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"The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq [Al Anbar Province] or counter al Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report," began a front-page article in yesterday's Washington Post by Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks. It concerned the so-called "Devlin Report," a five-page document allegedly filled with gloom and doom. It contrasts completely with my article Return to Ramadi, in the Nov. 27 Weekly Standard, in which I write that the largest city in the province is slowly being reclaimed from al Qaeda. By coincidence, the day my article hit the stands the *Times of London *published an extensive article coming to the same conclusion as mine. But for the timing, you'd practically think one of us had plagiarized the other.
Why such different conclusions between our articles and the Post's and whom to believe?
It helps to know that the Times writer and I both went to and reported from Ramadi. We didn't summarize classified documents or quote unnamed sources. Linzer and Ricks stayed home and reported from Washington, relying entirely on an unpublished document in addition to quoting a "senior intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity." I have recently ripped the media's "Baghdad Brigade" for pretending it can cover a country the size of California from a single Iraqi city. What does that say about those who think they can cover Al Anbar from Washington?
All of this illustrates a point I and others have desperately tried to make, that you cannot understand the Anbar if you haven't been there. That's why I went three times to the province and twice to Ramadi itself. It wasn't to attend a beerfest. It may also help explain things that Ricks has a recent book declaring the war a "Fiasco," and hence is already inclined towards a pessimistic view. Top-notch milblogger Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail declares, "Military and intelligence sources that I spoke to who have read the [Devlin] report indicate that they largely agree with [it] . . . but not as presented by *the *Washington Post." (Emphasis his.)
Alas, as much attention as my article has gotten it's hard to compete with a *Post *A1 article. Further, as Vietnam's Tet Offensive proved, guerrilla wars are as likely to be decided in the media as on the battlefield. It's looking like Iraq will prove no exception.