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September 30, 2009
...and rumors of warBy Greyhawk
The world appreciates us more now, "...because of the new image that has been projected by Obama". I actually hope that's true. I know it's true of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi - I heard him announce as much to the entire world just the other day, immediately following a speech to the world by the (probably unappreciative) subject of his adoration. And hell, I was actually on active duty when we dropped a surgical strike on that maniac, just to send a message and reduce Libya's ability to support and train terrorists. He got that message loud and clear - along with everyone else with a radio or a TV. We wanted to kill him, too - but you can't win 'em all.
But that's ancient history anyway, and not the topic of this post. The world loves us now. I'd like to believe that. I'd love to see it demonstrated some day. It's a happy thought - but I wouldn't bet my life on it. I hope the guy who spoke to the United Nations before Kadafi did feels the same way, no matter what he said on the campaign trail. So even when I see reports from a "senior administration official" that indicate otherwise I remain skeptical. But good PR stuff, that.
Except when those reports are part of a supposedly serious discussion of the foundation of our national security I start to think unhappy thoughts.
There's certainly much good news in this report regarding our ability to infiltrate, track, target, and "surgically strike" al Qaeda (or other terrorist groups, we presume). Obviously such efforts should be carried on. But regardless of the degree of faith we want to put in those efforts (even if it's enough to overlook annoying and certainly explainable details like "Barrett's remarks stood in contrast with an assessment he made in June...") nothing here stands as an argument against full commitment to other concurrent efforts. Confidence is a good thing (I've learned not to underestimate American soldiers, for example) but the odds of looking back with regret on a decision to put all our eggs in any one basket remain high.
But what an amazing cultural shift is described here:
Barrett, in a speech Tuesday to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that al-Qaeda is "losing credibility" among potential supporters and recruits because its recent efforts "have not awed people" and are "not up to the standard of 9/11." As the years have passed since the 2001 attacks, he said, al-Qaeda "hasn't really made a connection to a new generation" of young Muslims who have little recollection of the events and are less interested in religion.
How nice if that were true. But the majority of young Muslims actually aren't attracted to life as suicide bombers and mujahideen - and never have been. But enough were motivated by the US tendency to withdraw from direct conflict and rely on "surgical strikes" throughout the 1990s to make al Qaeda look like an attractive winner with a hellagood game plan - a group that could pull off 9/11. It is our post-9/11 behavior that has changed that perception, it's our demonstration of resolve that has directly undermined their attraction. And while we've certainly killed many of them on battlefields that don't require much travel on their part, it's our commitment to the humanitarian side of the mission - even if it has to be accomplished by men with guns, even as that's used against us, and even as we suffer casualties, too - that gives the would-be jihadist pause. Call it war, call it counterinsurgency, call it nation building, call it armed humanitarian work or an attempt to respond to the question why do they hate us - call it what you will, but think deeply before calling it quits. The motivational speech required to flip that switch back to 'on' had best be a damned good one, the need for it is predictable.
The desire to free up defense funds for other purposes is undeniable, too - health care advocates and champions of other domestic social causes share that motivation with manufacturers of F22 components, cruise missiles, and other big ticket items. Certainly enough of the latter are dispersed in enough congressional districts to draw the attraction of a broad coalition of elected officials. (For the rest of you: thanks for your support. Next term - promise.) Outside of specific interest groups of varying degrees of influence, arguments to quit the bloody field of battle (and return to the strategy that created al Qaeda in the first place) have broad popular appeal in the United States - and will contribute much to an already intense desire that overwhelms our ability to acknowledge that last parenthetical aside as exactly what's being discussed here. Arguments that "we're really much better at it now" should be received with equal amounts of appreciation and skepticism. "Keep up the good work" is exactly the right response.
And as attractive as a brief respite from all that soldiering on might seem - regardless of your political persuasion, exactly how much are you willing to bet on this:
For me, not that much. I'd like it to be true, I wish it was, but hope is not a strategy.
April 4, 2009
...if only for one passage: "You may fly over a land forever, you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life -- but if you desire to defend it, protect it and keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground, the way the Roman legions did, by putting your young men into the mud." This should hang on a wall somewhere in Washington.
Perhaps it should. I read this book while I was in Korea, sometime around 1991. From then until 2003 the US strove mightily to ignore that axiom with regards to Iraq. One can argue the motives, but it's undeniable that a (rarely noticed) twelve-year standoff war followed our removal of troops from Iraqi soil after Operation Desert Storm. Likewise, that the war intensified from primarily diplomatic to increasingly military throughout that period, achieving maximum lethality during the final years of the Clinton administration - all with no indication that its stated goal of "regime change in Iraq" (downgraded to "containment" for 1999 even as near-daily kinetic strikes continued) was achievable. Lest anyone mistake this for Clinton bashing it's worthwhile to recall that this long-distance war began with a deliberate choice by the first Bush administration not to march on Baghdad at the head of a very large coalition of the willing.
After more than a decade his son would decide that Fehrenbach had it right. As a result of acting on that decision, one could draw a conclusion that the only answer to the question "how long does it take to achieve goals in a standoff war?" currently available is "unknown - but twelve years is not enough".
But Fehrenbach was right on other related points, too - as other results of acting on that same decision would reveal.
The people of the West - stunned by reports of failure and retreat in the earliest days of the Korean conflict - had changed, he tells us from 1963. "They forgot that the West had dominated not only by arms, but by superior force of will."
Fehrenbach offered and rejected an alternative, back in 1963:
The other answer is to give up Korea-type wars, and to surrender great-power status, and a resultant hope of order - our own decent order - in the world. But America is rich and fat and very, very noticeable in this world. It is a forlorn hope that we should be left alone.Few in positions that matter have embraced that option subsequently - perhaps because so few others are willing to place those who do in positions that matter.
And so "pushbutton war has its place", Fehrenbach argues - and will in fact be a popular option in a future - as he saw it from 1963 - wherein Americans care not for wars and rumors of wars - - with a few exceptions.
But not the sort we would care to confront face to face. If Fehrenbach was correct, the political ramifications would be too extreme for any leader to actually execute any option other than long range warfare a la Iraq in the 1990's. Post-2003 events may be perceived as indication that this is so.
Elsewhere on our modern internets today, other discussions:
Plus we won't track the mud from our boots on our nice new clean floors.
September 16, 2009
You may have heard...
Witnesses said foreign troops swept into the town on helicopters, fired missiles from an attack helicopter, killed Nabhan and another terrorist, and captured two others after wounding them, Mareeg reported. Nabhan's body was recovered, ABC News later reported.
...or you may not have heard. Apparently Kanye West chose that moment to seize a microphone, prompting a brief quip from the president that was twittered to the public by a reporter while congress voted to censure a politician who called a politician a liar and expert panels were formed for on-camera discussions of racism in America as news of the suppression of the news about ACORN was... well, you get the picture.
And frankly, those involved in that page 3 sort of story shun the spotlight others seek anyway. But much (perhaps more than many would be comfortable with...) is revealed in this account:
One wonders at the source of such detail.
It's the stuff that a decade ago would be found in a Hollywood blockbuster. Drama: young, determined president sanctions action (perhaps determining after deep internal debate that sometimes the needs of the many trump many other considerations - but even so he harbors doubt) and men of action handle the rest. (One of them is a comedian of a sort, cracking jokes all the way and keeping spirits high...) We cut back to the home front from time to time to depict the experience of the wives and kids of our men of action, but that may be cut in final. Will Smith has reached an age where he can play the leader of such men. Is he available? Phone his agent, let's do lunch...
That's the sort of movie the very real, spotlight-shunning men of action would join their fellow Americans in viewing, perhaps afterward confiding that while the movie was great it ain't really like that.
Beyond entertainment for the masses, it's also the sort of activity that many scholars and men-at-arms agree would make a fine approach to prosecution of what we used to call the war on terror. "Off shore" (on land or sea) - occasional strikes based on good, solid intel from our boys on the scene and eyes in the sky; sometimes carried out by men who pull triggers at short range (the secretary will not confirm or deny) and often by those who use more remote controls. (We can match our capabilities to your time requirements. We can discuss the risk involved with each of the available options - but if you're busy a simple "get it done" will do.) No photos of flag-draped coffins or of soldiers in their dying moments to trouble the minds of those who pass the newsstands on their way from here to there or on the internet or cable TV. For that and other reasons such an approach is tempting, we must admit. And regardless of what any may say, we harbor thoughts at various depths wherein such men who do such things are admired, and we wonder could we do the same?
Perhaps we should try fighting only that sort of long range, off shore war. It is the kind of war that makes heroes, not the sort that wears down armies, chews up soldiers and spits them out.
The sort of war that inspires stories - like this recent one from Pakistan:
And it's the kind of war that in the more distant past simply inspired...
...Osama bin Laden's call for jihad against America in 1998. From his view, that sort of war was evidence of failure at others, a weakness that could be exploited - if nothing else at least as a recruiting tool:
We, of course, thought we were on a humanitarian mission at the time - not some sort of war. We know what war is - war takes two sides, ours gets to debate it, vote on it, - and not one of us had voted for that kind of war.
Given the chance, many of us would vote no war - and others perhaps for trying out this kind of war: "And finally, your recommendation is sound," retired Marine Corps General Chuck Krulak recently wrote to George Will, responding to the noted pundit's announcement that it's "Time to Get Out of Afghanistan". Here's the recommendation he meant:
America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.And here are some more specific details provided by the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps:
I would put "hunter-killer teams" along the borders and in suspected al Qaeda strongholds. I would support them with intelligence, logistics thru use of parasail's, responsive airpower (needs to be close), armed and unarmed (fitted with cameras, infrared, etc) drones,"reach back" capability for cruise missiles, and other capability as needed. The H-K teams should be given minimal rules of engagement... when they identify the bad guys, they need to be empowered to take them out.
They are wise and learned men.
And here's a letter to the President of the United States from (by my signature count) 38 other wise and learned men. While they don't offer the level of detailed alternative expected from a Marine (perhaps each would have his own advice on that, against which others might argue) they unanimously support an anything but this kind of war:
Today, we are concerned that the war in Afghanistan is growing increasingly detached from considerations of length, cost, and consequences. Its rationale is becoming murkier and both domestic and international support for it is waning. Respectfully, we urge you to focus U.S. strategy more clearly on al Qaeda instead of expanding the mission into an ambitious experiment in state building.
These men, we are told, are Realists.
Perhaps we should remove ourselves from that useless patch of dirt we call Afghanistan, to more welcoming places nearby. Perhaps we should send in the occasional drone or HK team. Obviously (at least, if you haven't forgotten the Somalia story we started with) we do that now, but perhaps only that is better. Maybe we could provide them some humanitarian assistance, too. Or maybe not even that. Perhaps we should bring all the troops home to be with their families. They deserve that, don't they?
We don't need that kind of war. We don't need any kind of war. We don't need American mothers crying over the graves of their sons or bereaved American fathers outraged that we aren't acting tough enough... let's turn away so that we never have to see such things again.
We're safe enough over here. And besides, we have our own problems - our own differences to resolve.
And plenty of candles.
Still more - because there's still more to consider on this issue:
"...as desirable as it may seem to make such stand off efforts the centerpiece (or only piece) of our efforts, it's worth noting there are those who would prefer it be very much restricted:" Attractors (and their detractors)
And a closer look at what we are doing in Afghanistan, and other consequences of stopping not addressed above: Unkind of war
Posted by Greyhawk / September 30, 2009 5:08 AM | Permalink
Welcome to the Dawn Patrol, our daily roundup of information on the War on Terror and other topics - from the MilBlogs and various sources around the world. If you're a blogger, you can join the conversation. If you link to any of these stories, add a ... Read More
(A Mudville Christmas re-run from December, 2009...) Good evening. Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical a... Read More
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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