraq have? Why would they possess Enriched Uranium since they have no reactors, unless they were trying to research building a Nuclear Bomb? The article stated all of the items found were found in a Laboratory, what use does it serve there?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael J. Tierney · 13 years ago
    SFC McElroy - my most sincere apologies, ma'am!!!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael J. Tierney · 13 years ago
    Who officially outted Valerie Plame? SFC McElroy is absolutely correct: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

    The anti-war anti-Bush zealots refuse to even breathe his name, so I will do it for them:

    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage outted Valerie Plame first!
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage outted Valerie Plame first!
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage outted Valerie Plame first!
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage outted Valerie Plame first!
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage outted Valerie Plame first!

    I can go on, but that should do it for now.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael J. Tierney · 13 years ago
    The primary goal of terrorism is just that - terror. In the aftermath of an explosion involving any quantity of uranium, I'd LOVE to see a cool, calm populace rationally accepting the evaluation of some "expert" insisting that while, yes, it is enriched uranium, it really isn't a threat.

    Not gonna happen. At the first whisper of "radiation", the panic will begin, and it won't end until the last geiger counter goes through the target area with nary a click.

    Mission accomplished - terror achieved.

    Keep your head down, Mr. Yon. And SPC McElroy, you ROCK!!!

    (And how about those Canadians, eh?)

  • This commment is unpublished.
    George48 · 13 years ago
    For all your positive spin on how American exceptionalism can save the world, you continue to ignore the big problem of Iran. Iraq, for all the horrors that occurred there, stood as something of a buffer with Iran. Now that Iraq is weak, Pakistan has no government worth mentioning and Afghanistan hangs by a thread, guess who has profited handsomely? Iran. So, Mr. Yon, shall we proceed with planning our next invasion? After all, tyranny beckons America to save the Iranians from themselves, because oh yes, America knows best for all peoples of the world. I wager that before next year is out, McCain will order operations in Iran. $4 gas? You haven't seen anything yet.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Gonzales · 13 years ago
    Always enjoy your dispatches so I added my first donation to your efforts (more donations to come). Hope you are able to keep reporting in Af/Pak.
    The comments about itemized expenses were amusing. Although they would help, I hope you would rather use the time to catch up on your sleep!
    God Bless You!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Freedom Now · 13 years ago
    I think Iran is in bigger trouble. The Iranian support for anti-Iraqi terrorism and the downfall of their puppet Al-Sadr makes the strongman-regime look weak. It is only propped up by Islamist and Leftwing propagandists who use disinformation campaigns to hide the truth.

    The growing power of a much more liberal Iraq will challenge the Mullahs of Iran and inspire their opposition.

    A stronger Iraq is the key to delegitimizing the Iranian theocracy. In the West, tacit support from leftwing activists who propagandize in the best interests of the regime will prolong the fall of the Mullahs, but they cant hide the truth forever.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Laurence Hunt · 13 years ago
    Let's not forget that the Canadians are carrying Kandahar, the most difficult region in Afghanistan.

    In Canada, we hear occasional news of Iraq, but daily news of Afghanistan. The Canadian presence is critical, and Canadians strongly support this mission.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    STEVE G · 13 years ago
    It must be fun going though life with such an anti-American attitude about every thing. Thankfully, you leftist ignoramuses can craw back into your dungeons for a couple of years after Obamanation loses the election.

    As for Mike, I can't wait to read more of your dispatches from Afganistan.

    I am sending you another donation today. I'll try to keep it up on amonthly basis.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    carol · 13 years ago
    micheal, just bought another book through "soldiers angels". My autographed copy went to my son in law who has come back from Iraq. He was there during the surge, I wasnt. Enough said.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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  • This commment is unpublished.
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