The Best Defense

Mattis to CENTCOM

Marine Gen. James Mattis is going to take over the Central Command post from Petraeus, Defense Secretary Gates just announced.

This is the best news I have heard in a long time. Just when I think Gates has lost his touch, he revives my faith by doing something like this. Readers of this blog will know that I think Mattis is terrific.

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The Best Defense

Accentuate the positive!: U.S. military spokesman in Iraq wants happier news

Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, earlier this week took reporters to task for being too negative. According to NPR, he wrote that:

As I review news coverage of Iraq, I thought it would be helpful to provide you with my perspective ... Iraqis are embracing their version of democracy."

There is political debate as party leaders work to form a new government. The population has been united in its commitment to representative government, just as it was united in its rejection of violence and attempts to ignite sectarian violence. Are we witnessing political rhetoric? To be sure. Isn't that natural following a close election?"

Reporters responded with alacrity. The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse wrote back, in a reply to all:

You say that Iraqis are'embracing their version of democracy.' I expect you might have quite a hard time finding someone at the market who would describe his or her relationship to Iraq's democracy in this way. Four months after the election, with no new government in sight, the majority of people I have spoken to are deeply frustrated with their experience of democracy. Surely, they ask, democracy is about more than that one day every four or five years, when we go to put out crosses on a ballot paper? Surely it is about the ability to hold our representatives to account and make them work on our behalf? This is not the experience most Iraqis have with democracy so far."

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, in reporting on all this, added a comment of her own. She noted that she has spent most of the last eight years in Baghdad. She wrote that:

This was probably my last trip to Iraq for awhile, and I've spent six weeks moving around the country talking to regular Iraqis far removed from the politicians and military men.

Many have told me how disappointed they are by the direction Iraq is headed.

It has been four months since the parliamentary elections, and the parties are still bickering over who gets to form a government. Electricity is terrible, the phone networks don't work, and most basic services like water and sewage are patchy at best. Iraq is constantly indexed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced.

And there is still violence, every single day. About 4,400 American service members have given their lives in Iraq. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died.

Both Iraqis and Americans are still being killed, though in vastly reduced numbers."

General Lanza is entitled to his opinion, but this was stupid of him for a couple of reasons. First, the reporters in Baghdad generally know Iraq far better than he ever will. Many of those still there have been there for years. And most of them get around the city far more than he ever will. The U.S. military should avoid anything that smacks of happy talk in Iraq. They tried it for several years and it didn't work.

Meanwhile, more than 400 people were killed or wounded by bomb blasts in recent days.