Book: Moment of Truth in Iraq

Someone to believe on the subject

Michael Yon
Moment of Truth in Iraq
Richard Vigilante Books, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-9800763-2-5
227 pages

It's hard, for me at least, to know whom to believe about what's happened recently in Iraq. People and organizations that I might hope for objectivity from on such an important issue seem often to pursue a political agenda instead. Michael Yon has spent a lot of time there at considerable trouble and expense and, sometimes, in considerable danger. He has been embedded with American troops, seeing for himself what they do, and reporting it directly on his website. But his website is a bit hard to dip into because it's often necessary to have more than a little context to get the most out of an individual post. In his book Moment of Truth in Iraq, he has put together a very readable account that requires next to no further context to read profitably.

Still, why should someone believe Mr Yon rather than someone else?

Mr Yon could be a big liar. But I think that's extremely improbable because he writes so specifically about the places he goes to and the things he sees. If things had been significantly different from what he describes, it seems very likely to me that someone would have pointed that out. As far as I can tell, no one has.

Or perhaps the American military has shown him only the things that they want him to see. I think that's also extremely improbable because Mr Yon has been to so many places and seen so many things that I can't conceive how it could all have been stage-managed successfully.

Mr Yon was once a member of the American army's special forces. Since everyone has biases, it's reasonable to imagine that his are pro-military. But if that's the way his biases do run, I can't detect it in his writing. Mr Yon is uncompromisingly critical of some things that the American military has done in Iraq and cautiously optimistic about others. In this book, his emphasis is on the second, but that's because that's what the book is about.

So what does Mr Yon say? The overwhelming impression that I took away from this book is that the job of being an American soldier in Iraq is very difficult. That's because a captain, indeed, probably a sergeant there, needs to have all the skills that you'd expect a warrior to have and also have all the skills that you'd expect the mayor of a small city to have. And they need to be able to switch between those two roles at pretty much a moment's notice. Remarkably enough, they very often manage to do that. That is, the American army in Iraq is engaged in nation-building and, where they're doing that, in general it's succeeding.

According to Mr Yon, after the American-led coalition won the conventional war in Iraq, the American army virtually threw away the victory by alienating Iraq's citizens. That allowed al-Qaeda and other unsavory groups to move in and operate pretty freely. Those groups, however, made a similar mistake. Many of the insurgent groups, and al-Qaeda especially, alienated the Iraqi people even more. Just about the time that Iraqi citizens were deciding that, General Petraeus became the allied commander there and, using lessons from earlier successes he had when he was commanding the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, he set the American forces on a course of nation-building and good relations with Iraq's citizens. That strategy began to pay off very quickly, both in terms of safety and security and also in terms of public relations, which is inevitably a part of counter-insurgency warfare. Mr Yon's opinion is that if the American army continues on that course, a very important victory may yet be secured.

Since no one else seems to me to have nearly Mr Yon's credibility on the subject, I'm going to believe him. The book is a splendid antidote to the piles of tendentious and unsupported claims that have been written about what has been happening in Iraq.

Posted: Fri - November 7, 2008 at 04:26 PM   Main   Category: