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November 21, 2008
Continuing a series begun here, in which General Petraeus was unanimously confirmed by the Senate and sent to Baghdad with instructions not to involve himself in political arguments back home.
From part one: This is the ideal; politicians engaged and aware of the issues they debate, hopefully achieving a consensus that meets the needs of the republic and reflects the will of a majority of informed Americans. But over the past two years the ideal was abandoned for the absurd as the reality gap between the war in Washington and the actual war in Iraq widened and Americans were informed by media with standing armies in Washington completely overwhelming a small corps of reporters in Iraq.
In this series we'll examine that "war in Washington" and the widening of that gap, in hopes of explaining to at least a few members of that public exactly why a war was won without their knowledge or consent.
In March, 2007, General Petraeus gave his first press briefing from Baghdad. He updated the progress of "the surge" and also mentioned positive developments in Anbar Province that had begun before the troop increase:
Iraqi and coalition forces are steadily building their strength to support the operation in Baghdad. The last of nine Iraqi surge battalions and the second of five U.S. surge brigades have just entered Baghdad. This buildup will continue throughout the spring, with all U.S. and Iraqi forces dedicated to the mission in place by about early June.
The General had already realized the significance of turning insurgent groups - and "neutral" Iraqis - into government supporters, and knew that while some could be recruited, others - especially groups filled by foreign fighters - could not. (For example, al Qaeda in Iraq.)
He defined them as "reconcilables" and "irreconcilables":
Those comments actually echoed those of President Bush, who in announcing the surge just two months previously had said:
The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security, especially in Baghdad. Eighty percent of Iraq's sectarian violence occurs within 30 miles of the capital. This violence is splitting Baghdad into sectarian enclaves, and shaking the confidence of all Iraqis. Only Iraqis can end the sectarian violence and secure their people. And their government has put forward an aggressive plan to do it.
Adding also that "A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations."
We'll look closer at military progress in Iraq in part three of this series, but our primary focus is on the war in Washington - far removed from the reality of Iraq. In the American capital, even as the General was briefing, congress was preparing to submit a troop withdrawal bill for certain presidential veto. In support of that withdrawal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued that General Petraeus was on her side:
The longer the Bill spent before congress, the more pork was added. Twenty billion by April, including "...$25 million for spinach farmers, $74 million for peanut storage, $120M for shrimp research, $283 million in income subsidies for dairy farms, $400 million to rural counties hurt by cutbacks in federal logging, $400 million in additional heating subsidies for the poor, and $1 billion to prevent or prepare for a possible bird flu epidemic."
Meanwhile, even before the last surge brigades had deployed, Democratic Presidential candidates were declaring the surge a failure:
By mid-April, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would use two retired generals as props in a speech declaring that President Bush was using General Petraeus as a prop:
Flanked by two former Army retired generals Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) blasted President Bush for "clinging to a failed escalation strategy" in Iraq and "failing our troops and our country."But within days, he would claim that his declaration that "we had lost" the war in Iraq was merely an echo of what General Petraeus was telling the troops there.
The misquoted 80/20 reference is explained here - we'll revisit it later in this series. As for "General Petraeus is going to come to the Hill" - that reference was to his brief April visit to Washington, during which he offered to update congress in a closed-door session. Initially Democrats refused the invitation, but Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner publicly taunted them for the refusal:
Ultimately, some did attend the briefing:
Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not attend. It was not clear where she was Wednesday afternoon. Aides did not return calls Wednesday.For what might have been said at that closed meeting we must rely on vague accounts from those who attended:
General Petraeus had already been warned in his January confirmation hearings to be careful in his comments. In his own interviews in Washington, he would exercise that caution:
Meanwhile, Senator Harry Reid explained his Party's motivation: "We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war."
For the Republican response, we'll turn to Bob Woodward's The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008
As for the president's role as public spokesman for the effort, Republican congressional leaders demanded he, like Petraeus, stay out of it.
If President Bush was ineffective in engaging in the Washington war (or the media war), it may be because neither bore much similarity to the war in Iraq, with which he was more familiar. In May, he met (not for the first time) with General (retired) Jack Keane, an early proponent of the surge, and a mentor to General Petraeus.
More from Woodward:
Amazingly, the events described above occurred before the final surge brigades were deployed. But by mid-June they were all in Iraq, and Operation Phantom Thunder - the first "all-out effort" of the surge - was launched on the 16th.
"Coincidentally", three days prior to the battle, the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House had been invited to a meeting at the White House. Briefed on the battle, they knew if they didn't act fast to grab headlines, actual news from Iraq could potentially leak to Americans.
More to follow. Next: Summer
Posted by Greyhawk / November 21, 2008 9:59 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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