Assume the Position

Saturday, October 11, 2003
 
Canned, Not Necessarily Bogus, Letters From Iraq

Glenn Reynolds seems a bit ticked off:

BOGUS LETTERS FROM IRAQ? I'd like to know who's behind this. (Parachuting from jumbo jets? Does anybody do that?) With so much good news coming firsthand from Iraq, there's no need to fake it. Unless, perhaps, you're either (1) incredibly stupid; or (2) trying to discredit the real thing. And sending the same letter to the same paper under two different names means you'd have to be incredibly stupid.

Whoever's behind this should be appropriately punished, either way.

On the night of March 26, 2003, about 1,000 paratroopers of 173rd Airborne Brigade dropped onto Objective Buford in Northern Iraq. Here is part of one of the news report at the time:

Nearly 1,000 U.S. Army paratroops entered the war in dramatic fashion when they jumped out of low-flying jet airplanes in the dark of night and seized an airfield in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled region.

The bold, carefully planned mission by the 173rd Airborne Brigade was the 29th combat jump in U.S. history, according to brigade officers. The paratroops, many of whom are elite Army Rangers, flew directly from Aviano Air Force Base in northern Italy, which is near their base in Vicenza.

Fifteen Air Force C-17 Globemaster transport planes deposited men and equipment onto an air strip dubbed Objective Buford - near the city of Bashur, 30 miles from the Turkish border. The men and a handful of women had trained to jump at an altitude of around 500 feet and hit the ground at speeds of up to 17 miles per hour.

The C-17 is 174 feet long with a wingspan of 170 feet. It's powered by four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 jet turbofan engines, the military version of the PW2000 series engines used on the Boeing 757 (which only has two). Although "jumbo jet" is a term usually reserved for the largest commercial airliners (747, L1011, A300, etc.) it is also sometimes used to refer to any large multi-engine passenger jet, such as this reference in an Associated Press report about Ariana, the Afghan airline [emphasis added]:

At Kabul Airport, crews are working feverishly to finish by week's end repairing fissures in the airport's runway caused by U.S. bombs. Near the facility's slightly curved taxiway sits Ariana's lone working jumbo jet, a Boeing 727, and five other craft rendered useless by the U.S. bombardment in October.

If the AP can call a 727 a "jumbo jet," an Army soldier writing for a civilian audience can probably refer to an Air Force C-17 the same way. So, describing the insertion as soldiers "parachuting from jumbo jets" is not particularly inapt.

The letters in question, which the The Olympian wouldn't print, show up in numerous places. Here is one from the Charleston Daily Mail and one from the Connellsville Daily Courier The letters give a generic description, starting with the opening paragraph…

I have been serving in Iraq for over five months now as a soldier in the second battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, otherwise know as the "ROCK." We entered the country at midnight on March 26, one thousand of my fellow soldiers and I parachuted from 10 jumbo jets (known as C-17s) onto a cold, muddy field in Bashur, northern Iraq. This parachute operation was the U.S. Army's only combat jump of the war and opened up the northern front. Things have changed tremendously for our battalion since those first cold, wet weeks spent in the mountain city of Bashur. On April 10 our battalion conducted an attack south into the oil rich town of Kirkuk, the city that has since become our home away from home and the focus of our security and development efforts.

…that continues throughout. No personal exploits are described, just the activities of the battalion.

The letters are no more "bogus," in the sense that their content is fictitious, than canned "I'm a senior citizen living on a fixed income…" form letters; and possibly much less so. They are only "bogus" from the standpoint that signer and/or sender did not actually write them—that is the only thing that damages the credibility of these letters.

[I took a break while writing this, and now I see that InstaPundit has already updated his original entry and apologized after receiving views similar to mine from other readers and bloggers. This led Spoons to say, "Glenn, for one, could never made it as a 'professional' journalist. He has too much class." As for me, I've never claimed to be quick at blogging about anything. So, I'll just finish this up and post it anyway.]

Individuals writing to the local paper are at a disadvantage to the wire services and syndicated columnists. A single AP story might appear in nearly every commercial newspaper and news website; but, a letter to the editor, if it gets printed at all, is likely to appear in only that one local paper. Interest groups prompt their members to send letters to the editor and often provide a canned letter to use. The purpose is two-fold: to get wider coverage by having their points printed in multiple papers, and to create the appearance that their position is widely held.

The letters about the 503nd INF (ABN) seem to have been sent for the first of those two purposes—to provide wider coverage than the original author's letter would receive if just sent to the author's hometown press. The letter really needs only two things to overcome the credibility problem caused by a form letter: a modified opening paragraph and the correct signature.

So, here's a hint for the next person who plans to try the same thing. You went to the trouble of printing the letters with individual signature blocks and sending them to the (mostly) correct local papers to get that hometown soldier does good edge in having the letter printed. Just make the opening sentences accurately reflect who is writing the letter…

I have been serving in Iraq for over five months now as a soldier in the second battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, otherwise know as the "ROCK." We entered the country at midnight on March 26, I and one thousand of my fellow soldiers, including _____name____ from ___hometown____, parachuted from 10 jumbo jets (known as C-17s) onto a cold, muddy field in Bashur, northern Iraq.

…then sign your own name to the letter. It won't matter how many papers publish the individual letters you send, they'll be no more "bogus" than any wire service story or syndicated column.


UPDATE - October 14, 2003: Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, commander of the 2nd Battalion, was the source of the letters. (via InstaPundit)

In an e-mail to ABCNEWS today, the commander of the battalion, Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, said the "letter-writing initiative" was all his idea.

Caraccilo said he circulated the form letter to his soldiers to give them "an opportunity to let their respective hometowns know what they are accomplishing here in Kirkuk. As you might expect, they are working at an extremely fast pace and getting the good news back home is not always easy. We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home."

Caraccilo wrote that his staff drafted the letter, he edited it and reviewed it and then offered it to the soldiers. "Every soldier who signed that letter did so after a careful read," he said. "Some, who could find the time, decided to send their own versions, while others chose not to take part in the initiative."

Caraccilo was unapologetic, saying that the letter "perfectly reflects what each of these brave soldiers has and continues to accomplish on the ground."

"With the current and ongoing media focus on casualties and terrorist attacks, we thought it equally important to share with the American public, and especially the folks from our soldier's hometowns, the good news associated with our work in Kirkuk," Caraccilo added.

The links to the letters in the Charleston Daily Mail and the Connellsville Daily Courier no longer work. I suspect they have simply timed out of the free archive rather than having been deliberately removed. You can Google nearly any phrase from the first paragraph reproduced above and find one version or another of the complete letter Google's cache.



 
The Knørr Has Arrived

Viking Pundit has pulled ashore and unloaded his October Smarter Harper's Index.


Thursday, October 09, 2003
 
The NYT Twists And Misquotes Again

David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker reported (aka twisted and misquoted) in the NYT:

Appearing at a NATO conference in Colorado Springs on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Rumsfeld tried to dismiss any talk of his diminished role in Iraq policy, suggesting at one point that reporters should concentrate on "something more important," like the World Series prospects of his hometown Chicago Cubs.

That tone contrasted with his harsh language on Tuesday, when he said President Bush and had never discussed with him the creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group, set up by Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. He said that the first he heard of it was in a memorandum from Ms. Rice last week. In a seeming criticism of the White House he suggested that the National Security Council was finally focusing on doing what it should have been doing all along — coordinating the work of the many government agencies dealing with Iraq.

He told reporters on Tuesday, "It's not quite clear to me why" Ms. Rice sent him a memorandum on the subject. When he was pressed on the question by a German broadcast reporter, he retorted: "I said I don't know. Isn't that clear? You don't understand English?"

The misquote? It's the interviewer who says, "It's not quite clear to me why," not Rumsfeld.

The twist? Read the interview they refer to from Tuesday and see if 1) Rumsfeld's "harsh language on Tuesday" is directed toward Rice or the interviewers and 2) whether Rumsfeld "suggested that the National Security Council was finally focusing on what it should have been doing all along" as the NYT article says, or whether he actually said the NSC was doing what it had been doing all along:

Q: If I could start with a brief non-Nato question.

DR: Sure.

Q: The announcement by the president on Tuesday on the restructuring of the Iraqi rebuilding effort, headed by Dr. Rice. Rightly or wrongly, I guess, it is being perceived as shunting the Pentagon aside on the restructuring and rebuilding efforts in Iraq. You know, can you comment a bit on that perception, at least coming out of Washington, that that was the intention of the president, to sort of take the leadership away from the Pentagon and give it to the NSC [National Security Council] and the intergovernmental process?

DR: I think the way to think about it is - first of all, I think your question is incorrect. The president didn't make an announcement. Condi Rice apparently backgrounded the New York Times, is what took place. The way to think about it is: That's the job of the National Security Council, to coordinate among different departments and agencies. That's why it's there. That's what its charter is.

Q: Why did you need a special committee to do that, and why do you introduce another level of?

DR: I think you have to ask Condi that question. I think it's yet to be determined exactly how those elements will operate. They've been there, basically the way I think she backgrounded it, for a year and a half, pretty much the same I'd say. So I don't know quite what the purpose of the backgrounding was. But those same elements are?

Q: Those departments have been there all the time already?

DR: Well, they're not departments, they're little committees of the NSC person and the other departments and agencies, and they've been working on these things since before the war.

Q: You don't think it's some kind of oversight they've tried to exercise over you and Mr [Paul] Bremmer?

DR: Um, my personal view is we'll just have to see how it evolves. But my impression of it is that that is what is the charter of the National Security Council and I haven't been able to detect any difference from the memo - unfortunately it's a classified memo, it shouldn't be, there's nothing in it that's classified. And it's really very clear what it is and what it is is what it's always been. That is to say that the NSC's task is to try to co-ordinate between all the departments in agencies.

Q: They're trying to do better?

DR: Pardon me?

Q: They're trying to do better now?

DR: No, I think they've always been trying to do better. Certainly everyone tries to do better.

Q: There was certainly the perception prior to this that the NSC had not performed its traditional role in the intergovernmental, interagency process, and that the Pentagon had dominated the rebuilding. If I could get back to this issue of the perception at least of the Pentagon being, if not shunted aside, at least subsumed into this because of some of the problems. Could you maybe just react to that?

DR: I really can't, because I haven't had a chance to see how it's going to evolve, but my impression is - there's no point of me making impressions. She gave a background, she said what she said, and the way I read the memorandum is that it is basically what the responsibility of the NSC is and always has been, which is what's been going on. We have regular National Security Council meetings with the president, we have regular principles meetings, we have regular deputies meetings, they have regular PCC meetings, and the people named in that memorandum are her staff members. So I don't quite know how to respond.

Q: Not to belabor the point, but it sounds from your response there that you had not been briefed about this prior to Dr Rice's briefing of the Times and the memo.

DR: That's true.

Q: OK. Did you talk to the president about this beforehand?

DR: Have I talked to him about it? No.

Q: OK. OK. Did it come as a surprise to you then?

DR: No, that's what the NSC's charter is. It's a kind of - the only thing unusual about it is the attention. I kind of wish they'd just release the memorandum.

Q: You said already, working for one year in the way you said, told us, why then is it necessary to make the memorandum?

DR: I don't know. You'd have to ask them. I don't know.

Q: Do you have any [inaudible] why?

DR: I've already responded to that.

Q: It's not quite clear why.

DR: Pardon me?

Q: It's not quite clear for me why.

DR: I said I don't know. Isn't that clear? You don't understand English? I was not there for the backgrounding.

Q: One might think you'd talk about it with Condoleezza and with others in the National Security Council when you're sitting together, five or six of you.

DR: Yeah, we talk about everything.

Q: And she doesn't say: Now I'm writing a memo, by the way, I'll tell you.

DR: I happen not to know that she was going to write a memo, but that's true every day that somebody on the NSC writes a memorandum, or someone in one of the principle departments. I mean I write memorandums all the time that people don't know I'm writing until people receive it. I think you're looking for something that's not there.

Q: Can we go onto Iraq?

DR: Sure.

Here is Peter Spiegel's FT article. He was one of the foreign reporters at that Tuesday interview session for the foreign media. The interview transcript link there was free, and that is where I got the portion I provided above. Now that transcript is only available to FT subscribers. DOD, however, also has a transcript of the interview. There are some slight differences between the DOD and FT transcripts, but they don't change the essentials of the questions or Rumsfeld's responses. For instance:

FT—Q: You don't think it's some kind of oversight they've tried to exercise over you and Mr [Paul] Bremmer?

FT-DR: Um, my personal view is we'll just have to see how it evolves. But my impression of it is that that is what is the charter of the National Security Council and I haven't been able to detect any difference from the memo - unfortunately it's a classified memo, it shouldn't be, there's nothing in it that's classified. And it's really very clear what it is and what it is is what it's always been. That is to say that the NSC's task is to try to co-ordinate between all the departments in agencies

vs

DOD—Q: Do you personally perceive that as some sort of oversight they tried to exercise over you and Mr. Bremer?

DOD—Rumsfeld: My personal view is we’ll just have to see how it evolves but my impression of it is that is what is the charter of the National Security Council and I haven’t been able to detect any difference in the memo. Unfortunately it’s a classified memo, it shouldn’t be there’s nothing in it that’s classified and it’s really very clear what it is and what it is, is what it’s always been. That is to say that the NSC’s task is to try to coordinate among the departments and agencies.

In both versions, "It's not quite clear for me why," is said by the questioner. And in both versions Rumsfeld seems to pressing the point that it seems like business as usual at the NSC.



Wednesday, October 08, 2003
 
Do They Never Learn?

With several members from the Clinton-Gore campaign teams running his campaign (minus one), is it any wonder that Clark is already running afoul of campaign finance laws?


Monday, October 06, 2003
 
Where was that discussion before the war?

Bjorn Staerk has some interesting observations about the Norwegian media's belated discovery of US neo-conservatism.



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