Faith In America

Mitt Romney has decided to give “the speech” — an address he prepared earlier this year to explain his Mormon faith and why it presents no threat to the Republic. He will deliver this oration at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library on Thursday, hoping to dispel the remaining vestiges of doubt over his qualifications for the presidency. Entitled “Faith in America”, the speech will bring the Mormon question directly into the mainstream of political commentary.
At Heading Right, I question the timing of this speech. It should have come much earlier in the campaign, not at a time where it looks like a defensive maneuver against a surging Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Also, is it a mistake to try to undo bigotry with apologetics, especially when the defender of the faith is running for President?
Even if it is a mistake, though, “Faith in America” will be an intriguing and unique event in presidential politics. Mitt Romney is certainly uniquely qualified to give it, and his accessible oratory should make it a must-view.
UPDATE: Mark Tapscott thinks the speech is a good move, but not the venue:

Kennedy went to Houston in 1960 and spoke to a group of Baptists preachers because it conveyed a message of firm but open-minded courage. It also put the Baptists on the spot to “prove” their tolerance by supporting Kennedy.
Doing the JFK speech as here suggested would project Romney as a genuine leader of people of faith. Unfortunately, the people Romney most needs to persuade won’t be at the Bush Library.

Most of them wouldn’t be at any one particular church, either. If he gave the speech at a Baptist college, would it alienate other denominations? Wouldn’t a library be a more appropriate venue from which to expound on opposition to religious tests for office than a church? I’m not convinced by Mark’s argument in that sense, but the rest of his column is a must-read.

Can The Dolphins Do It?

The NFL and its fans have a rare opportunity to follow two teams pushing for perfection in the same season. Tonight, the New England Patriots take on history again as well as the Baltimore Ravens in tonight’s Monday night game, hoping to extend their unbeaten record in 2007. Yesterday, the Dolphins managed to clear the most significant hurdle in their quest for another kind of perfection:

It’s going to be tough to stop the Miami Dolphins now.
The last realistic obstacle in their path to imperfect immortality — the New York Jets — came and went Sunday, dropping a 40-13 defeat on the Dolphins as easily as Miami quarterback John Beck dropped the football — twice — when he wasn’t throwing it to Jets defenders.
After three interceptions and two lost fumbles by Beck, the Dolphins were left at 0-12 with four games to play. They are the seventh team to open the NFL season with 12 consecutive defeats but the first to get there with seemingly no way out of an indelible 0-16 tag.*
(*The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 because 31 years ago, NFL rules prevented teams from losing more than 14 games during a regular season. That changed in 1978, when the league expanded its regular-season schedule to 16 games. The Buccaneers went on to lose their first 12 games of the 1977 season for an overall 26-game losing streak, but the record does show that Tampa Bay never finished a season worse than 0-14. Sorry, Dolphins fans. Rules are rules.)

Florida may well find itself with two goose-egged NFL teams in history. At least the 1976 Bucs had some excuses. They had just come into existence as an expansion franchise in an era with some considerable hurdles to forming a first-year team. The NFL didn’t have free agency at the time, so a free-spending new owner could hardly have bought his way to respectability, or even a couple of wins. It was a team of cast-offs and rookies, and legendary USC coach John McKay learned how Casey Stengel felt while managing the Mets in 1962. Asked to comment after one game about his team’s execution, McKay replied that he thought it sounded like a good idea.
The Dolphins could use the excuse that they’re in their 41st year as an expansion team, and they’ve certainly played like it. Despite going 0-for-2007, the Dolphins went into yesterday’s game as the favorites. The Jets had just stunned the Steelers with a win at home, but otherwise had only beaten one other team — the Dolphins, also at home. With home-field advantage and having just lost to the Steelers on the road by the only three points scored in the game, oddsmakers figured the Dolphins couldn’t be bad enough to lose at home against the Jets.
Hopefully, Vegas casinos will absorb the shock at the slots. The Jets creamed the Dolphins in their worst loss all season — and it doesn’t get any better for Miami from this point forward. They have to play Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and the unbeaten Patriots to close out the season. They will have a tough time avoiding immortality as the only 0-16 NFL team ever.
This season could feature an impossible pas de deux: an unbeaten team and an all-beaten team, together in the same division. It would be the stuff of legend. Football fans will be on the edge of their seats for the rest of the year, and it’s about the only way Miami could generate any interest at all.

Sharif’s Boycott Endorsed By Election Commission

Pakistan has waited to see whether former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for January 8th. As it turns out, the Election Commission has insisted that Sharif do so, ruling him ineligible to run for office, thanks to his convictions for corruption that followed the coup d’etat of Pervez Musharraf:

Pakistan’s Election Commission on Monday barred former prime minister and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif from a January 8 general election because of his criminal record.
“His nomination papers are rejected because of his convictions,” presiding election official Raja Qamaruzaman told Reuters in the eastern city of Lahore, Sharif’s power base where last week he registered to run in the election.
The two-time prime minister says the convictions secured against him in the wake of his 1999 ouster by the then army chief, Pervez Musharraf, were politically motivated.
Sharif, who returned from seven years of exile on November 25, has been threatening to boycott the election but he had lodged nomination papers.
His exclusion from the vote will be seen by the opposition as the result of pressure on election officials by President Musharraf to block the old rival he ousted. Critics say Musharraf has sway over voting officials.

A similar situation presented itself with Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. However, she negotiated an amnesty deal for her return, with Musharraf and the US hoping she would form an alliance with the now-civilian president. The alliance would have united the military and the middle class against the Islamist extremists, but it fell apart when Musharraf imposed emergency rule on Pakistan last month. Nevertheless, her amnesty remains in effect, and the Elections Commission will not rule her ineligible for office.
Sharif’s party, meanwhile, issued a strange retort to Musharraf. Even while they continued talking up a boycott, they insisted that Musharraf had engineered the disqualification because he fears Sharif’s popularity. If that were true, why would Sharif need to boycott the elections? Even if that were true, Sharif’s disqualification doesn’t stop him from publicly leading his party in the elections — and it might even enhance their chances. Why not take part in the election?
Still, this shows the fundamental problem of Musharraf’s judiciary. This kind of question should find a resolution with an independent judiciary — but that no longer exists, whether for ill or good. Even if the old judiciary was corrupt and too friendly towards the Islamists, the new judiciary certainly knows better than to rule against Musharraf, at least for now. Sharif cannot possibly get a fair hearing now to question his convictions, obviously politically tainted in the 1999 coup that put Musharraf in power.
It provides a good reason to boycott the elections until Musharraf restores independence to the judiciary. Until that happens, Pakistani dissidents cannot have confidence in their ability to remain free from trumped-up criminal charges for political purposes. With the judges in his pocket, Musharraf can keep the opposition out of effective power indefinitely.

Chavez Loses — But Does That Vindicate Him?

Hugo Chavez suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls for his referendum on dictatorship. He unexpectedly lost a narrow plebiscite that would have made numerous changes to Venezuela’s constitution, including those that would have allowed him unfettered ability for re-election and personal control over most of Venezuelan public life. But did he become the ultimate winner in this loss?

President Hugo Chavez suffered a stunning defeat Monday in a referendum that would have let him run for re-election indefinitely and impose a socialist system in this major U.S. oil provider.
Voters rejected the sweeping measures Sunday by a vote of 51 percent to 49 percent, said Tibisay Lucena, chief of the National Electoral Council. She said that with 88 percent of the votes counted, the trend was irreversible. …
Chavez said his respect for the outcome should vindicate his standing as a democrat.
“From this moment on, let’s be calm,” he declared. “There is no dictatorship here.”

Well, not yet, and that’s due at the moment to this particular vote. Chavez has maintained popular support through a period of increased socialist operation and aggregation of personal power. He expected a ringing endorsement of steps that would have taken Venezuela even further towards a dictatorship, but instead found out that Venezuelans have limits on their tolerance for tinpot fascism.
Having expressed those limits, does this election vindicate Chavez? If the results stand, has he not shown himself bound by the electoral process and therefore no dictator? Chavez almost had a no-lose situation in this sense; if he won the referendum, he’d get even more power thrust into his hands by popular acclaim, and if he lost, he’d prove himself a democrat, at least for now. The only way he could lose is if he claimed victory in a tight election, as everyone would have assumed he manipulated it.
The important calculation for Chavez is not a single data point — one election — but the thrust of his policy over the long term. He has shut down media outlets critical of his rule. He has nationalized industries. Chavez regularly sings the praises of Fidel Castro and makes no secret of his plans to turn Venezuela into a Socialist state using Cuba as a model. If he is not in fact a dictator at the moment, thanks to the momentary intervention of the Venezuelan people, he certainly aspires to that status. And the Venezuelan people need to keep him from realizing that goal.
Chavez should worry about this, too. The blinders are off, and Venezuelans have decided to push back against the creeping dictatorship. Chavez can’t bully them into compliance, and anti-Americanism has reached its limit. Does he have any other tricks in his bag?
UPDATE: Fausta and Alberto seem rather happy ….

The Retraction At The Tank

A couple of commenters on the latest TNR thread wonder whether we will hold National Review Online’s The Tank to the same level of scrutiny as Franklin Foer and Scott Beauchamp. I had not actually heard about this controversy until I read the comments last night. Michelle Malkin covers this topic, though, and issues some rather scathing criticisms while noting the completely different approaches between TNR and NRO:

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., a former Marine and milblogger who writes at National Review Online’s The Tank (and whose work in Iraq I’ve praised and linked to here), posts a long-winded defense of bogus, shoddy reporting he published while he was in Lebanon earlier this fall. It’s painful to read because he takes nearly 1,400 words to get to the main points:
1) He claimed he had seen “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen” at a “sprawling Hezbollah tent city” when, in fact, he hadn’t seen 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen.
2) He reported that 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen had been “deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force,’” when, in fact, there is no evidence that a deployment of 4,000-5,000 Hezbollah gunmen to Christian areas of Beirut ever took place.
As you read the explanation, ask yourselves this: If Thomas Beauchamp had written it instead of Thomas Smith, would you buy it?
Kathryn Lopez, to her credit, immediately disclosed the controversy to readers. Contrary to the TNR editors, she thanked the reporter who first questioned Smith’s account, instead of trashing critics.

Every publication eventually makes a big enough error to warrant a retraction and an apology. Even here at CapQ, I’ve had to do it a few times, and believe me, it never feels good. One has to resist the urge to rationalize mistakes and spin enough to avoid admitting error. Just as with customer service, where I often described my management position as “professional apologizer”, editors have to bite the bullet and admit error to maintain organizational credibility.
Kathryn Jean Lopez did so here. Notice that she did not blame the critics for pointing out the error or assume that the criticism was motivated by some sort of conspiracy. She didn’t, in essence, blame the customer for a faulty product. She took quick action to investigate, found obvious shortcomings, and issued an apology and a detailed accounting of the problem.
Had Franklin Foer done that when the story fell apart at TNR, he could have not just saved the magazine from a credibility collapse, he could have enhanced its standing. Instead of acting professionally, he assumed the Nixonian posture that anyone questioning TNR’s product must automatically be an enemy against whom all defenses were necessary. Instead, even in an apology, he couldn’t help blaming the customers for a shoddy product.
Incidentally, I share Michelle’s analysis of the failure at The Tank. It was poor work, and it has been highlighted as such. NRO’s response has been appropriate and substantial.

The Establishment Vote

In my post below, I postulate that losing Iowa will cause little heartache for Hillary Clinton. She leads in the delegate-rich states of the coast, and Barack Obama will not be able to pick up any momentum from his opening-night win, if in fact he pulls it off. However, there is a much more substantial reason why Hillary will win the nomination — the party Establishment:

The Associated Press contacted 90 percent of the 765 superdelegates, mostly elected officials and other party officers, who are free to support anyone they choose at the convention, regardless of what happens in the primaries.
Hillary Rodham Clinton leads Barack Obama by more than a 2-1 margin among those who have endorsed a candidate. But a little more than half of those contacted — 365 — said they haven’t settled on a Democratic standard bearer.
“The fact that under half have publicly committed shows me how open the Democratic race still is,” said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who is not affiliated with any campaign. “It’s a sign that the race isn’t totally done in many people’s minds.”
Clinton has the endorsement of 169 superdelegates. She is followed by Obama, 63; John Edwards, 34; Bill Richardson, 25; Chris Dodd, 17; Joe Biden, 8, and Dennis Kucinich, 2.

Superdelegates come from the DNC, Congressional Democrats, and other elected officials. They represent the Democratic Establishment, the people who make and lead the party, and who owe their loyalties to the people who got them elected. They are free agents, but they have their own interests in mind — and as a bloc, they comprise more than a third of the votes necessary to win a nomination. (Republicans have far fewer superdelegates, around 100.)
Of the national candidates for the nomination, which candidate has worked longer for elected Democrats? Not Barack Obama; he has only served half of his first six-year term in the Senate. John Edwards couldn’t even get himself re-elected in his home state after one Senate term. Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden couldn’t get anyone else elected anywhere except in their home states.
The party needs the Clintons. Democrats in the House and Senate need Bill to raise funds for their re-election efforts, and he will do it — as long as they support Hillary now. The only reason Hillary hasn’t gotten public commitments from these delegates as yet is because she doesn’t really need them. If push comes to shove, and it likely won’t, they’ll make it clear that the Democratic Establishment understands their own interests and will keep the nomination from winding up in the hands of those who have not yet proven their worth to the party.

Iowa Shifts To The Populists

The Des Moines Register poll, the most reliable indicator for likely Iowa caucus-goers, shows major shifts in both parties for the presidential caucuses that will take place in five weeks. Iowa apparently has gone populist in both parties, with Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee surging to new leads in the state. For the national frontrunners, this may actually be good news:

Barack Obama has pulled ahead in the race for Iowa’s Democratic presidential caucuses, while the party’s national frontrunner Hillary Clinton has slipped to second in the leadoff nominating state, according to The Des Moines Register’s new Iowa Poll.
Despite the movement, the race for 2008’s opening nominating contest remains very competitive about a month before the Jan. 3 caucuses, just over half of likely caucusgoers who favor a candidate saying they could change their minds.
Obama, an Illinois senator, leads for the first time in the Register’s poll as the choice of 28 percent of likely caucusgoers, up from 22 percent in October. Clinton, a New York senator, was the preferred candidate of 25 percent, down from 29 percent in the previous poll.

Hillary should have little concern over this result. She has commanding leads in the larger states and a much better organization than Barack Obama. Losing Iowa only would put a small speed bump on her way to the nomination. If Hillary doesn’t have a 50-state strategy for the nomination, she’ll manage with a 49-state strategy instead. The Iowa downturn for her offers more of a preview of the general election, where her inevitability will not be taken for granted.
Rudy Giuliani may be the biggest beneficiary of the shift seen on the Republican side — or maybe even John McCain:

Huckabee wins the support of 29 percent of Iowans who say they definitely or probably will attend the Republican Party’s caucuses on Jan. 3. That’s a gain of 17 percentage points since the last Iowa Poll was taken in early October, when Huckabee trailed both Romney and Fred Thompson.
Other poll findings indicate that the former Arkansas governor is making the most of a low-budget campaign by tapping into the support of Iowa’s social conservatives.
Romney, who has invested more time and money campaigning in the state than any other GOP candidate, remains in the thick of the Iowa race with the backing of 24 percent of likely caucusgoers. But that’s a drop of 5 points since October for the former Massachusetts governor.

Mitt Romney has spent over $7 million in Iowa and looked to have it locked. Suddenly out of nowhere, Mike Huckabee has ridden less than $350,000 to a seventeen-point surge in the state — and that bodes very ill for Romney’s path to the nomination. He hoped to build enough momentum and credibility in Iowa and New Hampshire with wins to vault him past Giuliani for the national lead. With new ethics allegations dogging Giuliani, that could have worked, but a loss in Iowa after spending all of that money will almost certainly doom Romney.
Could Huckabee challenge for the nomination? Anything is possible, but Huckabee doesn’t have a lot of funds, nor has he made progress like this anywhere but Iowa. He’ll wind up in the soup in New Hampshire and could do somewhat better in South Carolina, but it’s hard to imagine him going farther than that.
This could also help John McCain. The New Hampshire Union-Leader endorsed him today, as expected, and he currently runs behind Romney in a state he won in 2000. If Romney stumbles, conservatives unhappy with both Huckabee and Giuliani might rally to McCain if he can pull out a win in New Hampshire. A Romney loss in Iowa might make that more likely.
Could conservatives forgive McCain-Feingold long enough to support McCain? Possibly, especially given the poor traction Fred Thompson has gained since entering the race. He has fallen far off the pace in Iowa and New Hampshire. Conservatives who saw him as an alternative to the less-reliable center-right candidates in the race have despaired of his impact.
A Huckabee win in Iowa puts everyone into play. This could get very interesting indeed. If McCain makes it all the way back to win even just New Hampshire, it might be the story of the year.

Brittania Fled The Waves?

Britain’s navy cannot reliably handle a medium-scale operation, let alone a major war, after decades of decline and neglect. The shocking report on the Royal Navy comes as a shock to the island nation, whose navy not only defended it for centuries but came to define the British. The current government, already embroiled in a data-loss scandal, may suffer the consequences:

The Royal Navy can no longer fight a major war because of years of under­funding and cutbacks, a leaked Whitehall report has revealed.
With an “under-resourced” fleet composed of “ageing and operationally defective ships”, the Navy would struggle even to repeat its role in the Iraq war and is now “far more vulnerable to unexpected shocks”, the top-level Ministry of Defence document says.
The report was ordered by Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, who had intended to use it to “counter criticism” on the state of the Navy in the media and from opposition parties.
But in a damning conclusion, the report states: “The current material state of the fleet is not good; the Royal Navy would be challenged to mount a medium-scale operation in accordance with current policy against a technologically capable adversary.” A medium-scale operation is similar to the naval involvement in the Iraq War.

Labour forgot the first rule in politics, law, and marriage: never ask a question for which one is unprepared for the answer. Instead of silencing their critics, Labour now has to explain why they have allowed such neglect to occur to the crown jewel of the British military. Without an effective navy, an island nation has few options to protect its interests around the world.
Where could this have immediate implications? Argentina may decide to take another look at the Falkland Islands, for one. Margaret Thatcher went to war to keep the Argentinians from seizing the territory twenty-five years ago, but the issue remains unsettled. More strategically, Britain’s trade routes now must rely even more heavily on American protection than ever. Diplomatically, the weak state of Britain’s navy makes them less able to influence global events and again more reliant on the US as a partner.
That doesn’t let the US off the hook, though. For approximately the same period, the US has allowed our navy to shrink, a situation that only recently caused alarm in Washington with the apparent arms buildup of China. We have relied on two vast oceans to serve as our buffer against military attack, buttressed by an overwhelming surface and subsurface naval armada. We have begun to drift in the same direction as the UK, allowing our ability to project power and protect our trade routes dwindle slowly. We have not seen the same level of degradation that the British see in their naval power, but we’re on the same road.
With all of the controversies hitting Gordon Brown at the moment, the last thing his government needed was a self-created report proving that Labour had torpedoed the Royal Navy. During Blair’s term, the Conservatives couldn’t do anything right. So far since, they haven’t had to do anything right as long as Brown keeps doing everything wrong.

Sistani: Ich Bin Ein Sunni

Earlier this week, the leading Shi’ite cleric in Iraq issued a fatwa that has largely gone unnoticed by the world media, but could have an impact on reconciliation and the political gridlock in Baghdad. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani forbade the killings of Sunnis by Shi’ites on Tuesday while meeting with Sunni clerics in an ecumenical council, and called for a renewed sense of Iraqi nationalism to replace sectarian divides in the country (via SCSU Scholars):

Leading Shiite cleric in Iraq Ali Sistani Tuesday banned the killing of Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis, and urged the Shiites to protect their brother Sunnis.
Sistani bans the Iraqi blood in general the blood of Sunnis in particular. His announcement came during a meeting with a delegation from Sunni clerics from southern and northern Iraq.
The clerics are visiting Najaf to participate in the first national conference for Ulemaa of Shiites and Sunnis.
Sistani called on the Shiites to protect their Sunni brothers, according to Sheikh Khaled Al-Mulla, head of the authority of Ulemaa of Southern Iraq, noting that the Fatwa of Sistani would have positive impacts nationwide.
“I am a servant of all Iraqis, there is no difference between a Sunni, a Shitte or a Kurd or a Christian,” Al-Mulla quoted Sistani as saying during the meeting.

One has to wonder why the only source for this development comes from the Kuwait News Agency, and not any of the other media, especially American media. NRO’s The Tank noticed it. Free Republic picked up the story, as did Threats Watch, but so far none of the mainstream American news agencies — or any others, for that matter — have reported this. A Google search over the past week comes up with only five hits.
Sistani’s fatwas have tremendous influence in Iraq, perhaps partly because he uses them so infrequently. Where his rival Moqtada al-Sadr frequently issued threats and exhortations to violence, Sistani has spoken out only occasionally — which makes his fatwas all the more powerful when they come. In this case, it has directly attacked Sadr’s legitimacy as the leader of a Shi’ite militia that had routinely attacked Sunnis, until Sadr got caught up in an intrasect war with the Badr Brigade. Sistani essentially told Iraq’s Shi’ites that Sadr’s organization not only has no reason to exist, but its existence offends Islam.
If we want to see ground-up reconciliation, this provides a major impetus towards it. With the Sunni tribes turning towards the US and Iraqi government for an opportunity to build a new Iraqi nation, this serves as a huge endorsement from the Shi’ites of that risk. Sistani has welcomed the Sunnis back to the nation after the sectarian strife that nearly tore it apart. The calming effects of Sistani’s fatwa should encourage more political progress as it further marginalizes the extremists of Sadr’s faction in the National Assembly and pushes moderates to the leadership.

TNR’s Iraq And A Hard Place

The New Republic has published its findings in its internal investigation — and it goes into great detail before finally retracting the stories of its Baghdad Diarist, Scott Beauchamp. The journey fascinates far more than the destination, a point we all knew they would eventually reach. In the long and meandering path Franklin Foer recounts, some interesting assumptions take place that will not go unchallenged.
Meanwhile, here’s the money quote:

Several weeks after the monitored call in September, we finally had the opportunity to ask Beauchamp, without any of his supervisors on the line, about how he could mistake a dining hall in Kuwait for one in Iraq. He told us he considered the detail to be “mundane” given the far more horrific events he had witnessed. That’s not a convincing explanation. If the event was so mundane, why did he write about it–and with such vivid detail? In accounting for the inaccuracy of a central fact, he sounded defensive and evasive.
Beauchamp has lived through this ordeal under the most trying of conditions. He is facing pressures that we can only begin to imagine. And, over the course of our dealings with him, we’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Ever since August, we’ve asked him, first though his wife and lawyer and later via direct e-mail and phone calls, to personally obtain the sworn statements that the military had him draft and sign on July 26. And, ever since then, he has promised repeatedly to do just that. We are, unfortunately, still waiting.
In retrospect, we never should have put Beauchamp in this situation. He was a young soldier in a war zone, an untried writer without journalistic training. We published his accounts of sensitive events while granting him the shield of anonymity–which, in the wrong hands, can become license to exaggerate, if not fabricate.
When I last spoke with Beauchamp in early November, he continued to stand by his stories. Unfortunately, the standards of this magazine require more than that. And, in light of the evidence available to us, after months of intensive re-reporting, we cannot be confident that the events in his pieces occurred in exactly the manner that he described them. Without that essential confidence, we cannot stand by these stories.

This account actually generated some sympathy on my part for TNR. They wanted a front-line view of war, and accepted at face value the statements of a soldier serving in Iraq. Most of us who support the military would have that same impulse; after all, we consider the men and women serving this nation as heroes as a default assumption.
Unfortunately, Beauchamp proved somewhat unreliable as a correspondent, and TNR made an unforced error by assigning his wife as his editor, a mistake which Foer acknowledges. They also didn’t trust their instincts when they questioned the veracity of his stories. Foer says that TNR learned the lessons of Stephen Glass in that the small, compelling details are the easiest to check for fabrication. However, they apparently didn’t learn how to fact check those details, because all they did was have Beauchamp pass the phone around to his buddies to get confirmation.
Foer also glides past TNR’s response when one major, glaring fact got refuted. When Foer and TNR discovered that the incident with woman with the “melted” face didn’t occur in Iraq but in Kuwait, it should have settled the issue of reliability altogether. The entire point of that anecdote was to show the degradation of humanity that occurs in a war zone — but Beauchamp’s stay in Kuwait preceded his deployment to a war zone. That’s a big enough fabrication to question the entirety of Beauchamp’s contributions, and forms the largest part of Foer’s impulse to retract now. Foer rationalized then — and to some extent now — that this retraction wasn’t the “end of the world” for the Baghdad Diarist series, when it clearly should have been.
Foer also skips over the creepy moment in his transcribed conversation where he appears to threaten Elspeth Reeve’s job. Foer complains about the pressure that the Army placed on Beauchamp, but he never discusses his own attempt to keep Beauchamp from recanting. He tells Beauchamp in that conversation that Reeve told Foer to tell Beauchamp that refraining from a retraction is “the most important thing in the world” to her — not her husband, apparently, but her job at the magazine. In this conversation, in which Beauchamp’s NCO supports Foer’s request to turn down interviews to other media organizations, Foer acts to silence Beauchamp just as much as he accuses the Army of doing.
Instead, Foer blames the bloggers who relentlessly questioned TNR’s veracity on this article. Given that Foer himself now retracts the story, that’s hard to justify. Had Confederate Yankee, Michael Goldfarb, and many others not pressed Foer so hard, the magazine would never have pursued the issue to this extent. Foer makes clear his distaste for having to respond to this challenge throughout the piece. It’s hard to gripe when the bloggers got it mostly right, and TNR and Foer got it mostly wrong, but Foer manages it.
More understandably, Foer has some animus for the manner in which the Army handled the investigation and communication with TNR. McQ agrees, noting his 40 years of experiencing the incompetence at the PIO, and I think they’re both correct — especially when it became clear that someone in the Army selectively leaked information that TNR had requested to do what they finally did today, which was to bring closure in some way to the controversy.
In the end, we’re left with someone who at least embellished a lot of his stories and operated from a known bias — as a check of his website would have shown. Foer fails to mention that as well, a fairly easy editorial check to see whether Beauchamp had a particular axe to grind. The stories themselves provided little insight into the war in Iraq or the men and women who fight it. TNR threw its credibility away on a silly set of fables, and then refused to acknowledge it out of stubborn pride and a sense of superiority over its critics.
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