Monday, May 02, 2005

Bob Herbert vs. the National Review

Bob Herbert has a typical (for him and the New York Times) rant against the U.S. Army in Iraq. That Bob Herbert has a liberal bias doesn't surprise me (it is, after the opinion page). That he irresponsibly maligns the US military by writing a screed that perpetuates the liberal Manhattanite view of what the Army must be like doesn't surprise me either. I guess then his apparent lack of fact-checking shouldn't surprise either. [Note that Herbert's screed is current the fourth most emailed NYTimes article of the day so NYT readers are sopping it up.]

In today's piece, Herbert talks about 23 year old Aidan Delgado, "an extremely thoughtful and serious young man" who is "a religion major" at the New College of Florida, "a small highly selective school in Sarasota".

Innocuous? Hardly. Let me translate.

"Aidan Delgado is really, really thoughtful so you must, must take him seriously. He's a religion major - thoughtful, serious folk can be religion majors too not just Bible-thumping rednecks - and he's really smart because he goes to this school that's really hard to get into."

A bit overwrought, probably but Herbert isn't known for his Pulitzer Prize winning prose or crystal clear reasoning. (well, actually...)

Herbert then relates a litany of unsubstantiated charges against the US military. It was this bit, though, that caught the attention of the National Review. And the folks at the Corner vs. Bob Herbert isn't a fair fight:

The officer's comment was a harbinger of the gratuitous violence that, according to Mr. Delgado, is routinely inflicted by American soldiers on ordinary Iraqis. He said: "Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people's heads."

1. 9.23 AM Rich Lowry: "I'm not naïve about nasty things people can do, including American troops, but does this sound plausible?"

2. 9.44 AM Email from a reader:

"As an old infantryman, I was often guilty of really stupid behavior myself. But....

1. When was the last time you saw a glass Coke bottle?

2. It's pretty hard to lean out of a Hummer to use a cash machine; the physical mechanics of leaning out just to smash Hadji on the head with a Coke bottle seem pretty difficult.

3. SOP for most units in Iraq seems to be not to even drive near people if you can avoid it.

4. Coke bottles are, or at least used to be, pretty tough to break.

5. Any military vehicle tends to eventually turn into a rolling trash dump, but unless Sergeants have changed a lot, Coke bottles rolling around on the floorboards are going to be seriously frowned on.” [Probably because rolling bottle could interfere with the brake pedals??! ed.)

3. 9.52 AM Jonah Goldberg weighs in:

...But I do enjoy trying to spot lies. If I had to guess, something like the Coke bottle thing happened once or twice and Herbert's guy is guilty of turning an anecdote into a trend. People tend to exaggerate far more than fabricate. But the idea that every day soldiers are driving around smashing glass bottles on civilian Iraqi heads sounds pretty implausible if for no other reason than it's so public. There are lots of westerners and journalists over there. Why hasn't anyone seen it happen -- other than this guy?

4. 11.30 AM Michael Rubin adds:

I'm actually an avid collector of Coke bottles, and have them from 130 countries and territories.

Iraq does not have Coca-Cola (nor does neighboring Syria), although a Pepsi canning plant opened about a month ago. The Pepsi Cans, in Arabic, carry the slogan: "The Soft Drink Made in Iraq." Most of the Coca-Cola and other soft-drinks are imported in cans from Turkey (in the north) and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan.

In Iraq, soft drinks are sold in both glass bottles and cans. You can buy plastic bottles of Zam-Zam, which is manufactured in Iran. The glass bottles tend to be the 330 ml size. They would not shatter over someone's head. The person who claimed as such was untruthful. The U.S. military bases provide cans of Coca-Cola, most often imported from Kuwait but, in the north, from Turkey.

That said, early on, some U.S. soldiers did drive through street markets and upset pushcarts and vendors. This was unfortunate and uncalled for, but our civil affairs teams put an end to such incidents quickly.

I do remember Coke bottles. They were thick (hence the term "coke bottle bottom glasses"), sturdy and very hard to shatter. If indeed this small part of the column is significantly exaggerated what about the rest of the tale? I am waiting, likely in vain, for Herbert's response.

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