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March 24, 2007


I wonder if an Iraqi blogger who picked up a gun to give cover fire for a wounded insurgent would be considered a journalist?

Boldus begone?

No, protecting an insurgent would not provide cover for a journalist, and it is a violation of the law of war for someone claiming non-combatant status to pick up a weapon. Not to mention that whole uniform thing. I am not surprised that the PAO are very uncomfortable having him there and credentialed, since he was very public about his actions. It threatens the safety of all journalists, not just in this war but in all future wars. It also treatens the claim that the journalists are independent. So despite the fact that Yon writes good stuff, he is a liability to the cause, and not just this cause, but the cause of war journalism everywhere. I applaud his action, but it would have been far smarter to not make it public.

Exactly, jrudkis.

Wait, are any of us pretending he's a journalist?

Good post.

(Posts by Charles tend to make me very angry...)

...and it is a violation of the law of war for someone claiming non-combatant status to pick up a weapon. Not to mention that whole uniform thing.

I'm not so sure, j. Embeds wear the same uniforms as soldiers so they won't get targeted by insurgents or terrorists, plus they are on our side (presumably). They're not in the same category as Red Cross or Red Crescent. Journalists are targets, given the number of journalists killed in Iraq, and for good reason from the insurgent/terrorist standpoint. Yon had a hard and quick decision to make in the heat of battle: Hold back and report the goings on, or step in and try to save a man's life. To me, he made the right choice.


Whether Yon made the right call is a completely different issue from whether he violated the laws of war.

Every day, good people violate laws in the course of doing good things; we use different words for legality and morality with good reason.

Wearing a uniform does not make one a lawful combatant. The fact that other journalists have been killed in Iraq does not make Yon a lawful combatant.

Your statement that "embeds . . . are on our side" is irrelevent to the question of whether Yon acted as a lawful combatant. He is not in the US Army chain of command; he has not sworn an oath to obey lawful orders of his superiors; he is not subject to court martial.

If you want to argue that he's a lawful combatant, you need to cite the relevant statutes.

Embeds do not wear the same uniform, they wear a similar camouflage clothing, but without the big US ARMY, and for the most part now not even the same camouflage pattern. They have no more right on the battlefield than a chaplain suddenly picking up arms and firing.

Iraq insurgents are targeting journalists (and soldiers, teachers, mothers, children...) but that is relatively immaterial. The issue is that "fighting reporters" will undermine the ability to get news in future wars, as all belligerents will assume they are simply spies.

And I do think he did the right thing: it is the publicizing it that causes the problem.

Can't we just say that it was bad journalistic ethics but good personal ethics? Sometimes (often) the two are in conflict.

A question:

if done reasonably well, we get the upper hand in the Information War, and it improve our chances in the Long War.

What "Long War"?

A comment about your basic point here:

Effective communication requires credibility. It doesn't matter what you say -- even if it's both true and worth saying -- if folks have good reason to not believe you.

We've more or less pissed our credibility away regarding Iraq, and that's not due to the malfeasance of the press or the legacy of Vietnam. It's because we've made too many mistakes, pursued too many policies that had anything but the best interest of the Iraqi people in mind, and been caught out in too many lies.

Maybe Petraeus can turn that around, maybe not. The position he's operating from is basically 4th down, 99 yards to go.

For what little it is worth, IMO what it would take for us to actually act in good faith toward the Iraqis would be to put enough troops in country to actually establish a basic level of security, and keep them there until the Iraqi people sorted out how they want to organize and run their country politically. That will probably take 5 to 10 years, and will require an astounding level of continued economic support in addition to the police function.

My guess, also for what little it is worth, is that "enough troops" in this context is something like 400,000 or more. Basically, what the professional military asked for initially. That will probably mean a draft, and will cost a lot of money. A lot. So, I don't see it happening.

Short of that, the "surge" and the placement of Petraeus in a position of authority are, perhaps, well meant, but they don't represent a truly serious commitment on the part of the US to do the right thing in Iraq.

If I'm right, this will be pretty obvious to everyone involved, and no amount of spin, whether you call it "Information Ops" or any other name, will make a difference.

You have to tell the truth if you want people to actually believe you. If you don't tell the truth, sooner or later they'll figure it out.

If we want the Iraqis (and the American people) to believe we have the best interest of the Iraqi people in mind and are being successful in our efforts there, we actually have to have the best interests of the Iraqis in mind, and our efforts there have to actually be successful.

So, I wish Petraeus good luck, but I am not sanguine about his odds.

As a final note, Michael Yon is a good writer, but it would be hard for me to imagine anyone seeing him as an objective or impartial voice. So, it would be hard for me to imagine anyone taking his word that things are going well or badly.

Thanks -

In theory, journalists should be separate from combatants. And it makes a difference to the enemy, too.

In practice embeds get shot at just like combatants, and I strongly doubt that iraqi insurgents have any expectation that embeds won't fight. I strongly doubt that stories about fighting embeds will make any difference whatsoever to the iraqi insurgency. None whatsoever.

However what we do here might make a difference to some future enemy, long after this war is lost. So it might be worth arguing out, theoretically in the long run.

The difference between now and 4 years ago is that we do have 300,000 more troops on the ground: Iraqi troops. They are not necessarily always the most reliable or trustworthy, but they are additional forces, and ones where we at least don't have to train on culture and language. Where I am right now is a training base for the American advisor teams, and we get quite a few trainers back from the field during midtour leave to talk about what is going on, and to prepare the replacement trainers: most are pretty optimistic and proud of their Iraqi counterparts progress. Many of the guys I am training with are going back for a second tour, and they volunteered to go do it again because they think it is working.

I don't think the answer is more American troops, but continued emphasis on building the Iraqi units to provide security. But that does not happen quickly, and will require several years to get to a reasonable level.

And the issue with journalists complying with standards of war is the same as soldiers: whether the current enemy complies or not, the GC are a combat multiplier that saves more lives than it loses (for example by giving the enemy a reasonable expectation that if they surrender they will get three hots and a cot, not a plunger in the rectum, and therefore making surrender more likely), and even if it is not true in this war, as an aggregate of conflict, it is true. Losing the confidence of future enemies that we will comply with the Law of War will cause future wars to be more difficult and dangerous than necessary. That is true for reporters, too.

I strongly doubt that stories about fighting embeds will make any difference whatsoever to the iraqi insurgency.

It would make a difference to the Iraqi civilian population, though I doubt bloggers like Yon have any sort of significant Iraqi readership.

It seems to me Yon should re-enlist.

I don't think the answer is more American troops

Thanks for your reply, and for your thoughts here.

The issue, I think, is establishing some basic level of security in Iraq. By "basic level of security", I mean the ability for people to leave their homes and go about their business without fear of being killed. No doubt there are significant areas of Iraq where that exists, and no doubt there are significant areas where it does not.

If the Iraqi army can make that happen, great. If not, it will take someone else to do it, and that will probably be us. Or, Iraq will devolve into a set of regional and ethnic fiefdoms and local militias will do it. Or, other interested regional parties -- Iran and the Saudis, perhaps -- will step in, either overtly or through proxies. Either of the last two would not be particularly good from our point of view, but maybe our interests are not particularly paramount to the average Iraqi at this point.

I second your emphasis on the need to observe the GC and the Law of War. I don't know all that much of Yon and the situation under discussion, but it may be that the generals don't want him around because he's a knucklehead and creates more trouble than he's worth.

I don't think Ernie Pyle ever carried or used a weapon when on assignment.

Thanks -

It seems to me that this points out the problem with embedded journalists. If Yon did nothing, he would have almost certainly felt guilty, and might not have survived the trip back to base. Once he did pick up the rifle, he was no longer acting as a journalist. He had become a valid target.

A journalist on a front line has to be neutral. There's no way an embedded journalist can be.

A journalist on a front line has to be neutral. There's no way an embedded journalist can be.

Yes, exactly.

A embed has to be a member of the team. If there's some little mixup and the team unknowingly commits war crimes, and they think the embed will report them, he won't live to report. He has to be a member of the team or else. His duty not to fight to save his own life or that of a team member is less than a conscientious objector medic's. It's based on the idea that embeds are unbiased neutral journalists who shouldn't be shot at because they're reporting the truth. (In practice that might save them from whichever side doesn't mind having the truth reported. Ha ha.)

It's a nice theory, but why would any iraqi believe an embed is an unbiased neutral journalist? Why would anybody believe that?

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