Tuesday, September 11, 2007

General Petraeus Goes To Washington, Sunnis In Al Anbar, Camp Cropper, Raw Politics, Saudi Re-Education Program, And Iraqi Police (Monday's Show)

Hi everyone. The show is coming at us tonight live from Iraq, with Anderson Cooper hosting from Camp Victory in Baghdad, Mike Ware doing his thing as always, and even Gary Tuchman in country. Oh, I think I'm going to need to go breathe in my happy place. Kidding. I'm actually very excited about the coverage. I just wish it wasn't accompanied by that pesky threat of bodily harm/kidnapping. So, today was quite the day in Washington. The administration's golden boy, General David Petraeus, made his much anticipated testimony on Capitol Hill regarding the situation in Iraq and the "surge." For those that have been following the drama that unfolded before this hearing, well, it's been quite interesting hasn't it? Let's see, it began months ago with repeated chants of "September, September, September." That's when everything was supposed to change. We were told to keep our mouths shut and wait until September, which was when General David Petraeus would give his "report." And then suddenly this Petraeus report was like the second coming or something and it's all the administration could talk about.

Now, those of us that have not recently suffered a head injury, remember that little thing called the "Iraq Study Group," (ISG) and were a little skeptical about a report bringing about any change whatsoever. But, hey, Petraeus had credibility, so a lot of critics were muted. But then came along the "Los Angeles Times," who reported that, hey, you know that Petraeus report? Yeah, well, it turns out, not so much written by Petraeus. This of course caused quite the kerfuffle. So, what was an administration to do? Well, get rid of the report of course. Still with me here? So, today Petraeus comes to Washington sans written report, but packing an oral presentation that he promises was written all by his lonesome. And if you believe that, there's a bridge I'd like to sell you. (Oh, by the way, Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker was totally there too. You'd think he'd get equal billing seeing as though the whole point of the surge was to secure things so the government could get their stuff together, but guess not.)

So anyway, Anderson gives us a little summary of Petraeus' report on the "so-called" surge (I love that he calls it that) and then we get some clips. In the clips Petraeus states we might be able to draw down troops to pre-surge level by next summer. Sounds pretty much like "stay the course" to me. Like I said before on this blog, there's nothing happening in September, people. And on that low note, we move into a Jamie McIntyre "Keeping Them Honest" piece on what Petraeus said. As you might imagine, Petraeus took a glass half full approach with his facts and figures, which therefore contradict independent organizations regarding numbers of attacks. Shockingly, it seems there's a lot of cherry picking going on. For example, it's apparently only counted as sectarian violence if the bullet went through the back of the head - through the front is just good old fashion criminal. See how that works? Reports such as those and a 2004 editorial by Petraeus that can be viewed as politically motivated, led moveon.org to take out an ad in the "New York Times" that is causing a splash. You know who Petraeus is starting to remind me of? Colin Powell. And we all know what happened with him.

Next up we're joined by Michael Ware and Michael Gordon of the "New York Times." Guess I'm going have to go formal here. Anderson begins by pointing out that Bushco is always pointing to al Qaeda as our big enemy, while Petraeus pretty much shot holes in that today. Ware agrees and states that it's the Iranian influence that's the big threat. Then Anderson brings up the fact that Petraeus is touting military successes, but the whole point of the surge was to provide security to get the government up to snuff and that totally didn't happen. Very good point and something a lot of media seem to have missed. Gordon agrees and Anderson wants to know why a political solution is so hard. Gordon basically says that the Sunnis feel disenfranchised and the Shia don't want to give up their power.

Anderson then notes that Petraeus is talking about bring 30,000 troops home like it's an operational decision, when really they have to bring them home because the military is totally strained. Another great point. And Ware is pretty much like, dude, I know, that was their time line all along. Anderson continues with his awesome point-making, to say that in 2006 the ISG stated the military were underreporting violence, so he wants to know why we should believe them now. Good frickin' question. Gordon seems to think there's actually a trend of violence decreasing, but, um, not in the reports I've read, so, hmm. Finally, Anderson wonders if the success in Anbar is due to the surge and can it be replicated. Gordon says Anbar itself improved before the surge, but the surge allowed what's happening in Anbar to spread to Baquba. Fair enough. Okay, so that discussion was pretty awesome. Great job Anderson and producers that help write the questions! I was all worried that they would do a hack job on this Petraeus stuff and I'd have to get mean while they were risking their lives. I don't even like to get mean when they're in New York. So, yay!

On now to a Michael Ware piece in which he allows Sunni insurgents to smuggle him into Al Anbar Province. No, I'm not kidding. Breathe. Breathe. Anyway, as they travel into Anbar through al Qaeda and Mahdi army controlled areas, they actually have to pretend to be both Sunni and Shia. I think we pretty much already know the story of Anbar now, right? The insurgents got sick of being killed by al Qaeda, so they started fighting back, and now they have US support. Attacks have gone down from 100 to 7 per week. When asked what would have happened to him if he was there four months ago, Michael is told, "Al Qaeda would have separated your head from the body." Um, yikes. Of course this new positive development isn't all flowers and puppies. The Sunnis are against the government and it's not hard to see who they're probably going to be fighting next. After Michael leaves Anbar, their Sunni protection can only take them so far, and they have to drive through al Qaeda territory by themselves. When a checkpoint comes up, I'm irrationally freaking out, even though this is a tape and I know Michael's fine, but such is life. Anyway, they hide the camera and make it back safe and sound, sure to give us all more heart attacks another day. After his piece, Michael's live with Anderson again and of note is his point that we're supporting forces that are against the government that we created. It helps if you don't think about it.

Coming back from commercial, we're joining Anderson on his ride from the airport, a stretch of rode that's one of the most notorious in the world. We then cut to a clip of Anderson on the same road circa January 2005, when it was actually more dangerous. Cutting back to 2007, we learn that it's still dangerous enough to require guards, guns, armored vehicles, Kevlar vests, and helmets. That last thing he's simply holding in his hands. Dude, that's not where it goes. Anyway, we then move into an Anderson piece about Camp Cropper, a Baghdad detainee facility. There are 24,000 detainees total and Camp Cropper is home to 4,000 of them, over 800 of which are juveniles. Anderson and team don't get to talk to the detainees because the military didn't want them to, which of course makes me suspicious, but I can see their side too. The story of Camp Cropper is that they're trying to fight extremism on the inside by separating out the moderates and teaching the juveniles that killing is against the Koran. Good plan. Of course it probably would have worked better four years ago.

Transitioning now to some "Raw Politics" with Tom Foreman - the Iraq edition. Okay, so we've already covered the moveon.org ad, but Tom says that it "played fast and loose with the facts." Except he doesn't tell us how. Um, Bueller? You guys can't make a statement like that and then not back it up. Oh, and don't pull a Sanjay Gupta "Sicko" type job because we all know how that turned out. Anyway, as you might imagine, the ad has caused the republicans to totally lose their, ahem, stuff. We've got statements coming from everybody, even Representative Duncan Hunter, who's outraged that people would attack the messenger. Now, Tom doesn't actually mentioned him, but I did because I'm hoping that 360 had a little chuckle over the irony.

Next up, we have a Nic Robertson piece on a re-education program in Saudi Arabia that's reforming former bombers. Well, allegedly, anyway. We all know that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and it turns out a lot of the foreign fighters going into Iraq to commit suicide attacks are Saudis too. We meet a young man who killed 12 people, but failed at killing himself. Now he claims to be reformed. Maybe he is, but I'm sorry if I don't trust Saudi Arabia. No one ever talks about them because they've got the oil and the close relationship with Bush/Cheney. An investigation into Saudi Arabia would be quite the CNN Special, don't you think?

Moving on now to Anderson reminding us that a recent report recommended that the national police force be disbanded because they are so corrupt, divided, and dysfunctional. This moves into a Gary Tuchman piece on the police in al Alam. They're being trained by a U.S. Air Force team of security experts and I'm wondering if the Air Force always did this kind of stuff or if the military is really stretched that thin. Anyway, as if training the police isn't enough, getting there is crazy dangerous. In fact, when Gary goes with them he's told that if the driver is killed or can't drive, he needs to move her body and take control of the Humvee. Um,...gulp. And this is all done by only 12 people. After his piece, we're joined by Gary live and Anderson asks why the police are so dysfunctional. Gary says mostly it's that they're too sectarian and incompetent, but actually the problem with the one's they just visited, is that they can't pay them. Oh, well, yeah, that would be a problem. Gary also notes that it's super scary for these guys (and girls!) because they have no choice but to come back the way they came and there's always the risk that one of the police they're training could tip off al Qaeda of when they'll be coming by. Man, there's got to be a better way.

The Shot tonight is an actual live cobra guarding a pair of $120,000 sandals at Harrod's Department store in London. And just as I'm thinking, "$120,000 for sandals? What the hell?" Anderson says, "I'm not sure which is scarier: the price tag or, frankly, the cobra -- the cobra, which Harrod's said would attack anything that moves." Aw, and that's why I love him. Another reason is the awesome job he did tonight --that they all did tonight. They stuck to coverage that matters...they fact checked...I am very pleased. Cookies for everyone! A

News You Might Have Missed: Okay, I'm still easing into this, so I don't have much for you tonight (and may just be switching to a weekend post for this feature soon), but if you're currently reading this, net neutrality is important to you. It seems Gonzales gave us all a nice little "up yours" as a going away present to himself. Get yourself up to speed.

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